My first day roofing was on a simple ranch style house with a low pitched roof. Highway 30, a humming ribbon of asphalt, shimmered in the June sunshine, just a few hundred feet away.
The seventy year old semi-retired man who’d hired me worked to a steady beat, not fast, but never stopping. He made it clear that he expected the same diligence from me. I don’t remember that he said it out loud; I just remember somehow knowing it.
I was fifteen years old and I could do anything, my future an exhilarating buffet of endless, all-you-can-eat possibilities.
The way it would go was: I’d make lots of money working summers through high school, then I’d become the worlds first astronaut/Navy Seal/marine biologist/trial lawyer/fishing guide/sushi chef.
I certainly wasn’t going to be a roofer. Ew. No.
That certainty grew as the day wore on. The preferred tear off method at that time was a heavy bladed pitchfork, and each time I would shove mine into the end of a shingle, it would come sliding up the handle into the side of my finger. That doesn’t sound like much I’m sure, but once it happens a few hundred times, it opens a pretty good size, bloody, painful abrasion.
I experimented with different techniques, but there was a man five times my age right behind me, and he was gaining on me without difficulty. Fifteen-year-old competitive pride being what it is, a bloody finger darn sure wasn’t going to let a retiree catch me. So, again and again, I slammed that stupid fork into those old shingles and by mid-afternoon we’d gotten the last of them torn off.
When quitting time rolled around, we were dried in, and I was ready for a huge supper, bed and a serious re-assessment of my summer work plans.
I slid onto the dusty pickup seat, looked down at by mangled finger, looked over at my older brother Toby, and said:
“I’m never getting on another roof again. Ever.”
He (and God) smiled.
Twenty plus years later, I’ve broken that promise thousands of times, and hardly a week goes by that I don’t think back to that first day.
I’m happy now to let others wander the stars, awesomely defend the free world, explore the wonders of the ocean, dig through obscure case law, catch monster fish, and create culinary masterpieces.
I’m perfectly happy being the guy they call when they want to keep it all dry.
So, I’m a roofer?
Heck yes, I’m a roofer.