My dad was a general contractor. That meant he knew plumbing, carpentry, electrical stuff, and just about anything connected with working on a house. It all came in handy with fixing and maintaining our cottage on Commonwealth Avenue. The thing about that cottage and, for that matter, all of the cottages in the Campgrounds, was that it often needed much work!
Many cottage builders used flimsy materials. Many cottages dates from the time before the area had electricity or plumbing. Most cottages retrofitted these luxuries.
This made for, well, unusually arrangements or configurations of the utilities. My dad was able to handle most of the electrical and plumbing retrofitting. He did need help shingling the roofs, though.
Our cottage was big; it had half a dozen sloping roofs and one that was virtually flat, over the master bedroom. Over the years, dad replaced the old wooden and rotting shingles of every roof except the one over one side of the upstairs porch. That roof was very steep and he was not as young as he used to be.
His days of climbing up on a roof were over.
Now, while he’d replaced the wood shingles over the master bedroom with asphalt, they were not very nice shingles. They were black, which meant they tended to absorb a lot of heat. Thus that room tended to get hot, which he didn’t like.
One summer he and I worked to fix it. Originally, he was going to pull the old shingles off and replace them with nice new white ones. Yet, as the roof was in good shape, he decided, what the heck, let’s just put the new over the old. He got out his ladders and scaffolding, setting these up at the lower of the roof. Then he got to work.
He was able to get the first three rows of shingles in place, but, after that, he was unable to reach further. That’s where I came in. I think I was about 12 or 13. It was my job to get up on the roof and do the rest of the shingling.
Getting up on the roof was a breeze, I’d been doing it since I was five years old, but shingling was not something with which I was familiar. Yet, that was okay; my dad stood on the scaffolding and talked me through the process, and handed up the new shingles to me.
It wasn’t long before I was done. I even put a nice cap down the peak of the roof. In fact, I did so well that dad wanted me to tackle the final roof, the one with the wooden shingles, the one that was very steep!
I was less than enthusiastic with the project. It was scary being waaaaayyy up there with nothing under me. How in the world was I supposed to hang onto the roof while pulling the old shingles off and putting the new ones on? I didn’t have that many hands! My dad had the answer: one of his special scaffolds. Again, he handed it up to me and talked me through the process of nailing it to the roof. After that, I had a stable, safe place, albeit a tiny place, to sit and from which to work. It took a while, but I managed to tear the old shingles off, the ones under the scaffold were particularly tough, and get the felt paper in place. Next, I got the new shingles in place. Again, it wasn’t easy reaching some spots and forcing them under the scaffold, but I did it!
My dad was proud of me, and that meant a lot. Then, every time I walked by the cottage, even years after it was sold, my eyes would drift up to that roof. Yeah, I did that for my dad, I’d say to myself. Then I’d smile.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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