This picture is not dated, but based on my father’s glasses, it was taken before I was born. He’s third from left, my dad, and four of the other fellows are my first cousins. (There are two I don’t recognize, which doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t related to me, too.) It would have been early morning, when they gathered for orders before scattering to various job sites, and a chilly day. Late fall, I think. That’s my driveway, the one I grew up with – dad’s contracting business was based in our house – and I’d forgotten there was ever a lamppost just there.
They all had names, the men who worked for my father, but mostly I knew them as The Crew. I was young, and I wasn’t paying much attention unless I knew you already, or you distinguished yourself by wearing overalls with no shirt and white chest hair everywhere in the summer, or by riding your bike up the road to work, no hands, arms crossed on your chest like a cigar-store Indian.
I don’t think I was down there much in the morning when they gathered, though sometimes I ran leftover donuts down from the kitchen. When I did go, my primary impression was, oddly enough, of safety and warmth. I didn’t belong there, in a gaggle of men dressed to lay brick and sucking down coffee before a long day of hard work, but I scuffed around the dusty floor with impunity. Some of the men were rougher than I was used to, but every one of them had a smile for me, or a pat on the head.
I am taller now, and less likely to be patted when I appear in their lives, but I’m still reaping goodwill from those men. Not even counting all the cousins, it’s an ordinary occurrence for someone to say, “You know, I worked for your dad when you were born.” (The Crew fluctuated in size over the years, but I think the mid-seventies were a high point.) One man, now dead these many years, told me sternly every time he saw me, “Your parents were good folks. There might be folks as good, but none better.” Dad had given him a job when he was fired from a long-standing position for, Dad was pretty sure, being too old. I think if he had found Dad standing over him with a knife in the dead of night, he’d have been sure there was a really good reason.
Because our house was built as both dwelling and business, it was a little odd-looking, and whenever anyone from school visited for the first time, they usually said, “That’s your house?” Our house was unusual, it’s true, and it wasn’t perfect. But it definitely had some things to recommend it.