I believe in 50lb bags of ready-mix concrete, and their ability to create something rock hard and practical: a foundation for living. One summer my dad walked into the kitchen and said, “Boys, the tail end of this thing’s sunk about five more inches into the ground. We gotta get under there, or else it’ll fall apart.” Suddenly, there was my brother and I inside the crawlspace, first decimating an ant empire with kerosene, wiring a row of bare light bulbs into an old extension cord to have light, then digging four holes. They were only about two feet deep and two feet square, but shoveling the dirt out one scoop at a time, they might as well have been big enough to drive my dad’s rusted out Chevy 4×4 pickup through.
After dad inspected our holes, the three of us constructed a trough out of extra lumber we had lying around, got a ridiculous load of gravel from the rock quarry, rented a small cement mixer, bought two dozen bags of concrete mix, screwed a couple of water hoses together, cranked up “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey on the local classic rock station, and went about jacking up that poor trailer home.
As I frantically questioned God as to why in the heck I had to do this stupid stuff while my friends were busy trespassing at apartment complex swimming pools, riding BMX bikes in heavy traffic, and staying out until 3 a.m., the answer started to come to me. This work was necessary. The house wasn’t much to look at, but my dad knew it was all we had and it needed to be cared for. It floated around in my teenage mind for a while, and I realized that this was the way life had to go sometimes, that practical efforts must trump romantic whims. Growing up, my brother and I always had work to do. But until then, the yearly firewood stockpile, the endless car and house repairs, yard work, cooking meals and cleaning were all dismissed as frivolous oppression, denying me a utopian childhood of archery and camping, and later, the pedestrian thrills and angst of typical Nashville adolescence. This revelation had transformed drudgery into duty.
Despite my dad’s constant drinking, he never neglected anything when he could help it. He did not sit around on a grimy recliner, drunk, barking orders, playing the lotto and letting our lives decay. He fought for us hard in a nasty divorce and provided everything he could. Not trips to Disneyland, but trips to the doctor. Not designer clothes, but clothes. He had a keen eye for the practical, and for any problem that popped up—“If it ain’t one thing, it’s another” was one of his favorite mottos—the creativity, simplicity, and honesty with which he would handle those crises kept our lives stable. I believe that when love is anchored into square, practical blocks of cement, it gives life real meaning.
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