The Persuader

A couple of Sundays ago a tour group from  Northern Germany was in our area.  The expressed purpose of the tour was to connect with long lost cousins who had immigrated to our area from about 1880 into the early 1920’s. My great grandfather and my grandmother, both on my dad’s side had done that very thing,  ( immigrated from Ostfriesland) so I asked  dad if he was interested  in attending a meet and greet  that Sunday.

Picture of my grandma on the deck of the Dresden  immigrating to America in 1929.  (She is 2nd from the right)

As we walked up to the pavilion, half a dozen older ladies that I didn’t know and a guy I did were sitting on a rock wall.  The German tour group hadn’t arrived yet so we stopped to talk.  Turned out the ladies were all 1st cousins to each other. The Barker clan.

I mentioned I’d worked with a John Barker back when I was 16. He was framing a house for my dad.  Turned out John was their uncle, one of ten brothers.

(Can you imagine???? One of ten???!!!!)

The wheels in my head began to spin.

I wasn’t sure how much to say about old John B.

These were all ladies, and John was long gone.

I remembered his thick German accent, his bib overalls, his big belly…He had a short temper and an infatuation with a word that started with “f”.   He lived on an acreage on the edge of town.  I graduated with his daughter Kristi.

His wife had the sweetest disposition.

It was always a mystery to me why in the world she’d married him.

I ended up telling them the following two snippets of information:

First one had to do with the  German word for sledge hammer that John had taught me. He called it the  “uben-schlogger”. 

Right away, one of the ladies (Barbara)  got excited, grabbed her German/ English  dictionary and tried to look up “Uben-schlogger.”  I knelt down beside her.  We found something close, but  weren’t quite sure.

Another snippet  I told them was about time John was roofing a big barn.

His helper was nervous.  Didn’t know if he could do it.  John, in his thick accent barked:

“Get up on the roof!  I command you!” 

You would have thought I was a rock star.  Everybody sitting on that rock wall was soaking up every morsel of those details of good old uncle John.  One of them (Denise)  was writing everything down in a spiral notepad.  She “couldn’t wait” to get back home to Texas  and share these stories with her sisters.

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The next Monday @ work, I was telling Jason about my encounter with John’s nieces.  He looked at me and said,  “John was not the one who told you about the Uben – schlogger…and besides, it’s not pronounced Uben -schlogger…it’s Uben schweiger” (the persuader).  We learned it from Thomas.” (Another young German who worked with Jason and I back in the early 1990’s)

I told him I liked my word better. 🙂

We had a good laugh.

There I was, a lover of local history,  blending stories.  Something funny and not quite right about all of it at the same time.

In the end, I was able to track down Denise on Facebook.  Sent her a message, told her the story. Just in the nick of time she said. She hadn’t had a chance to talk to her sisters yet.

Early picture of me showing off with an uben schweiger:

The goal is to touch your nose with the sledge while keeping your forearm straight.

 

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Who are you? Who am I? That all depends

Wednesday was a big day.  We are currently framing a 2000 sq foot addition and three stall garage.  I came home physically and mentally exhausted.   Wife is out of town for a couple of days, so about 6:30 in the evening, I decided to run to town to fill up with gas and grab something to drink.  (A quart of chocolate milk.) 😉   I hadn’t  gotten cleaned up, so I looked a little rough around the edges.

I have been buying  gas at this same  store for several years.  I am on a first name basis with several of the ladies I see in the mornings.   Since it was 6:30 in the evening, a couple of guys I’ve only seen once or twice were manning the registers.  As I walked up to the counter I said “How’s it going?” and even though I made eye contact with both of them, neither of them said a thing.

They just stared at me.

I put my check on the counter, asked what I owed them.

I was already just a little put off by their demeanor,  normally wouldn’t have given it another thought, but the guy who “seemed to be” in charge,  had an air of arrogance and condensation about him.    He bent over, put his elbow on the counter, looked at my check, looked at me and said, “Who are you?”  with what I perceived  as a low grade sarcastic  tone in his voice.  (My name is on the check.)

Several thoughts  went through my mind at this point…

What are you talking about???? I’ve been buying gas here for four years.  Your people skills suck.  I am tired and not in the mood for some condescending, dweeb giving me crap after a long day at work.   I’ve  spent more time in this store than you have and frankly, you should be more professional.  Wonder if the manager who hired you knows what kind of jerk you are when she’s not in the store.

None of that came out.

Instead, I snapped “Who are you?”  

(That is so not me.)

It was at this point he face flushed,  step back, shook his head and realized I wasn’t in the mood.

I pulled out my wallet and showed him my ID.

When one of my younger cousins gets a little upset,  his sentences become short.  He bites his words off.

I could feel myself starting to sound like my cuz.

I continued,  You know, the girls in the morning,  are not nearly this testy to deal with.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” he said.

He mumbled something about me being the second person today who had said something similar.

Hummm….. ya think…

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I know it can be hard and draining to work with the public.

I do it myself on a daily basis.

In all fairness to him, he was only doing his job. (verifying me)

I’m seriously wondering if some of his attitude toward me was because of how I looked.

What I didn’t care for was how he initially attempted to intimidate me, because that is definitely what I was picking up.

A sense of humor can go along ways when dealing with people.

The tough guy stuff,  not so much.

Wife has a little ditty on our kitchen cupboard blackboard currently, that says,

Be careful what you tolerate. 

You are teaching people how to treat you.

He asked me a question, I ask myself on occasion…Just who am I?  Who is this person I occasionally see in the mirror? Am I the same person I was 25 years ago? (and the answer to that would be a resounding no)   The question is a great question.  The rub is in who’s asking, and why?

Have any good interactions with someone lately?  What made it memorable?  Would love to hear your thoughts.  DM

Honest Work

When my husband Matt was about ten years old, his grandfather started taking him to the family cherry orchards on Saturday afternoons.  Matt would work alongside the farm hands, whistling as he went, to let his grandfather know he wasn’t eating any of the cherries intended for the bushel. a full day’s work netted Matt 50 cents.  If his grandfather bought him a hot dog and soda, they called it even.

As a teenager,  his dad would call up from the breakfast table, “Two minutes!”  Matt knew better than to challenge – he was dressed, fed and out raking leaves or tilling soil before the sun had risen over the ridge.

I was horrified by these stories during our first years together.  I mourned for his lost childhood, thinking gratefully of my  Saturday mornings in front of the cartoons, slurping cereal.  After we were married, though, I noticed quickly he’d be done with his chores while I was still cursing over the dishes.  His focus was intense but cheerful.  He got the job done well and quickly because he put himself completely into the task – because he’d learned to enjoy honest work.

No matter if he’s cleaning the gutters or finishing a report, Matt embraces each project as an opportunity for expression.  His lovingly stirred spaghetti sauce says, “I feed and nourish our family.”  His well- weeded garden says, “I savor my connection to the earth.”  Through example after example, he demonstrates the key to happiness in whatever we do.  Matt’s lesson: All work – on the field, in the factory, or on the computer – can be honest and fulfilling, if we approach it from a place of devotion.

As Matt has shown me, honest work is our contribution to the community and to the world, the outward manifestation of our soul’s purpose.   Just as the trees keep the air clean, give us shade, and shower us with fruits and nuts, so too we are we each charged with our task, creating the future, one brick – or compost pile or database or cherry pie – at a time.

By Mariska Van Aalst from the book 50 Things that really matter

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My wife read this to me  this week, said it reminded her of me.

I’m sure our kids have stories to tell.

 

Daughter  pouring concrete with the Papa.

 

Never too young to start. (Grandson and I at his first pour)

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I was thinking about this essay on work again this morning.  We had an early Saturday morning cement pour at my daughters house.  It was a small pour, as far as pours go…just 12 yards of concrete. (See photo @ beginning of this post.)

12 yards = 2 truck loads

Lots of friends and family showed up to get-er-done as they say. Cement truck got there at 7:15 and I was back on the road heading home by 8:30.     I love that my 60-year-old body  enables me to still do this sort of thing.    I did break a sweat, but the rush of endorphins kicked in 3 minutes after I started moving concrete.  I know there will come a day, if I live long enough, that I will leave the concrete work to younger men..but until then…

I’ll round this out with a couple of crew pictures…one taken when I was 19 and the second, this past week.

I love my job.

That’s me holding a can of Old Milwaukee back in the day

Crew photo from earlier this week, just after we finished hand setting (20)  30 ft long by 8 ft high garage trusses.

Later! DM

 

 

 

Aspirations

Got a call this morning from a guy named Dave.   Dave sells post and beam construction houses and is looking for a local crew to sub out part of a project.  Before coming to Iowa, he was in the military jumping out of air planes.  After that he worked  for a spell building million dollar log homes in Colorado.  Spent some time living off the grid out west.  Finally settled down and started a family.  Now he’s in Iowa.  His body is shot.  Got my name from the guy I’d gotten honey bees from last year.

I was telling my crew about the conversation at break.

Jason made the comment he’d love to start general contracting  larger projects.

I told him my aspiration, is to learn the art of consistently growing large onions. (I still haven’t figured it out.)

Learn how to consistently grow large onions and get a few laying hens. (again) 😉

Ones that lay large brown eggs.

Nothing like stepping outside in the morning before heading to work, heading over to the chicken house for breakfast.   Eggs that are still warm.  Chop up a large onion,  saute in butter.  Maybe  cook up a little bacon or ham,  Couple of eggs over easy....and coffee….dark roast.

Now that is a thing of beauty. 🙂

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Fell into my life calling quite by accident. Been doing it for 40 plus years.  Intended to go to college after a working for a year for my dad.  At the end of that first year, I realized I loved construction. I loved what I was doing, and if I stayed with it long enough, it held out the possibility of making a decent income.  I love working with my hands.  Love using applied math to calculate roof pitches, stairs stringers,  estimates, etc.   I stick framed a  high-end  house roof  back in the 1990’s that had 27 hips and valley’s.  Two story, 12/ 12 pitch.  Yep.  Been there done that.  General contracted enough houses (5) to get that out of my system too.  I can give you several reasons why I would never/ ever general contract a house again. Sub out parts of it, absolutely. General the whole thing.  Nada.

I’m all about stress management.

Love it when the phone doesn’t ring.

 

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Came across the following  30 years ago and it continues to inform my choices:

“It is vain that you rise up early and go late to bed, eating the bread of anxious toil…for the Lord gives to his beloved sleep (or gives to his beloved in his sleep”)

(A Jewish scripture.  Psalm 127:2)

I’ve written on this topic multiple times. Here’s a link if you’re interested.

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If you were having coffee with me today,  how would you  answer that question on goals and aspirations (currently)?

I’m genuinely interested. DM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Permission

Just west of our place, a neighbor has been building a new home.  I’ve been watching the progress since the cement was poured last Fall.  The curious thing is, there has been no activity for the past three months, Still doesn’t have any siding, nor roof over the front porch.  I heard this morning that the neighbor had fired the carpenter.  I’m not sure I believe it, because I have worked alongside this particular carpentry crew  multiple times, and they are first rate.

Pause.

I have a confession to make.

The thought (even if it turns out not to be true) that he was let go, gave me this strange happy peaceful feeling.  Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing inside of me that wishes ill of this other tradesman.  I think it has to do with me feeling I’m not alone when it comes to work related drama.

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Yesterday I was installing a storm door for a repeat customer. Her name is Lisa.  While I was in the middle of hanging the door, Lisa came back to the house, muttering something about, “I’d lose my head  if it wasn’t attached to me…”

I said, “What happened? ”

“Oh, I went outside with a rag in my hand to dust off the kids swimming pool, and now I can’t find it. I’ve looked everywhere.  Must have set it down someplace.”

 

“Well, yesterday, I proceeded to tell her,  I misplaced a bank deposit in my truck, three checks, and a $100 worth of cash.  I had it in my hands, while I was filling out the deposit slip, set it down somewhere, (in the truck) and it took me five minutes (literally) to figure out where I put it.”

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I’d much rather hang around people who are willing to admit they don’t always have it together once in a while.

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I was about 16 at the time.  It was crunch time trying to get the oats in.  Dad had just brought home the large spoked wheels for his oats seeder from the machine shop.  (New bearings installed.)   Seeder was parked on the edge of the field while I disked.  On one of my first passes, I got too close to the oats seeder, and caught the spokes with the outside blade of my disk.  Turned the oat seeder wheel into a metal pretzel.  To his credit, my dad never said a word.

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Late 1980’s we were living in Northern New Jersey.  One of the families in our local church offered to let us borrow their Suburban when we decided to take a trip back to Iowa.  So there I was driving this expensive  borrowed vehicle as I pulled into a parking ramp in downtown Cedar Rapids. The gate went up, half way through the entrance, wife had a question.  I stopped.  The gate began to come  down.  I panicked/ hit the gas.   Gate goes flying in a half a dozen different direction.  Then a very large security guy stepped out from the guard shack….(things go blank after that)

Have I ever told you about the Amish butterflies we found in our pantry ?  I need to tell you if I haven’t already.

People that try to make out like they are  “perfect” all the time, can be really hard to live around.

Don’t be like that.

My point in all of this…  in case you need a reminder, or some encouragement, or a kick in the pants…

To be human is to be imperfect.

 

Amish Butterfy/  Google Image

Moving off the farm

Picture of dad milking by hand/ early 1970’s

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Tomorrow is a BIG day.

We are moving my parents off the family farm.

I was nine years old when we moved to the farm.  Had never been around farm life before that, except for a few early memories of my grandparents farm (I was 4 when they moved to town.)

Growing up on a  120 acre working family farm shaped me in ways I will probably never fully appreciate.  Dad bought 20 Holstein milk cows when I turned 12.  Expressed purpose was to give us some spending money. (And keep us out of mischief.)  Milking is a two times a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year activity.  Up close and personal with the whole cycle of life.   Learned about delivering babies, afterbirth, still birth, cesarean births,  the art of milking a first time heifer whose utters are on fire with mastitis.  Learned how to deflect the back hoof of an animal ten times my body weight, that wanted to kick the crap out of me, because she didn’t  like what I was doing to her.

Manure.  Could write a book on the topic.  Sometimes you just have to block out the fact, you are getting splattered with e-coli.

Doing chores… Climbing into a dimly lit haymow in the dead of winter, afraid one of the banshees from Darby O’Gill would appear at any second.

Winter mornings so stink’n cold my fingers felt like they were on fire.

I learned it was not a good idea to engage the power-take-off on the manure spreader with a 20 mile wind to my back.

I remember side raking hay,  singing along to the radio, in the middle of August listening to Band on the run.

Last month, I worked alongside a young man vacuuming hallways.  He  lasted three days. Told my son that his wrist was bothering him.  Said he had pulled an all nighter playing video games, and wondered if he could knock off an hour early. I felt sorry for him.  He doesn’t know any different.

Baling hay in the summer is still one of my favorite memories.  My job of choice was  in the hay-mow.  Our barn could hold 300 tons of hay if we packed it to the top.   (10,000 bales X 60# = 60,000# divided by 2000# = 300 tons) Over the course of a season, I would have handled every one of those bales at least once.    In mid July, in Iowa, the temperature gets into the upper 90’s, so it had to be 100/ 110 degrees in the mow.   We never gave it a second thought.   It was just a part of getting the crops in.  Working in those conditions shaped my attitude about the weather.

When our kids were still home, out of financial need, we started a small commercial cleaning business on the side. The older ones went with us in the evening and weekends as we emptied trash cans, scrubbed toilets, vacuumed and mopped the floors.  I wished we could do more to incorporate the chores of my youth, but we were living in town and a dairy cow was not an option….

Final story.  Look at that picture of my dad milking again.  See that fuzzy cat on the left getting  milk straight from the cow?    Come to find out, she (Fuzzy)  was a prize winning show cat. Had blue ribbons to prove it.   She used to hang around the lumberyard where my dad worked.  He thought she was a stray, so he took pity on her and brought her home. Year later, lady who lived close to the lumberyard happened to be visiting our farm, noticed the cat and mentioned she used to have a cat like that.  We never let on.

If you were a cat, would you rather spend your days  eating dry cat food or having a front row seat by the family cow?

You can take the boy (or girl) off the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the boy (or girl)… thinking too about my fellow farm kid, MJ as I wrote this post.

You get extra credit if you can tell me the breed of the milk cow in that photo.

Later! DM

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Update 12 hours later…just got home.  Lots of great help. Went without a hitch.  Here are a couple of action photos:

Dad loading up the family picture 

The moving crew

 

She Warned Me This Would Happen

The following was written by my friend and former co-worker Chris.  This week the two of us spent three days building a fence at his house. It was good.  I asked him if he would have any interest making a guest appearance on the blog…. maybe write about our time building fence together, etc.   I know he stops by here sometimes, because he will occasionally shoot me a text on something I have written.

Please give a warm welcome to Chris…. 😉 DM

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She warned me this would happen…

With the arrival of our first, the past year and a half have been a blur and a blast. What was a wriggling, cooing mass of cuteness only a blink ago, has since grown in to an adventurous, yet shy, beautiful toddler.

This addition to our family sparked a seemingly endless chain of spiraling adjustments, to almost all reaches of our lives. With the new plateau of mobility and curiosity came a sudden realization that dangers we could once keep at bay were suddenly within reach to Felix.

Rather than test the limits of his name (Felix; fortunate, lucky, blessed), we decided to erect a fence around our backyard. As much for his safety as our enjoyment, this decision cued DM’s arrival on the scene.

We have history, this carpenter and me. At a time in my life when I was landing kitchen jobs and had been constantly on the move, my significant and I made the decision to move back to my hometown. Life for us had been an adventure for quite some time. With a youthful desire to not limit ourselves in any way, we had been burning the candle hot at both ends. Looking back, I know we learned and grew a lot through those experiences, but we both were in need of a drastic change.

He said he was looking for someone with no experience, and that was what he got. Those first few weeks were an eye opener for me- my emaciated frame had never known such pain! Parts of my body I had not known existed suddenly were screaming at me.

At the same time, I found myself suddenly having conversations with a man who had crossed life’s seas and knew all the knots. I remarked to my wife (girlfriend at the time) that going to work was like going to therapy. Quick with encouragement and laughter, in the middle of a trench or on top of a roof, I found myself wanting to rise to his level of Zen.

I learned a lot over those two years; to not shy away from pain, to reflect and introspect daily, the importance of taking a break, how to set healthy boundaries, time management, the list goes on. Unashamed to share personal trials and challenges, his level of honesty with himself and with me was something not yet known in my life. It was just what I needed. Without realizing it I was making the transition out of childhood at a point in my life that I can reflect on now as ‘just in time.’

Snap forward to the present. It had been quite a while since I had seen DM, and I was looking forward to our time together building a fence for Felix in the backyard. My wife jokingly warned me the day before we were set to get started, “You’re going to want to quit your job and start working with him again after this I bet!”

My frame is not so emaciated at this point in my life, but the pain was the same as on that first job site. I made the remark something to the effect that physical work is so much more rewarding than mental anguish. As my muscles were ripped apart yet again (from neglect, admittedly), I was reminded of the journey I had taken under DM’s wing all those years ago.

She was right.

 

Fence building week