A few weeks ago we had a new bamboo floor installed by a contractor we have used over the last 20 years. Joe is a good fellow, well-skilled in the art of flooring. It was warm when he started the job and within 60 minutes his shirt was off and his body was dripping.
His shirtless-ness reminded me of my father when he worked around the house during the summer. He would start working in a simple white t-shirt and within an hour or so be down to his skin wearing only a set of shorts (Bermuda typically), a pair of tattered nearly soleless tan work boots and white athletic socks. Unlike me, there was no flab across his middle and his arms were strong with sinewy muscles, thick black hair and well-defined veins that ended in a set of large, callused hands with a wedding ring on one that would never be removed until he died.
As I was pushing the mower Sunday under the 80-degree-plus sun I thought about him and the other men of my neighborhood in Nesconset, N.Y. My father wasn’t alone in his topless attire and most dads would drop their shirts when the weather got hot to work around the house. In my current neighborhood, that is simply not the case, which is why the sight of Joe was a real bit of deja vu.
In the neighborhoods of Ridgefield, CT, you don’t see people like my father anymore. It seems the only time, save at the beach, you see men shirtless is when a much younger man than I is showing off his six-pack. As I like to mention to my wife, I too have a six-pack except it is organized in two-liter bottles. I thought about that as I mowed and trimmed my lawn dripping in a shirt of sweat.
One of the best parts of working on the yard in the summer with my dad was lunch. We would always break around noon and my mother would bring out sandwiches for both of us. We sat at a redwood picnic table on a patio that my dad had built when we first moved into our new house. His sandwich was always the same, with slight variation. Either ham, liverwurst or salami with cheddar cheese, tomatoes, onions, lettuce covered with Kosciusko mustard on pumpernickel or rye bread. Wonder bread was for the kids. There were a couple of dill pickles on the side as well as a handful of potato chips thrown in by my mother on cheap paper plates cradled in a woven reed paper-plate holder.
But the real joy for my father during these lunches was a beer. He was not particular about the brand as long as it cost 99 cents or less a six-pack. Old Milwaukee, Schmidt's, Knickerbocker, Schaefer. Rheingold, it didn’t matter as long as it was cold. I’m not sure why by he never was a long-neck drinker preferring the stubby pony style of bottle. He never used a glass. We would linger over lunch under the dappled light of the trees shading the patio him telling me about when he was a boy and working out what we would do next on the job at hand.
As I sat down for lunch in a soaking, smelly shirt I thought about my father. I pulled off my shirt and grabbed a beer from the refrigerator. A slight breeze cooled my torso as I sat down on our cushioned chairs. I took that first sip of beer after a bite of my sandwich. I should do this more often.