A concrete relationship


The concrete looked nothing like it was supposed to. The huge, gray pile of dust had the consistency of a cornbread mix gone horribly wrong: no eggs, no crackling, and not enough buttermilk. “That’s too much water,” I protested. Sweat had beaded up on my arms and forehead during the first hour as we built the frame. By the end of the second hour, I had hauled twenty or so bags of sand and concrete mix across the church parking lot and started to combine the water, sand, and concrete.

It was June in Florida. No cool ocean breeze, no shade, and plenty of sweat loving bugs. It was supposed to be hot this time of the year, but the waves of heat that rolled across the parking lot and crashed into us were relentless. Water started to pour off my skin. The handicap ramp was a special project long overdue for this small church, and I was proud to help when Dad volunteered my services during a recent visit. And with the project, my short visit had taken on a whole new perspective.

“I’ll be fine,” a gravelly voice replied, “I’ve been working with concrete long before you were born.” And with that, he dumped another five gallons of water onto the powdery pile and instructed me to continue to mix. For the next twenty minutes, I mixed as he added water, all the while ignoring my not so subtle suggestions that too much had already been added. His face, worn by time and circumstance, showed that it was still there – the enjoyment that only hard work can bring. And there was something else. A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. This ramp had become more than just a ramp for him too.

There’s not many 83-year-olds who can find the joy in mixing concrete. Fewer still would spend the better part of a day working in the hot sun volunteering- especially after losing their wife not three weeks earlier. They say that hard work is good for the soul. I guess they’re right. After another hour it seemed he stood a little taller, and after two his blue eyes were a little brighter. It was as if the weight he’d been carrying for so long had finally been lifted. I think the one thing those who have passed wish for is that the living to keep on living. And that’s why Dad volunteered to build the ramp.
At the end of the day two worn-out old men, one a little younger than the other, enjoyed cool air-conditioning of a restaurant overlooking the beach. And this time, the waves that rolled towards us carried not heat, but the cheerful screams of children as they rode floats to shore.

Gazing out the window, we each shared an adult beverage, smiles, and memories. Dad spoke about when he and Mom sat and laughed as we kids rode those waves. And I spoke about when The Boy did the same. Childhood memories are what make Father’s Day special. Don’t call your father this Sunday. Surprise him with a visit. Give him the only gift he truly wants – another happy memory of spending time with you.

And make sure you ask your brothers and sisters to come with you – just in case he has some concrete that needs mixing.

[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, has been a firefighter for more than two decades and a columnist for The Citizen since 2001. His email is saferick@bellsouth.net.]