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  • Young George needed help. He had agreed to reshingle the roof on Aunt Harriet’s place back in August when the sun still had some vigor. A bit of work saved up for the fall, when the island population dwindled, was always welcome.

    Thing of it was, he explained to me, the roof was a mite bigger than he had first figured.
    I set my axe in the chopping block and sat beside it, sure the story had more to it.

    It was late November and I was splitting my way through the 14 or 15 cords of wood we would burn that winter. A cord is a measure of wood. A stack 4 feet high, 4 feet wide and 8 feet long. I had plenty of work.

    George sat astride his trusty four-wheeler, his rifle across his lap. Every ride up the hill was a deer hunting opportunity for Young George.

    I’m not as young as I used to be, said Georg, scratching his thinning hair under his blaze orange cap.

    I nodded and we paused to contemplate time’s ruthless passage.

    Used to be I could run up and down a ladder all day long. Carry two bundles to a time. Nothing to it.

    I nodded again. It seemed he was getting to his point.

    You got your gear up now, he said.

    I agreed that I had. An October snow and the line gales had shut down the inshore lobster season. My traps were safely stacked on the bank.

    Thought you might want to make some Christmas money. Week, ten days could get ‘r done.

    It seemed a reasonable proposition. I had done some roofing jobs. From the sound of it seemed it ought to be straight forward work. November to May is a long stretch without a pay check and I’d only have to walk down the hill to get to the site. Then there was the company, Young George was a talker so I figured I’d get a story or two out of the venture to boot.

    We started in the next morning. I learned a lot that week.

    I learned early December is not prime roofing season. We had to set the cap shingles in the oven to warm them enough to get them to bend over the ridge.

    I learned it is wise to only strip the roof as far as you figure to shingle up that day.

    Don’t worry deah, no chance of rain tonight, said Young George. We’ll clean her right off. That way the nails won’t roll down under the new shingles.

    I woke that night to slashing rain and a rare clap of thunder. We spent two days inside. Cleaning up, patching plaster ceilings and repainting. Not exactly billable hours.

    I learned to cut off the fingers of my gloves after I nailed the tips to the roof deck for the fifth time.

    I learned to notch the handle of my hammer to measure the distance between courses of shingles instead of fiddling with a tape measure.

    I learned figurative phrases lost in the homogenized, sanitized, and sterilized language we now call English.

    Tightern’ the bark on a tree.

    Toughern’ a boiled owl.

    Numbern’ than a pounded thumb.

    The devil shat him a flying.

    Hottern’ the hinges of hell.

    Dryern’ a popcorn fart in the desert.

    Coldern’ than a witch’s tit.

    Numb as a hake.

    Half way through the job. George picked up a shingle and eyed it carefully.

    He turned it this way and that.

    I stood upright, cracked my back and waited. Something was up.

    Jesus H. Christ, said Young George. Shingles go the other way.

    We faced a basic philosophic question. When a realization is made; does one continue with the original set of assumptions for the sake of consistency, redo do the older work to conform to the new operational directive, or make the switch from one paradigm to the other and carry on.

    End of the week we stepped back and surveyed the finished roof.

    Half way up the shingles switched from basic black to pebble grey.

    Well, said Young George. Common sense deah, do as I say not as I do.

    (Please note that the photo with this story shows learning applied. This is the house my daughter and I built and are still finishing.)
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