Life Lessons, Set In Concrete
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Thomas Franklin is new (11-17) to He has no experience with being published as an author. He has a fondness for reading and an appreciation of words. His curiosity is insatiable. He carries the burdens of his youth like Marley dragging his chains of bad deeds. The difference is that Marley's burdens were a result of his behavior. Life just happened to Mr. Franklin. These life burdens shall be the topic of Mr. Franklin's writing. Be kind for he is quite sensitive.

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Life Lessons, Set In Concrete

The ‘twoness’ of humanity is all around us.  The good and the bad, the yin and the yang, the frailty of human character.  My father, as I have said before, was both a great man and a monstrous brute.  I do not know if his greatness won the final battle – but I suspect it did not.

In 1958 we lived in a small house, four rooms for eight people, six children under age 12 and their two parents.  Right there one might draw some conclusions about the family and more particularly the parents.  Six children and they were still married.  Some might take this marriage to be a given, to be common, to be normal – I do not.  I know what stress there is in a tiny home with too many children and not enough income.  And that stress is the focus of this particular diatribe.  I do not intend to be bitter or hurtful – just honest perspective.

Our old house had serious structural problems.  It sat on a bank, about ten feet above the front sidewalk. The front porch and steps were rotted wood.  The back porch, made of the same material, was also falling apart.  If this were me, in my current world, I would most likely rebuild the structures with new treated lumber.  My father was like me in one way – he would do what he understood.

He was nothing if not completely honest.  He was aware of his physical limitations.  He knew that he was no carpenter.  I marvel today at his thought processes.  He decided that the best approach to the crumbling structure was concrete.  I’m not talking about bags of concrete from Lowe’s or Home Depot.  My father acquired a portable cement mixer – probably borrowed- and had sand, gravel, and portland delivered to his back yard.  Add water to the powdered portland and you create a paste that will stick to sand and gravel.  Combined together one gets concrete.

There is a science to this process.  Meaning that the portions of sand, gravel, and portland vary depending on the application.  Did my father understand all of this?  I don’t know – but I drove by the old house the other day (sixty years later) and the structures built by my father are still there.

His home improvement projects often started at the Friday night card game with my Aunt and Uncle.  “Norman,” Dad would say, “How much portand do you think would be needed to create proper cement for a back porch?”  Norman could say anything he wanted and he was going to be challenged, “What are you talking about? I said cement for a porch, not for building skyscrapers.”  His idea of research was to present an idea to other men and then to play devils advocate – to argue, to debate, to resolve all points of view.

In the summer of 1958 my father built a front porch, stairs to the street, and retaining walls on the front of the house – all with concrete.  The walls were cinder block – all constructed by my father with mortar that he mixed himself.  Cinder block walls also contained the gravel and cement cap on the back porch.

Try to imagine a man in his mid thirties, a strong man, about five foot ten and a hundred and seventy five pounds. Imagine large piles of gravel, sand, and portland.  Imagine one shovel.  He scooped the gravel and sand and portland into the mixer, turned it on to agitate while hosing water onto the mix.  Once mixed he would pour the very heavy mix into a wheelbarrow and take up the handles with powerful arms.

My father was a powerful man.  I believe he was exceptionally strong for his size – he was a big man in his day.  I watched his power all summer.  I saw the muscles ripple while swinging a shovel.  Then the bulging muscles of pushing the wheelbarrow. One attribute of his greatness was on public display that summer.   He was physically powerful into his sixties.  Early in the morning I would find him studying the project.  He was quiet, smoking roll your own cigarettes.  He was contemplative and focused.  The time for the card game debate was over.

Summer turned to fall and school started the day after Labor Day.  The weather was still summer like and we boys would often be out playing in the yard before school.  One warm morning I discovered there was a small ‘ridge’ on the corner of the concrete back porch.  I was curious and went to find a hammer.  I discovered that I could chip the ridge off with small strokes of the hammer.

My father was sitting in the kitchen having his morning coffee when he heard the chipping and saw me whacking away at this porch.  I did not see him storming out the door in my direction.  His slap across my face was my first warning.  I was eight years old.  Knocked down for an eight count.  Bewildered, I wet my pants and fell face first on the dirt in the yard.  My older brothers quickly assessed the situation and began begging me to get up and go to school with them, right now!  My mother came out to find Dad standing over my limp body in the dirt.  She ran to me and snatched me up and back into the house.  She changed my clothes and wiped my face and sent me to school with my brothers.

It was a different time in our human civilization.   A big hand print welt on the face meant that you were being parented correctly.  That was not a good day for me.  I did not hear anything the teacher said.  My stature was likely the impetus for zombies.

I do not remember going home after school.  I do not recall any further consequences.  My father did not speak to me for several days. Those few days were quiet for me too.  I have always been a gregarious person.   Some folks would probably like to know where my off switch is located.  It is located on the left side of my face – but you have to hit it real hard.

My father passed many years ago.  There is a reason we do not speak poorly of the dead – they are not here to defend themselves.  I am not trying to paint a picture of a brute.  I am trying to understand what in the world happened to me.  I have written in other articles about being institutionalized for mental health problems, of having long term counseling, and being tested on several occasions.  I have stated that everything is on a continuum – life is not black and white.

My mental health test scores reflect a border line flirtation with diagnosis.  I am on medication for mood disorder the first time in my life.  I have to report my experience with my physician – like, is this stuff working or not?  The question is two fold, what was I like before the meds, and what am I like now.  What is the difference.  I shall talk about this more in future articles.

Thanks for listening.

There Is 1 Response So Far. »

  1. I am listening…………

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