Friday, September 19, 2008
A Hardworking Man
Kurt is building me a riding arena. He’s been chipping away at it, literally chipping away, for a couple of months. Every day he’d go out there after work and dig a little bit more. Even though our property is considered level land around here, it’s not. Flat land is what I had in Oklahoma where you could drop a marble and it wouldn’t roll unless the wind was blowing. Or even what I had in New Jersey where you couldn’t tell if something was off without getting out the level. Flat land here means sloping. Not rolling. But it’s not really flat either.
Since riding arenas have to be flat, especially for barrel racing, we picked the flattest spot on the property that we could find, which, luckily, happened to be in the most convenient place, right behind the round pen and the tobacco shed, not far from the barn, and next to a telephone pole where we will install a light someday for night riding. But it still needed to be leveled and so Kurt moved the earth on his bright orange Kubota. He bought metal teeth for the bucket and went out there every chance he got. He dug into the side of the slanted field, as hard as cement, and in big puffs of dust. Everything is hard and dry since we’ve been in a drought. Inch by inch he dug; carving really. Curls of striated clay and rocks filled his bucket and then he drove over to the other side and dumped it. Back and forth, back and forth. On the weekends, he spent whole days out there. When he came in at night, he was red from exertion and clay. All you could see were the whites of his eyes. I felt sorry for him, doing all this for me. But he said he was on a mission.
It took a couple of weeks to get it flat. Men came over for one thing or another, looked back and forth from Kurt’s tractor to the raw earth arena, obviously newly excavated, and whistled. They’d say, “He didn’t do that with that tractor, did he?” Someone had written “Wash Me,” and a smiley face in the red dust on the hydraulic arm and dried mud caked the tires like a ruffled collar. I’d proudly say that, yes, he sure did. It was the work most people hire bulldozers to do. It was the work of ten men. It was a major excavation job and Kurt did it all by himself.
After he got it all level, he started putting up the fence. The posts were even more difficult than the digging because of the drought. Even though he rented a gas-powered post-hole digger and broke down and hired another guy to help him (against his better judgment, being the super man that he is), the dirt was so hard that they spent one full day putting in half a dozen posts and broke the bit at one point and the belt at another. The earth, like concrete, ripped the thing apart and they had to stop and wait for rain before they could continue.
After the rain and the posts were in, the rails went pretty fast. Kurt worked the whole weekend nailing up the boards and got three quarters of it done before he ran out of wood. He threw all the scrap wood into the back of the pickup truck and when I went down to the Minute Market to get some milk, I stopped at the Dumpsters to get rid of all the trash. I backed the truck up to the container and climbed into the bed so I could throw the pieces of wood inside. I was up there flinging, when another car pulled up beside me and a lady with a grey ponytail and a faded sweatshirt with a picture of a Labrador retriever on it, got out and came over to my truck. She reached for the grain bag that was filled with scrap and garbage from the barn and was leaning in the corner of the bed of the truck.
“Does this go?” she asked. I stood up.
I was surprised. I was surprised that it was a woman offering to help me. Nine times out of ten when I go down to the Dumpsters to bring our garbage, if a man is there, he will reach into my truck and help me. And believe me, it’s not because I’m some hot mama down there all dolled up in my Cruel Girl jeans with my little pink tank that says, “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy.” No. When I go down to the Dumpsters it’s usually in the morning after cleaning manure, in the same kind of faded sweatshirt this lady was wearing, maybe in a pair of bleach-splattered sweatpants, make-up-less, and hair all discombobulated, on the verge of turning into dreadlocks. Unrecognizable except to those who are on an intimate basis with me and know my truck with the little barrel racer sticker in the window, it’s not pretty. Things can get ugly on the farm. But guys will help as a matter of course. Not because they think you’re hot; just because it’s the gentlemanly thing to do. Especially country guys who call you ma’am and whatnot. But this was a woman.
“Yes, that goes,” I said. “Thank you.”
She pulled it out and hauled it into the Dumpster where it landed with a big thud and busted open. Then she climbed up onto my bumper and jumped into the bed with me. “I’ll help,” she said.
“Oh, you don’t have to,” I said, embarrassed.
Why am I embarrassed when someone does something nice for me anyway?
She reached down and gathered up coils of plastic binding and empty Mountain Dew cans and tossed them. She was moving fast so I moved faster to keep up with her. Clunk. Clunk. Clunk. Clunk.
“Don’t matter none whether we got us a man or not,” she said. “Us women’s got to do things us-selves sometimes. Can’t count on no man to do it for you. Bunch a bums.”
She hefted a broken post like a torpedo. Boom!
I didn’t know what to say. My husband worked all weekend long building me a place to play with my horses. He was back there right now mixing up cement. You could write your name in the dirt on his back.
“I know what you mean,” I said. “Lazy bastards.”
“Ain’t that the truth.”
Kelly on Doc in the arena