Remembering Granddaddy, Solid as the Stones he Laid
My grandfather, James Clifton Teachey, was a "master" bricklayer in Reidsville and Greensboro from about 1900 to 1945. My mother and I spent summers at her parents' house, traveling overnight on The Southerner from Penn Station in New York, where we lived, to Greensboro.
As I age, the details of those summers become clearer, like a manually focused camera lens. Granddaddy would rise before dawn, work awhile in his vegetable garden, eat a workingman's breakfast, pick up his dented metal lunch pail with rounded top and head for the job site.
Those were hot summers, long before residential AC, not that my grandparents could have afforded it. Granddaddy's neck was scorched by the sun, despite a ratty straw hat with handkerchief tied underneath. Nanny made him leave his overalls and boots, caked with mud and mortar, on the porch beside his trowel, and "wash up" under the outdoor spigot. Even so, his odor was memorable.
Granddaddy was a union man - the treasurer, no less, with a fourth-grade education but quick at figures. He taught my mother, his eldest child, arithmetic on the ledger. She had an aptitude; after graduating from Woman's College (now UNCG) she earned a master's degree in the teaching of math from Columbia University.
Granddaddy treasured his trowel, the symbol of his profession. Because he was more than a laborer. Greensboro, he pointed out on our walks, was beautified by "his" brick buildings.
Granddaddy spent his last years living with us. When my mother decided to build a flagstone patio onto our house he sat under a tree and watched every stone laid, to the dismay of the young mason. I think he might have spread a bit of mortar himself, just to prove he still could.
When this job was finished (not altogether to his liking) Granddaddy gave me his trowel - why, I don't know, since he had two sons and two grandsons. I would rather have had his lunchbox. Nevertheless, nearly 60 years after his death, that trowel sits on my bookcase, a reminder of hard labor, honest sweat and the satisfaction of a job well done.
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