Friday, February 3, 2012

My father was a bricklayer

“Your father was a bricklayer, not a glass maker.” That’s the smart aleck line my brothers and sisters used on each other when one of us was blocking the TV.  And our father was a bricklayer. That fact of his profession shaped us as a family.
            By the time I was old enough for school, Dad had gone to work for the state to earn a more steady income. He left every weekday in coat and tie. But on Saturdays, he left the house in his navy blue work pants, white T-shirt, and cement encrusted boots. On Saturdays, he was still a bricklayer. And somehow, it was Saturdays that defined him, and so defined our family.
            Growing up in the brick house that he built, we were surrounded by evidence of his profession. The pickup truck in the driveway filled with trowels, buckets, and levels; the pile of bricks stacked in the side of the yard, leftover from one job and waiting for the next. For years there was a small cement mixer at the end of the driveway. When I was in 4th grade I was fooling around with it and managed to get my thumb stuck in the gears. I lost my thumbnail on that little stunt, but broke neither bones nor the mixer.
Sometimes I went with him on a small job, like when he put in a retaining wall at my Catholic elementary school. He let me smooth out the cement on the side of the wall that would be covered by soil.
Being a bricklayer was important to my Dad. His father was a bricklayer, as was his father before him; so were his brothers. I don’t know how far back the profession goes, but I have a feeling that our family tree is made of cement.  Telling people that my Dad was a bricklayer is important to me. I take pride in the physical labor, in the tradition of it. I like to pass by buildings I know he or some other Lamarre had a hand in. My oldest brother was a bricklayer too, and I guess he was pretty good, like my Dad. People tell me that they’d put them on the most difficult work, or on the facades that had to look the best. They were that good.
I’m not a bricklayer. And, since my brother and my father died, no one else in my immediate family is a bricklayer either. I still have a few cousins in the field, but the days of the Lamarre bricklayers seems to have passed. It makes me sad sometimes. But, even if no Lamarre ever picks up a trowel again, we are still a bricklaying family. I have a jointer and chisel on the mantel next to a photo of my Dad on a job site. The tools remind me of the lessons I learned from him about work and art (my mother taught me a lot in these areas too, but that’s another story).  I am a bricklayer’s daughter.

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