There are times when the best thing to do is take a walk in the woods. I’ve had a big breakfast including bacon I didn’t order, now all I can think of is to get out of town. I toss Roady the bacon I saved for him. He catches it in the air and chomps on it like it’s chewing gum.
My old stomping grounds, unmarked trails in the woods are a few minutes down the county road. As I get closer, it’s clear something has changed. Trees are spaced out like tufts of hair on an old man’s head with the sharp angles of rooftops and fresh sided houses filling in the gaps. There’s muddy streets snaking through it all. My mouth gapes at the barrenness of the landscape. There’s a temporary sign at the entrance to the new neighborhood, “Woodland Acres- plots for sale”. The ‘woodlands’ are a ghost now. Suburbia has found its way to our small town.
I drive passed the first few completed houses. They’re huge. Who around here can afford these places?
When I get to the first house under construction I’m drawn to the beginnings of the framework for a gabled roof with multiple dormers. I stop the car. No one seems to be around. I get out. Roady bounds ahead scouting the piles of wood, a pallet of shingles and rolls of roof paper. I walk around. It’s late morning and the sun has already started baking the pale yellow rafters. The smell of them reaches my nose and I feel immediate comfort. I touch the rafters waiting to be cut. At the end of one, I find what looks like a rafter square but it’s not the simple right angled ruler I’ve used before. It has level bubbles and a slide angle. I place it on a rafter and adjust it for a standard gable 1/3 pitch.
“Hello there!” I hear a voice behind me and nearly jump out of my skin.
“I was just looking…”
“You we’re doing more than looking,” a sandy grey haired man says to me. He’s got on a black Tennessee Titans T-shirt, well worn jeans and a cowboy hat. “Do you know something about how to use that?”
“I do.” It’s a stretch since I’ve never used this type of square but I think I’ve figured it out.
“What else you know?”
“Dry wall, crown molding.”
“I’ve watched it done a dozen times.”
The man takes off his hat and scratches his head.
“What do you think about getting some work under the table? You look strong. Can you work hard?”
“Yes, sir,” I say.
He puts the hat back on and extends his hand, “Jerry Smith, glad to make your acquaintance.”
I take his hand in disbelief that this is really happening.
“I’ve got too many of these projects going and it’s been hard keeping skilled workers. Half the help have regular day jobs and are only showing up on the weekends. What about you? Can you be available to work during the week, say Tuesday thru Thursday?”
“I could, for a few weeks.”
Jerry stares at me for a moment. “Okay, I’ll go with that.”
We shake on it and I whistle for Roady. He doesn’t come. I call him. He doesn’t come.
An awful panic rises up in me. I try following his paw prints in the mud but they fade away into the weeds.
“Lot a places for a dog to get into,” Jerry says as he walks away. “He’ll come back.”
He says it without the words ‘eventually, maybe tomorrow’ but that’s what I hear. Jerry doesn’t know Roady is an adventurous dog, a careless, happy-go-lucky dog. All the good fortune of the day is swept out of my mind and I’m left with the strongest desperation I’ve ever known. All this for a dog. What is the matter with me? My lips are dry and my whistle fading as I go all around the build site. But my hopes plummet as I see the field of wild grasses spreading out over a little hill with house after house in various stages of completion. Maybe I kept him too long on the leash and he decided to go his own way.
I’m about ready to get more emotional than a grown man should when I feel a tug. There’s Roady yanking at my pant leg. He looks up at me as if to say, “You dope. What were you thinking? I’m right here.”