I pull on my tee shirt, my shorts with extra pockets, white socks with a red stripe near the top, and my older pair of tennis shoes; I’m ready for anything. My father is already at the breakfast table sipping a cup of coffee and talking to my mom like it was just another day. I slip into my chair and dip a spoon into the bowl of Cheerios my mom sets in front of me. The conversation between my mom and father is about something Aunt Sarah is going to do. She’s all the time flying a single engine plane somewhere. I’m not sure if she’s a drug dealer or a missionary but she is my favorite aunt. Nothing is said about what my father has planned for Ricky and me. When I drink my last bit of milk from my bowl my father motions with his coffee cup that it is time to go. With my father still sipping coffee he stops our 54 Chevy in front of Ricky’s house and beeps the horn. Ricky must have been watching out the window ‘cause he’s out the door and running to the car immediately. Ricky opens the back door and climbs in as I move from the front seat to join him in the back; it’s the polite thing to do. The bench seat in the car is plenty big enough for the three of us but when my father installed seat belts in the ’54 he only put two sets in the front. We drive to my father’s construction yard and he parks in his usual spot. A row of white pick-up trucks sit against the back chain link fence, resting until Monday morning. My father lowers the tail gate of the one with a little black twenty-five stenciled on the upper right corner and then he starts pointing to things we are going to need. Ricky and I are busy lugging boxes of brand new nails, tools, and electric cords. With all the small stuff loaded my father puts the tail gate up and the three of us load a full sheet of three quarter inch plywood into the back, its been used before and has concrete stains and several finger sized holes drilled into it. My father places an extension ladder on top of the plywood.
“We might need two,” my father explains. The plywood sticks out over the tail gate only two feet but the ladder sticks out over four feet so my father finds a red flag and ties it to the end of the ladder. We all hop into the front, and only, seat of the pick-up and drive to the lumberyard where my father makes a purchase of several brand new two-by-fours.
With the pick-up backed into our carport my father lays the ladder next to the truck and pulls the plywood out until it falls to the ground behind the pick-up. He starts giving instructions, “set up the saw horses there,” he points. “Run a cord there,” he points to the same place. “Carry the skill saw there too.” As he carries the ladder to the tree and sets it up against the deck we built he says, “put the nails here,” and he climbs the ladder. While we get our jobs done my father makes one measurement under our deck. He plugs the skill saw in to the extension cord and does a test to make sure the cord’s working. The saw whines like it should. “Set your ladder on the other side of the deck,” he says as he marks and cuts one of the two by fours. My father grabs a few nails, a hammer, and the board he has just cut, “two nails and a hammer,” he points toward our ladder as he climbs his. Ricky grabs the nails and hammer is up the ladder just as fast as my father. My father hands him the board under the deck. Ricky catches the end of the two by four and slides it between two of the two by fours we installed yesterday. “Little to the left,” my father instructs Ricky. “Your left,” Ricky moves the board the other way. “Nail it!” They both start nailing the new support for our floor in. The new, sharp, clean nails go easier than the old bent nails we used yesterday. My father drives them in with his over size hammer with just two hits for each nail. As they climb down the ladder my father says, “plywood.” The three of us meet at the truck and carry the plywood to the sawhorses where my father pulls out his measuring tape, a pencil and a special box filled with blue chalk and a string line for marking things. “This will take a few minutes,” he says. We just stand and watch as he takes out his note pad and starts measuring, making pencil marks, and snapping blue lines with the special string. When the blue lines take on a shape much like our quadrilateral deck he adjusts the depth of his saw and cuts along the blue lines. He stands back and looks Ricky and I over. He checks for muscle in my right arm. “One of you climb the backside ladder and help me move this into place.” He picks up the cut plywood sheet and holding it over his head walks up the ladder on his side without even a single handhold while I climb up the other side. With our heads above the planks we nailed yesterday my father gives me a stern look, “don’t fall,” he tells me, like I’ll get in bad trouble if I do. The board covers our deck perfectly. My father climbs up onto the deck and starts to snap blue lines around the edges and one across the middle above the one new two by four. As we climb together down the ladders he says, “one eight every six inches in the center of every blue line.”
I just stare at him, wondering what this new language is. Ricky asks, “eight?”
“These nails,” he nudges the box with his foot. “This far apart,” he shows us with his hand. “On every blue line.” He goes to the sawhorse area and we start hammering. For quite a while it sounds like a real construction job with all the hammering and sawing going on. Just as we finish nailing down the plywood my mother comes out with tall glasses of lemonade with lots of ice.
“Something for the workmen,” she says as we take a break and take a glass each. “How’s it going?” she asks.
“Going great,” my father tells her. “Got a good crew here.” All three of us are dripping in sweat and my father is covered in sawdust. My mom goes back inside to clean something and we finish about half our lemonade. My father has built three ladders and a couple of squares out of two by fours while we were nailing down the plywood. “Take the sixteen’s up to the deck,” my father states in his special language.
Ricky gives him a look.
“The box of long nails,” he explains. “And bring your hammers.” My father carries the two by four ladders up the ladder one at a time and lays them on their sides along the edge of the deck, while we hammer them in with sixteens, making a safety rail all the way around the deck with an opening where our rope is tied. Following my father’s lead we climb down and start putting everything we haven’t used back into the pick-up truck. With the tools and left overs back in their places in the construction yard my father drives us in the car to a hamburger stand and we sit at an outside picnic table with fries, burgers and sodas.
“Okay,” my father starts, “you have to promise me.”
We look up from our lunch and ask together, “what?”
“When you fall out of that tree you won’t hurt yourselves!” he says with a big grin and a little seriousness in his eyes.
“Agreed,” Ricky and I say with one voice.