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Prime Time | Sue Bruns: Working with Dad was special

Father and son climbed out of the pick-up, talking and laughing, as they unloaded materials. They joked comfortably with one another as they set up the saw and tile cutter in the garage and hauled the bamboo flooring from the truck, their moves naturally choreographed, having worked together for several years.

Together the two had built several houses from start to finish. The father taught the son to read a blueprint, to calculate stair treads, and to use power tools.

Today’s task is special, not only because they haven’t had an opportunity to work together for more than a year, but also because Gary is helping our son to remodel his first house. It is different for Eric, too, because for this project, he will be especially fastidious. Any errors made would haunt him daily.

Father and son fall into a comfortable rhythm – sometimes working side by side; other times, in different parts of the house.

Meanwhile, I rake up leaves and dead grass in Eric’s yard and think about times I worked with my father. I’d followed Dad around as he mowed until I was old enough to use the mower myself. Dad was meticulous about his lawn, never mowing the same direction twice in a row. One week he mowed east-west; the next week, north-south; the third week, diagonally; and the fourth week, diagonally in the opposite direction. Then the pattern was repeated.

When I had mastered the lawnmower and could mow the back yard, around the big spruce trees, under the clothesline, along the garden edge, and up and down the hill, I was ready for the front yard – the display yard. This yard had no weeds, dandelions, or crabgrass, but mowing with irregular lines could ruin the perfect effect, so I had practiced in the back yard.

When Dad came home from work one summer afternoon, his surprise at a freshly mowed, perfectly lined (well, almost perfect) front lawn was all the reward I needed, although getting to accompany him when he did his “real job” was an even bigger reward.

Dad managed the local Cargill plant in St. Peter. Depending on the season, he was busy selling and delivering corn to farmers, hiring de-tasselers, putting up road signs by especially nice looking fields, treating and bagging corn, shipping corn, or managing accounts.

A perfect day was one that included an outing with Dad. He’d put the posts, post hole digger, hardware, and the big yellow and black Cargill signs in the back of the pick-up. I’d ride shotgun, help carry the sign parts to the fields, and hand them to him as needed. He’d dig the post hole, put the post in place, mount the sign on the post, and I’d hand him the nuts, bolts and washers to secure it. My job was menial, but Dad always made me feel as if he couldn’t do it without me.

My husband Gary’s job involves power tools, utility knives, saws, and working on roofs, scaffolding, or ladders – not things a young kid could help with. Our son Eric was a teenager when he started working with his dad. For several summers – throughout his high school and college years – he and his dad built houses together. Eric was quick to learn and Gary was happy to teach his son.

Eric became a reliable and skilled worker. He learned every aspect of building a house from foundation to finishing. He took initiative if left alone on the job, could trouble shoot and problem solve. He was careful in his craft and his father was proud of what he had learned.

Recently Eric purchased his first home and it was only natural that his father became his go-to person for advice and assistance.

Over Labor Day weekend, Gary and I stayed in his new house. My help was minimal and cosmetic. I cleaned windows and fixtures and worked in the yard. “The boys” measured, prepped, shopped for materials, hauled them, set up saws and tools, and went to work.

Before long the steady popping of the pneumatic hammer pounded inside as Eric put down wood flooring in his new living room. Meanwhile Gary laid tile in the landing and down the stairs. At times, some troubleshooting was required, and they’d stand together, staring at a dilemma, and contemplating the best way to adjust.

Before long they were in the truck again, off to the lumber yard for more materials.

In the yard, I raked up dried grass and old leaves. My efforts wouldn’t result in a perfect lawn like my father’s, but the warmth inside of me was not just from the September sun. Having witnessed the unspoken joy of father and son working together, I basked in the happy reminiscence of working with my own father so many years ago.