It was a cold Monday morning, winter of 1989, we were putting up a building in downtown Manhattan.
I mean it was “North Pole” cold. Not that I have ever been to the North Pole.
Despite three pairs of white tube socks my feet were freezing. It got so cold sometimes I couldn’t feel my toes.
This particular job lasted months, I was there almost a year. I made good money, met some good people and felt like I was on top of the world; life was good.
But there were days I did not look forward to work. Some days I thought my fingers would fall off. It sucked getting out of bed at five in the morning.
I was an apprentice on the job working as a welder’s helper for the late Andy Purcell. He was the pusher. The pusher was the guy who ran the gang. Think of it as a coach of a football team. Andy was a great guy. It was a great gig. I loved working for him. He took care of me.
One of our welders, Jerry Darlington was one of my favorite men on the job. He was in his late 40’s, and he had the coolest accent; he was born in Kingston, Jamaica. We would have some great card games in the shanty when we got rained out.
While setting up his wooden platform so he could get down to work, Jerry said something to me that changed my life.
“Steve my man, how old are you? Jerry asked before slipping his shield on.
“Twenty-five,” I replied as I stuffed his pouch with a few welding rods. Speaking of welding rods, one day I went to get the coffee for the gang and I forgot the plastic stirrers. Andy used a welding rod to mix his java.
Jerry looked at me and answered, “Let me ask you, do you really want to be doing this for the next forty winters?”
I looked down over the edge at the people on the street rushing to work, looked around the job and watched the other Ironworkers getting after it, and most of all, thought about how cold I was. And it wasn’t even eight-thirty.
At this point in my life I was stuck. Stuck in a rut. Going with the flow. You see the thing was I loved coaching basketball and I really wanted to do that with my time. I wanted to do it full-time.
But I loved being an Ironworker. We always got the utmost respect on any construction site. We were on top, ahead of everyone. Ironworking was the chosen profession of most of the males in my family. My father, older brother, uncles, cousins and most important, my grandfather and his father all worked the iron. Ray Corbett and his father were two of the best. The work ethic and values I learned has helped me on my journey. Matter of fact, it changed my life for the better.
The men I met are still good friends to this day. Often times when I pass a job site where they are setting iron, I can’t help but think back and wonder what those years would have been like If Jerry had not asked me that all important question on that cold Monday morning?
HAPPY LABOR DAY!
Enjoy the day…