He was a simple man. Family. Good food. Carnival. Music. He worked hard. Everyday. Union man. On Saturday he delivered wedding cakes.
Accept life like it is. Nothing to do but to live it. Live it up.
This isn’t to say that it was easy. There was never enough money for five kids. Shoes. Four girls. Dresses, dances, weddings.
His wife managed the money. He gave her his check every week, she gave him money for his packet. They had lots of friends, lots of family. Good, humble neighborhood, good neighbors, mostly.
Seafood on Fridays. All the kids, their friends, shrimp, crabs, crawfish. Put out the newspapers, pass a good time.
Carnival was the best of everything. He played the clarinet, very well, they said. Played in high school with Pete Fountain. But he was a strutter. Tall, thick head of hair, leading the procession, perfect marching timing. Man was that fun. Mardi Gras day - a culmination.
He grew out his beard every year. Cut it on ash Wednesday. Back to work. Fridays in Lent, seafood. Good life. Good wife. Great dancer. Only money was tight sometimes, so he worked harder - as hard as any man in the union.
Sheet metal was hard work. Man’s work. Ladders, heights. Heavy. Work. Accept life as it is. Pray the rosary every night, coach the girls basketball, volleyball, softball. Take the wife out to dances. Sometimes you pay the light bill and want on shoes.
So his life was good that day. They all met at the Union Hall. Seven o’clock a.m. Each man had his own tools. Later in life, he built desks, clocks, cars of wood. Now he worked on buildings, their sheet metal air conditioning.
He saw a man almost drop to his death once, by stepping too heavily on the tiles that made the ceiling. The man stepped, like a fool, and went through. His arms went out to either side and stopped his fall. The men came over and pulled him out. No one ever talked about it again. It was almost 4:00 anyway, so they clocked out early and went home. Everyone was shaken. He really almost died. He was reckless. Maybe the near-fall helped him grow up.
These were his thoughts that day, about the man who almost died in front of him, when he got to his job site.
It was a fancy, brand-new construction in the CBD - a six story office and condo building. He loved new construction projects - the reverberating newness, the blinding shine of the metal. He was a happy man as he prepared his tools, looked at the engineer’s plans, patted his sack with four ham sandwiches for later.
It wasn’t too hot. April. No windows yet, just big, open spaces so the blue sky was inside with him. He began to whistle, feeling how his morning tea made his notes easy and pure. He could feel the vibrations in his head. The sound echoed around the building.
He busied himself and worked hard as he always did - the work of two or three men. He took pride in this. He was taller, wider, straighter. He whistled and hammered, whistled and climbed the ladder, bright pipe over his shoulder, tools swinging from his belt.
“Hey Brother-man, can you stop that whistling?”
The foreman came up to inspect everyone’s work, make sure it was up to code.
He kept whistling, working.
“Hey Man, either stop whistling or go home. This is work, it ain’t a concert hall.”
He never stopped whistling. He climbed down the ladder, placed the silver pipe on the sun-splashed floor, whistled over to his toolbox, took his tools, one-by-one, whistling, and wiped them with a cloth he kept in the box.
Whistling, he patted his ham sandwiches, and whistling, he walked out into the warmth of the clear blue April day. He whistled all the way back back to the Union Hall, where he ate his ham sandwiches.
All the men got a kick out of his story. Of course, he got another job right away - later that same day. A man had cut his hand at another site and needed to be rushed to the hospital.
Whistling, he brushed the crumbs off his canvas pants, and went back to the work of three happy men.