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Linda Jenkin Costanzo: Despite brutal heat, roofers soldiered on

I rose at 6 a.m. The day would be another scorcher with no end in sight to the drought. I grabbed a hose, soaked the flower gardens that bordered my house and grumbled at the day ahead of me. My roof was being replaced.

I didn’t relish the mess and noise in this heat, strangers pounding the roof and, least of all, damaged plants. I finished watering at 7:30 when an ugly, monstrous dumpster was deposited in my driveway. A forklift dropped off 90 bundles of shingles. The project was more than I bargained for. I never knew that my grumbling would change into compassion at the end of the day.

By 8 a.m., the roofing crew, ranging in age from 20 to 50, proceeded to the back half of my house like an invading army, all with specialized jobs. Four men grabbed tear-off shovels. With athlete-like agility and machine-like arms, they scraped off old shingles, tossing them aside in one smooth stroke as they continued their ascent to the roof peak. Old shingles piled up two-feet deep and were shoveled into garbage cans.

I retreated beneath a shade tree. Their stamina and speed amazed me. It was now 80 degrees and they were hauling 75-pound bundles of shingles up ladders. I’ve never seen such teamwork in unbearable heat. No one stopped for a moment or complained.

I’ve always offered coffee or something to eat to anyone who worked on a project at my house. The fact that there were 12 workers made no difference. I told the foreman I’d buy their lunch and when I returned I’d appreciate it if they’d assemble a make-shift table in my garage. I cut up a watermelon while ordering a sheet pizza for noon. I foolishly realized pizza wasn’t enough. A dozen seventh-graders could devour 24 slices of pizza, so I ordered a tray of assorted subs from a supermarket and hurried out.

When I returned, I spotted the makeshift table in my garage as I’d requested. I raced up the driveway from my car to the house. Staple guns grew silent, talking ceased and 12 exhausted, sweating workers suddenly appeared, offering assistance as I brought out a plastic table cloth, plates and the watermelon. Seeing the food on the table, a roofer said, “Wow! We’ve had pizza occasionally but never pizza and subs!”

I said to them, “Let’s say a quick prayer of thanks.” When I was done, with heads still bowed, they said, “Amen.” The conversation drifted to some past jobs they had completed. Someone said, “We’ve worked at homes where they turn off the water spigots while we’re working. They don’t want us running up their water bill.”

I began to see how some people treat laborers. The lunch was gone in 15 minutes. They repeatedly thanked me for my generosity. I grinned as they cleaned up – one toss of a paper plate – right into the dumpster. Exhausted, well-fed bodies stretched out under shade trees until lunch hour was over.

That evening, the owner came by to check the final job. He mentioned that it’s 30 degrees hotter on a roof. The temperature rose to 90 that day. By my calculations, the men worked in 120 degree temperatures. The job ended with my heightened awareness and respect for those who work outside for a living and never complain. Outdoor laborers are seldom recognized. And I no longer grumble about the heat. The roofers left the job that day refreshed and renewed. I said, “Amen.”

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