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Getting down to laughter

Herb said, "Lon got everything shingled but that back roof, and now his widow's got the materials stacked there. Some of us are going to finish the job. Enough of us, it won't take long."

That was as close to an invitation as I was going to hear. The next morning, I walked down the ridge to where the crew had started to gather, four men, all retired, who lived on the ridge.

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I was between jobs. I didn't know anything about roofing, and I owned no roofing tools. Everyone else had tools to spare, so I used what I needed.

Joel showed me how to cut and nail shingles. We took turns carrying shingles up the ladder.

The sun shone from the southern sky, above the tops of old-growth pine trees standing above the steep canyon, and warmed our work party on the roof. With five of us, the work moved rapidly, but everyone took time to laugh, tell stories, pass the soda pop, and sometimes to sit idly in the sun for a few minutes.

I'd met Michael, the oldest man on the crew, the year before, when I responded to a small sign he and his wife put out by the road, "Apples for Sale."

They had a small orchard behind their house. I bought two boxes of winesaps, and Michael volunteered to keep the second box for me until I finished the first. "We can put the box down in the well, just above the water, and the apples'll keep until you're ready for them." They did, too, as fresh as newly picked when I went to get them, midwinter.

Sitting on the roof in sunshine, drinking pop, Michael said, "Now, what you don't want to do is fall off this roof. The pitch on my roof's steeper'n this one. Two years ago, I was up there nailing shingles and I slipped. I know enough to tie off on a steep roof, but you know how men get about safety. Ready to let it slide to save a couple of minutes, and my rope was coiled in the valley off to my side."

Everybody quit cutting shingles and nailing and turned toward Michael, ready to hear a story.

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"Once I started sliding, no way I could stop. Nothing to grab onto. Just as I slid over the edge, a big nail bent into the end of a rafter caught in my belt and stopped me, half over the edge, just hanging there. I couldn't get up, couldn't get down. I was sideways, just dangling. I started hollering. Felt pretty dumb, but there was nothing else to do.

"My wife was in the kitchen, and she came running out, took one look at me, and that old woman started laughing fit to bust. Couldn't do anything. I kept saying, 'Get the ladder! Get me a ladder!' Well, eventually she did, scooted that ladder around from the end of the house and got it about half under me. I turned and got a grip, hung onto the ladder, slipped my belt out of the loops, and climbed down. But first she had to laugh about 10 minutes.

"Might be a good thing she didn't get the ladder right away. It took so long to get the ladder and for me to get on it and get down, by the time I got down, I had to admit, well, manly dignity aside, it was funny. Every time she looked at me till dinner she'd bust out laughing again. To this day, she'll think about me hanging there by my belt on the edge of the roof, and she'll get to laughing again. Can't do anything but laugh with her. My age, it's too late to marry again."

Everyone laughed when he finished his story. Then we started swapping stories about roofs, wives, and manly dignity completely lost. Before anyone had a chance to think up new topics, we finished the roof and everyone went home. A storm brought rain the next day, but it blew harmlessly over a roof secured by nails, skill, a strong sense of community, and a fair measure of laughter.

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