Here it is the May 24th weekend and I am home alone. My kids are at their dad's, my husband is fishing - he says he'll be home Sunday morning but I'll believe it when I see it. Meanwhile I am having an orgy of spring cleaning, tossing every piece of junk not nailed down into the 15 foot industrial waste bin currently sitting in my driveway. And in doing so, I have finally, after carrying them around for 21 years, thrown out my old construction boots. The last time I had them on was about two months ago, to help my husband move some wood with nails in it, and they were so stiff they hurt my feet. They are simply unwearable now.
Perfectly ordinary work boots, with steel reinforced toes and rated for shock (or whatever they call it - that green triangle thingy they put on them). But I loved these boots and have been carrying them around, hardly ever wearing them, but refusing to get rid of them, since I was 21.
That summer, burned out with school and fed up with the city, I was determined to find a summer job outside. One guy I knew suggested I apply at a local christmas tree farm - he said the guy hired a few girls every year. I don't remember applying, the interview, or the guy who hired me, but I do remember the job. You walked in a circle around the tree, trimming the branches into a nice cone shape, then moved on to the next one. Equipment required - steel toed boots, shin pad, and an 18 inch long machete.
Since my first job at 14, I have worked at offices, a bakery, Burger King, a golf course and law firms. That tree farm job was my first experience with manual labour and I have never loved a job that much before or since. Outside all day, one simple job to do, and being left alone to do it. Taking breaks when you need one. Listening to my Walkman all day. Riding to and from the fields in the back of the boss's pickup. I remember my mother thought it would be too hard for me, but I had a ball. She took this picture of me on my last day.
In the years since, I often thought of that job and tried to figure out why it appealed to me so. After the past year of self-analysis I can see that it was the physicality and simplicity, and the peaceful environment, that drew me to it. If I could live my life over again, I would take an apprenticeship, learn a trade. Even now, if I could, I would love to learn carpentry - or masonry. That one intrigued my husband - as supportive as he is of my interest in the trades, he has a hard time picturing me working with cement and bricks. And so would anyone else looking at me right now - 44 years old, 190 lbs, sitting in a chair all day. But I actually thrive on physical work - it feeds something in me that working at a desk can't satisfy.
I have spent the last 20 years wishing I'd made different decisions, and stubbornly holding onto the hope that one day things may be different. That hope is the reason I kept the boots - always waiting for a chance to wear them again. Even now, with all these bills and really no options or freedom to change, I dream of quitting my job to work with my husband, or for his landscaping friend. To spend my time outdoors, digging ponds, planting flowers...it would be so great.
But it's not going to happen. Not unless I essentially give up, quit my job, and tell the bank so sorry but I won't be paying back that loan after all. If it was just me I'd do it and start fresh, but being responsible for three kids stops me. To quit a $50,000 a year job to go cut grass for $11.00 an hour - we can't live on that. By the time all three girls are grown up and I'm responsible only for myself again, I will be 56 years old.
So I took the boots out of the closet - old, cracking, stiff with age. I put them in the garbage bag. Then, like an idiot, I started to cry. Took them back out again. Left them on the couch for a few hours while I threw out different things. Then, just before I tied it up, put them in the garbage bag again. No tears the second time.
I may work part time outside some day. I may have the occasional day where I can work with my husband. But there will be no new career in the trades - I'm too old, I've missed my chance. There's so much more acceptance for women in trades now as well, it would be a great time to become involved, if I could. There is even a new brand of constuction wear especially for women in trades called "Moxi Trades". They sell boots, safety glasses, tool belts and hard hats in construction yellow, powder blue, and pink. So, last week, I went out and bought a new pair of work boots.
Just in case.