Wednesday, May 20, 2009
hard headed hard hat
Thinking about the long and winding trip from this lovely pile of bricks to current land use skirmishes in Napa, I must remind myself at times that I am still that "hard headed hard hat" who broke the gender barrier in North Carolina over thirty five years ago. The main reason my construction career was not limited to one intense summer during college was this building - the North Carolina Governor's Mansion.
A week or so after marriage and moving back to an 1870 cottage in Raleigh, NC about two blocks from this home, I noticed that the building had a familiar construction company sign posted. I wanted more than anything to go into this house and to work on it. I also needed a job. Should I work in an architecture office drawing toilet room partitions and running blueprints - or march up to the door and seek a laborer job with my former employer? Not a hard choice, actually...
Mr. C-, the superintendent looked startled and nonplussed at my effrontery to be standing there asking for a job. I'm a "girl", for heaven's sake. Girls don't do construction work. He needed laborers - right then - and asked if I had any experience and could do the job. Looking around the jobsite, suspiciously clogged with men within earshot, I noticed Mr. P- my former superintendent. Looking a bit further, I noticed a couple of other superintendents I recognized. I said, "Mr.P- can vouch for me."
"Hey P-, do you know this girl?"
Mr. P- (who was working, not lurking) turned - and wreathed in smiles came over to greet me. "Great to see you again. What are you doing here, Juli?"
"I'd like to work on the Governor's Mansion. I love this house!" I said.
Mr. C- and Mr. P- talked for a minute, while I greeted Mr. P-'s son Arthur - also working on the project. Arthur was a quiet, quick moving carpenter whose hammer loop always squeaked in a rhythmic way. He pointed out several other superintendents working on the job. All were master carpenters, and the company, Clancy & Theys Construction Co. had put every top craftsman on this job. I knew this was the right place to be. Mr. P- did the sales job for me, and I started that day.
Within a couple of months I was assistant superintendent for Mr. C-.
The Governor's Mansion was so close to my house, that I walked every day. I still have my lunchbox and hard hat, but the thermos is long gone. My 1953 deluxe cab Chevy pick up truck sat quietly in the drive, happy to be a weekender truck working on the weekend project...