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A Carpenter's View

A Carpenter's View

Working with all kinds of people

comments (4) September 27th, 2011 in Blogs
redwing44 redwing44, Legendary author

The walking nailer preceded the Paslode strip nailer by fifteen years or so. Uncollated nails were put in a pan, fed down a tube one nail at a time, and driven through sheathing into joists or rafters.


An old Irish song: “They are hangin’ men and women for the wearing of the green.”

Is racism and sexism handed down to each generation from our families and culture, or are we born with such feelings? My experience is that to be racist or sexist is a learned habitual pattern. Our family lived in a small anti-Native American town not far from the Pine Ridge Lakota reservation in South Dakota. There was an unwritten notice that in Harrison, Neb., pop. 500, Native Americans were not welcome. Even in the 1950s I saw signs in shop windows in places like Hot Springs, S.D., saying, “No Indians allowed.” Whenever a Native person did come through our town, Mother had food and water for them. I am grateful for that!

I think that the reason my family escaped being discriminatory of others because of race, color, gender, or whatever was mainly due to our mother, Elizabeth Brennan. She was born in 1897 of immigrant parents. She was not only Irish but Catholic—double jeopardy. She had seen the signs in store windows: “No Irish allowed” and “Help wanted. No Irish need to apply.”

As a Catholic, Mom had experienced our prairie home circled by the Klan. They rode big horses and hid behind white sheets terrorizing people. In our isolated rural area, there were no Afro-Americans or Jewish people around. So there was no one left to terrorize except us Catholics. Once the KKK even burned a cross in front of our house. So our mother with her five children knew what it was to be the object of discrimination and prejudice.

I think the very first person we hired to help build houses was a survivor of the Nazi death camps. I learned much from him about man’s inhumanity to man—stories that made my soul ache. Paul did the pickup (punch list) work behind us on hundreds of buildings for 30 years or more. He was always on the job on time and often worked alone. He was a trusted employee that kept developers and building inspectors happy.

The Latino people I knew and worked with beginning in the 1950s had been in California long before the likes of me arrived. Many of them were skilled craftsmen, especially when working with concrete. Still, they were often seen as lazy, siesta-taking, chili-loving invaders from the south.

Fernando was the first illegal alien we hired. He worked with us for 25 years or more. He was a piece worker nailing off floors and roof sheathing with an ingenious device—a walking nail-driving machine that used uncollated 8d nails (see photo). The Paslode nail gun didn’t arrive on job sites until 1962, so we used the walking gun for many years.

The next “river wader” we hired was Martin Garcia. Martin came to work as a laborer in about 1954, followed by his son Johnny. Johnny became a master carpenter and foreman on job sites. Learning their Spanish language opened up a whole new world to me. Their culture is quite beautiful. Is there some valid reason why many in our country resist being bilingual?

posted in: Blogs

Comments (4)

DrywallCub DrywallCub writes: I find it sad that in our “modern” world we still hold on to prejudices that never had place in this great country. Especially in the trades.
Posted: 2:10 pm on February 22nd

solarstar solarstar writes: I just discovered today from this site that Larry had died, what a bummer. I could tell he was a great guy and this blog proves it. Bilingual, knew sign language this only added to his obvious intelligence. From his books and videos,as a carpenter I modeled Larry. Thanks Larry, you will be missed! He was one in a million. And what a life of experience.
Posted: 2:19 am on December 19th

pipesnc pipesnc writes: I agree with you BobboMax, I would consider working with different kinds of people as an opportunity to learn their culture or even to practice your leadership that you can get along with any kind of people not just one race.
Posted: 11:57 am on October 5th

BobboMax BobboMax writes: Thanks, Larry, good column.

You raise a lot of issues I see as moral and I see moral decisions as personal- there really aren't any (god)-given rules- we all have to make it up as we go. That said, when I see what I consider immorality, I work against it. (And try not to make it into a fight.)

Now, putting that stuff aside, ability is pretty much evenly distributed. (god) didn't say, "Well, I'm gonna give all the white boys managerial abilities and all the black guys totin' abilities, and well, Injuns, I'm gonna make them all drunks." 5% of ANY group are truly great, 20% are merely good, 50% are doing their best, 20% are a bit slack and 5% you should cross the street to avoid saying hello to.

If you rule out blacks and immigrants and Republicans and gays and women and hippies and left-handers and Catholics and Irish, pretty soon, you won't be able to find anybody who can do the job. I worked with a woman who struggled to carry a bundle of Arch80s up a ladder, but she could nail them off as fast as anyone and she was twice as good as the foreman at keeping the clients happy. And a dynamite finish carpenter to boot.

So, for you people who really aren't into the morality of it all, consider the money. And in the course of it all, you may find some real friends, like Larry did.
Posted: 9:53 pm on September 28th

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