A Window to the Future
Great moments in building history: Sometimes all it takes is the swift kick of a window
Late September in Maryland is a wonderful time. Golden days are as crisp and tangy as an apple, the sun sets on colorful leaves that make every tree a bouquet, and evenings have a zip that lends itself perfectly to high-school football games and half-time shows.
Not like mid-August. Mid-August in Maryland is when temperature and humidity vie for the highest number, creating an environment oppressively like a Louisiana bayou. It may be possible to acclimatize to such conditions. But Marylanders are not Cajun, and this onslaught of nature’s steam bath comes and goes too quickly for us to adapt and overcome. We merely suffer and endure. Brows are wiped, and folk mutter about how “muggy” it is.
My father, a transplanted Texan, found himself outside on just such a day in the early 1970s. This was a bad enough thing in itself, and circumstance had conspired to make matters worse. Having spent his day driving a bus for Washington, D.C., Transit, he had returned home to find that I, his 10-year-old son, had locked us out of our ground-floor apartment. Between us and the air-conditioning was a locked door, and neither of us had a key.
Under different conditions, we would have gone to the apartment-complex manager’s office for a spare key, but that was a 15-min. round trip, followed by another trip to return the key. I stared off into the distance and wondered what my father would do.
The amount of time that passed between my father’s deciding to kick in a window and actually doing so was so slight, I’m certain Dad was as surprised as I was to hear the tinkling sound of breaking glass. It was a small, ground-level, horizontal slider that got the boot that sweltering afternoon, and it was the work of a few moments to reach through, unlock and open the unit, clear away the broken glass and stuff a 10-year-old through. I quickly unlocked the door and watched my father enter the air-conditioned apartment with the regal dignity of a bishop.
We lolled about the living room, enjoying our freon-based bliss, and I wondered what would be done about the window. A glance at my father told me his brain had cooled enough to permit him to ponder the same question. After all, we were firmly entrenched among the working poor, and a window must cost something to fix. My guess was that my father would report an act of vandalism or an aborted break-and-enter. That’s when the phone rang. Dad listened for a while, then said, “Yeah, I was just about to call and let you know. No, I’ll look after it myself.” Hanging up, he got a ruler, wrote down some measurements and picked up his keys. “Let’s go, son,” he said, and we drove off in the old station wagon.
As we drove to the hardware store, Dad told me a neighbor had seen him kick in the window and had called the manager. The manager probably knew the circumstances were such that someone might fabricate a story to avoid paying for the damage. By calling to let my father know that he had been ratted out, she effectively placed the cost of repairs squarely in his lap where it belonged.
The guy at the hardware store was helpful, and after cutting a piece of glass for us, he asked if putty or points were required. “I don’t know,” Dad said. “Are they?” We left the store with enough tools and sundries to repair a dozen windows.
At work the next day, my father unleashed his inner Texan, and soon the other drivers had heard of his glazing skills. “You know, Don,” said a co-worker, “there’s a broken window at my house.” As I watched Dad repair that unit on his next day off, an elderly lady called me over to the adjoining property. “Tell your father to come see me when he’s done,” she instructed. “I have a fence that needs some attention.” As my father was repairing her fence the following weekend, she gave him the telephone number of a friend of hers “who needs some things done.”
It took about six months before my father could leave the bus-driving business for a carpentry career he continues to this day. We haven’t seen much of each other in recent years. But absence can be as influential as presence, and when I left college to help support my own family, I signed on as an apprentice carpenter with our local union. It’s mostly a good life, but when things don’t go well and it’s hot and humid, I can’t help but think how satisfying it might be to kick in a window.
—Dave Killion, Victoria, BC, Canada
Drawing by: Jackie Rogers