Safety Shoes: The Excavation
Darnell Jarvis didn't hate this job too much, yet.
He'd been hired for the week to help oversee the excavation going on just outside town in anticipation of the new highway going in. Darnell's job qualifications were basically that he had a pair of steel-toed safety shoes and he could fog a mirror. But that suited him fine, so he took the damn job.
Now here he was wearing a hard hat, walking around with mud stuck all over his safety shoes, watching a union man in a steam shovel taking his sweet time.
Things finally got interesting around ten. That was when the steam shovel struck something solid.
The steam shovel uncovered a little more of what appeared to be a fairly large item, blue in color. Now the safety shoe-clad construction workers turned into excited children anticipating a find as exciting as buried treasure.
But, no. It turned out to be nothing more than a portable toilet that had (for some unknown reason) been buried here years ago.
So much for buried treasure...
A couple of more hours passed and everyone broke for lunch.
Just as Darnell finished off his two fried bologna sandwiches and a small bag of chips, the Head Honcho told everyone the break was over, and to get back to work.
The sun hung high in the sky now and it felt even hotter. There was sweat all over Darnell's face and it kept rolling down into his eyes, burning them when it did so. ‘The things I’ll do for money’, he thought.
Just before three the steam shovel again hit something hard. And once again all of the adult children wearing hard hats and safety shoes gathered around to check out the new find.
This time it turned out to be a large wooden box.
Upon closer inspection, Darnell thought it looked like a damned handmade coffin. But surely that couldn't be.
Once the thing was completely uncovered, the Head Honcho told Darnell to go down in the hole and see what the hell was in the box.
Darnell didn’t much like that idea, but he also didn’t want anyone to know he was spooked by the box.
He made his way into the hole, slipping in the damp earth, getting his safety shoes even muddier as he went until he finally arrived at the box.
He pulled out his ‘never before used’ hammer and struck at the box with the claw end.
Loosening an edge of the box, he continued working to pry the lid of the box open.
Even with the shade and the cooler temperature in the hole, Darnell was beginning to feel sick from the heat. Again and again he had to wipe his sweaty forehead off with his forearm as he worked the hammer – it didn’t help much.
The crude box had been built better than it looked, but after a few more minutes of labor, the lid finally fell off.
Damn! It WAS a coffin. And inside the coffin, staring back at Darnell, was a skeleton with a gaping hole in the side of his skull.
“Wow. Looks like something hit him in the head”, the Head Honcho said looking down at the box from up behind Darnell.
"He’s probably been buried here for 30 years. Well, I guess I'd better call the cops, to let them know."
Darnell didn’t respond.
He just stared at the skeleton still wearing the old Standard Gas uniform with the name “Tommy” embroidered over his left pocket. And finally, after twenty-eight years, Darnell suddenly knew why his father had gone to get cigarettes and had never come home. He finally understood why his father had simply disappeared, never to contact him again, and why he had missed Darnell’s graduation, his marriage, and the birth of his child.
All of this time, Darnell's father, Tommy Jarvis, had been down here in this damned box.
"Your Father Didn't Wear Safety Shoes...Once!"
She lived in an assisted living facility upstate and we only went up to visit her as a family a few times each year. My father went every other weekend, but he didn’t make the rest of us go. Sometimes my mother went with him, but she never really got along with my grandmother, so she avoided it almost as much as the rest of us kids did.
The ride there was long and boring – nothing spectacular to see in the entire two hour drive – and the two or three hour visit could be even worse, having to constantly repeat ourselves more times than I can count.
When we finally arrived, we would take turns talking to Grandma one at a time. Always in order of oldest to youngest. We’d each tell Grandma our news, and then wait for her to comment. Must be something like getting an audience with the pope.
“I’ve got a new job, Grandma,” I said. “I’ll be working with Dad at the construction company. Mostly moving debris, but I’ve got to start somewhere, right?”
My father owned the company, just as his father before him had. I would eventually run the company, too, but my father was not one for giving things away without earning them.
“Be sure to wear your safety shoes,” she said. Her eyes were milky and I couldn’t tell if she was even looking at me.
“What’s that, Grandma?”
“Your safety shoes,” she said again. “Always wear them while on the job. Your grandfather lost a toe that way.”
To my knowledge, my grandfather had gone to the grave with all ten of his digits, but I smiled and nodded anyway.
"Sure thing, Grandma.”
She turned her head and seemed to stare at me. “I mean it. Without safety shoes, something could happen to you. Ask your father about what happened to HIM. He didn’t wear his safety shoes one day and look at him now.”
My father stood behind my grandmother and he slowly shook his head as I locked eyes with him.
“Okay, Grandma. I promise. I’ll always wear my safety shoes.”
The old woman smiled and patted my hand. Her skin was dry, cracking, and a whiff of lavender and rubbing alcohol followed it as she moved. “Good boy,” she said. “We don’t want a repeat of what happened to your father.”
There was an insistence in her voice – a determination that stilled her usual tremolo – I couldn’t remember her ever being so clear or serious before today. I stared at my father over my grandmother’s head wondering what might have happened. But he wouldn’t meet my eyes.
After taking my grandmother down the road for the early bird dinner at her favorite restaurant – we took her back home to have her homemade brownie dessert.
It didn’t taste the same as it had when I was younger, and it made me wonder if she had forgotten the recipe. As I helped her pass the plates she whispered in my ear reminding me one more time to be sure to wear safety shoes while on the construction site. I patted her shoulder and promised I would.
In the car on the way home, I waited twenty minutes until I brought it up with my father. From the back seat, I could see his grip tighten on the wheel. But he wouldn’t answer. What had happened that he wouldn’t even talk about?
I asked again a couple of more times until he finally replied, “It was nothing. Forget about it.”
What could I do? I stopped bugging him and decided it must be something so strange that he thought I couldn’t handle it. I made up my mind right then, that I was definitely going to wear my safety shoes at work – heck, maybe I’d start wearing them all of the time.