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Lend A Hand … Give A Cloak

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By Nancy A. Clark

The phrase lend a hand took on new meaning when my sister and I volunteered ours to help a neighbor implement his plan to build a sidewalk. Bingo Barney- BB, for short – was a “giver” who was always there when others needed assistance. Now it was his turn to receive.

We girls offered to work as BB’s kitchen crew for the day when six strong men would invest their time and muscles into building a 30-foot long walkway between BB’s driveway and his front door. Bingo Barney, who earned his nickname for yelling “BINGO” when his beloved Pittsburgh Pirates scored a run, dubbed us The Sissy Crew (pun intended). He gave us free reign to create a sustainable lunch for his real work crew, as long as the menu consisted of a battery of baloney sandwiches, a pile of potato chips and a ton of Twinkies. Thirst quenchers included pitchers of iced water, cans of cold soda, and tall, dark-colored glass bottles bearing a Schlitz label. The labor-intensive half of BB’s DIY Dream Team would toil in high humidity and 90-degree July heat, conditions that demanded all the fortification the crew could get.

Project day dawned as expected, but the expected work crew did not: only my hubby reported for duty that morning. Consequently, game plan changes were necessary, and our modus operandi as baloney builders quickly expanded to include sidewalk building.

Wiser women would have read the writing on the wall and said, “See ya later, alligator.” Instead, we ran directly to the driveway next door where a virile young man was preparing to polish his 1972 sky blue Chevy Chevelle SS Coup. We offered enticements – i.e. a free lunch and a cool dip in BB’s backyard pool – if he joined our team, but no cigar. (He said he wasn’t into baloney.)

So we kissed common sense and our manicures goodbye and donned oversized pairs of orange flannel Monkey-Face work gloves. BB’s motley crew of three would have to work fast and furious to get ‘er done in one day as BB had rented a portable cement mixer for just 24 hours.

Gender equality was askew here, but what the hey.

BB, who suffered a chronic back problem, easily slipped into the role of overseer, and my mate took the helm at the cement mixer. There, he blended “girl grunt”- sized portions of dry cement, sand, gravel and water in the belly of the rickety machine. When he was satisfied with the mix, he tipped the “tumbler” and poured the lumpy batter into a wheelbarrow. Sis and I took turns pushing the wheelbarrow to sections of one-by-six- inch form boards that outlined the proposed walkway. Whichever of us was the “barrow pusher” dumped the batter and, using a large garden hoe, coaxed the goop into the space between the boards. Huffing and puffing in the equatorial-like heat, Sis and I alternated roles as “barrow pusher” and “finisher” – the latter working on hands and knees to level out and smooth over the wet surface.

By mid-morning, a well-padded lawn chair beckoned B.B. to sit beneath the shade of an old oak tree. There he snoozed contentedly… the brim of his fishing hat catawampus on his balding pate, a corpulent bumble bee circling the narrow neck of the brown bottle listing in his right hand. At least one of this crew had the good sense to get out of the sun.

Nineteen hours and no-lunch later, when the last batch of gravel gravy was blended, poured, spread and “finished,” three exhausted toilers dropped like stones to the ground and groaned without ceasing. An alert and refreshed BB surveyed (by flashlight) the length of the finished walkway and proclaimed it “a work of art.” Then he acknowledged the skill and strength of the bedraggled artists, declaring us to be “strrrrong, like bull.” From our supine position and semi-conscious state, we cared not whether he was referencing our endurance or our de‘stink’tive scent.

Time has blessed my muscles with memory loss as regards that project-most-arduous; but I pass on, for your consideration, these conclusions forever ingrained in my brain: (1) Volunteer scripturally –be prepared to give your cloak, too; (2) Thirty feet long is no baloney; and (3) Respect the bull – even if you’re standing downwind. For all you know, he may have just spent a day – and a night – building a sidewalk.

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