Labor Day

Brady Foust

Easy money, soft hands, high school joe, college kid. That’s what they call you when you show up on a job site for the summer.

Eight summers on survey crews, building sewer systems, interstate bridges, a waste treatment plant, and two warehouses. 

Shit work, bull work, dangerous work, work you’d struggle to do at fifty.  A kid younger than me died when a ditch collapsed

We dug furiously screaming curses trying to save him. He was 19 and had a baby on the way.

I saw crushed hands, bloodied heads, broken arms. Men swore, not from pain, but for the work they’d miss.

No matter how hard the work, I always knew I’d be leaving come end of summer. Leaving them to face cold winter work or no job at all. 

Mid-August, older men changed their tone toward any kid who’d soon be gone. Softer, the hard edge gone. Stay in school, they’d say.

You don’t want to do this shit for the rest of your life. You’re lucky. Don’t blow this, kid. I’ll kick your sorry ass if you do.

Every year, when my last check came in the mail, there’d be a note from the foreman. The guys miss you, dipshit. Maybe we’ll see you next summer.

One fall, someone mailed a photograph of a finished bridge.  Scrawled across the back in pencil. You helped build this.

Brady Foust is a geographer, bon vivant, and raconteur who taught at UW-Eau Claire for 38 years.

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