My dad recently retired, after working for US Steel for 44 or 45 years. He started there green, after attending college for only a year or two, but by the end of his career, was the senior person (no pun intended) at the plant. I remember, as a child, we would occasionally drop him off, pick him up, or take him lunch. There was a very tall turnstyle at the entrance, and no one entered unless they worked there. It was an intimidating-looking place, and I have always wondered what the inside of that very large, industrial building looked like. I still don’t know.
Sometimes, when I was very young, my Dad would get calls from work on his off-days. If he “wasn’t at home,” he couldn’t be called in to work, obviously; so way back when, before the days of Caller ID, my sister and I, or our Mom, would always answer the phone if he was at home. Of course, sometimes he would answer himself, but only if our budget necessitated.
Extra shifts aside, my Dad has been a shining example to me, throughout his working career. He would take a shower when he got up, arrive at work early and change clothes once he was there. When his shift ended, he would take a shower, put on fresh clothes, and come home. I don’t know that he was ever late for work, which speaks strongly to his work ethic, since he worked rotating shifts for many, many years. 7-3, 3-11, 11-7, sometimes mixing those up on the same day. I don’t recall his ever calling in sick to work, but he must have, because he was hospitalized at one point, with some virus the doctors couldn’t identify. Still, he went to work, on time, every day, and provided for his family. And then when he came home, he spent time with his family if he wasn’t sleeping after a night shift.
Yesterday, my Dad almost burned himself into oblivion. He was attempting to light a fire with diesel fuel, but after working at the plant for 45 years, he couldn’t smell the fluid well enough to tell that was actually gasoline. After he lit the fire, was engulfed in flames, and then rolled on the ground, he called my husband to come and get him, because he didn’t want anyone else to see him. He managed to drive himself to the closest urgent care clinic (and those poor people – they have probably not seen many cases as urgent as his was), where he received pain medication and bandages. He was then instructed to go to the closest burn unit.
Today – the day after – he has one hand heavily bandaged, and his face and neck are swollen like he gained 100 pounds yesterday. His face is also weeping, like he is sweating in the heat of the worst humid Alabama summer on record. His pain is better today, however. He will have to go to the doc next week, and the week after, and the week after, to have the burns on his hand debrided, but he is going to be alright, thank goodness. This accident could most certainly have ended very badly.
To this day, I cringe when I drive past my parents’ home when I am going to be late for work, which is most days. I sort of hunch down in my seat, as if they wouldn’t recognize me if my Mom or Dad happened to be in the front yard when my car slinked past their house. I am late most days, but mostly consistent in my time of arrival. I know this is not acceptable behavior from someone who has a good work ethic (as evidenced by 45 years of my Dad never being late), but this fact alone doesn’t seem to have enough uummph for me. This is most definitely a character flaw of some kind, but without a doubt, one that I didn’t inherit from my Dad.
For today, my Dad is at home recovering from his wounds. He retired in early January. His last day of work, he had to call in sick because he caught the flu from his other ailing family members, possibly me. My mom had hip replacement surgery 2-3 weeks later, and he took care of her while she recuperated. Now this. I don’t think this is a lesson for people to never retire, but perhaps when you have enough time to light a fire to get rid of the snakes in the woodpile, maybe you should just go home and relax instead – being retired and all. For today, though, I am thankful that his outcome wasn’t worse. His pain will subside, and he will be okay. The pain makes me hurt, but it most definitely hurts less than the alternative.