With my new tools fastened tightly in place around my waist and a hard hat sitting on my head, I was as ready as I could be for my first day at work in the construction business. Blackey, whose real name I learned much later was Calvus J. Ucey, was going to be my “boss”. And the first thing I had to do was to try and understand what he was saying to me. Blackey was from Louisiana and had been a deckhand on a shrimp boat before he wandered into the drywall trade, and so his accent was not one that I was at all familiar with. And he spoke that Creole patois at a very fast pace! I quickly learned that I was now called “Babe”; in fact everyone that Blackey spoke to was called “Babe”.
And the first thing that Blackey told me to do…was to take off my tools. I wasn’t going to need them; I would be stocking material for the journeyman working on the project and the tools would just slow me down. He began by telling me how much of each item needed to go into the various rooms. If I couldn’t remember, the count had been written on the floor next to the door of the unit. But the names were baffling. No one had told me that I was supposed to know about “core board” or “mud”. I tried asking questions, but after a few minutes of trying to decipher Blackey’s answers, I gave up and tried to figure it all out on my own.
I learned quickly. And I also learned that this stuff was heavy! I watched some of the journeyman as they picked up the sheets of core board and they seemed to do it quite effortlessly, while I grunted and stumbled under the weight. By the time lunch break came, I was eager to sit down for awhile.
The lunch break was announced with a loud blast from the air horns of a catering truck that had pulled up in front of the project. Everyone hurried down to get something from the truck and then we retired to the lunch room, the room where I had previously been introduced. And once again, Blackey took center stage, eating his sandwich and telling some story while kneeling in the center of the room and beating the concrete with his cap to accentuate a point he was making. Most of his stories involved his dog, “Rex”, and although Rex had gone to “doggie heaven” a long time ago, Blackey’s tales brought him back to life every day.
Alex, the foreman, sat and watched Blackey and didn’t say much. But 30 minutes after that horn had sounded, he was on his feet and urging us all back to work. Oh, no! I was already sore. Could I make it to 3:30?