Gruff Love

Recently, I spent about two weeks working with the same journeyman. He looked like an overweight and scruffy version of Tom Selleck or Burt Reynolds. (ok, really – he just sported the 70’s mustache and had a full head of brown hair) He loved his cigarettes, couldn’t drink coffee – opted for hot cocoa instead – and when he was in a joking mood, would hold his pot belly and say, “Yup, this has been honestly bought and paid for!” In his moodier and more melodramatic moments (which hit frequently and without prediction), he either yelled at pieces of equipment that weren’t installing easily, vented his low opinion of our office bidder/estimator or grumbled about how tired he was of “all this shit.” He was a process-out-loud kind of guy who got frazzled when all the variables of our trade didn’t pull together smoothly. And I couldn’t quite gauge his humor. One minute, he fervently told me he cared more about accuracy than speed. The next minute, he’d stomp into my work area with a scowl and say, “We’re not crafting a watch, you know!” or “Making a career out of that or what?” At the end of our project, he handed me a cable termination tool and said, “Here! This is for you. You can probably use it soon.” Then he stomped off.

This was the second gift I’ve ever received from a journeyman. Marge, My first (and by far, my
harshest) journeywoman gave me a utility knife which serves as my main knife today. Of course, this was after she muttered and gruffed about how crappy and useless my then-knife was. With Marge, our crew was asked to come in ridiculously early on a Saturday morning in order to shut down, switch over and power up some significant circuits. She had given me a good chewing out the day before on how I need to do a better job of anticipating. How was I supposed to anticipate all our tools and tasks for the day when the big picture of our project was such a mystery? And when I did try to continue something we’d started the day before, she would bark, “That’s not important! What we really need to do today is finish this conduit run!” (or whatever it was that took priority) Underneath her tone was a snippy kind of scorn: an adolescent, “Geeeez! Didn’t you KNOW that?! Duuuuh!” type of vibe. So when we arrived that early Saturday morning, I was in full anticipate mode. Problem was: nobody filled me in on what exactly we were doing. Marge came over and handed me something. “HERE!” she stormed. I held what she handed me and got ready to follow her either to a ladder (in order to hand it up to her) or to a set of large cables that needed to be stripped. After all, we’d spent the last couple days stripping and labelling huge chunks of cable and I was holding a knife. So I waited – ready to spring into action. And she glared at me and said, “Well? Why are you just standing there? It’s yours! I bought a two-pack. You can throw your other one away.” And she huffed off.

Ah, gruff love! It will be inevitable for me to chuckle a bit every single time I use either my new knife (which I use frequently) or my cable termination tool. I hope when I am a journeywoman electrician, I am as kind to my apprentices.

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