my grandfather was my first employer. he worked as a landscaper and yard man for home owners along the Oakland Hills Piedmont, Berkeley. I was with him
every summer between late grade school and Jr high. his drove a muscular
Ford truck carpeted with spilled malts and holes candy wrappers, Styrofoam bowls for Big Macs. A xylophone of empty Dr Pepper bottles would solo at
every sharp right and Stop Sign where granddad would chant the letters
S L O W
as a corrective prayer while stirring the trucks gears like he’d use a whip on a mule
What I remember most is the last haul we made together.
We carried a load of dry rotting two -by-fours and tree limbs out to the facility in Richmond. we drove along a silent Saturday back-
street. On one side of us the freeways’ 11 ft high sound wall & on the other, block after block of sleepy gray business offices. We drove slow because –
Well, there was no choice. The engine couldn’t keep up with freeway traffic. So he drove
watchful, patient. Yet, I didn’t flinch when he impulsively parked outside a quiet office building with black windows
I got out, following him
to back of the truck & saw deep in the load a bright orange flame tonguing the stacks of dry plywood and branches. He began
yanking wood off the truck, pulling long 2×4’s & tree limbs off the cab & onto The ground.
I helped & in my turning back
& forth from truck to wood pile I noticed
three car lengths behind us,
a police car /
a fire truck arrived long before granddad & I had finished unloading the wood or figured out what we’d do about it.
Part of his rusted fender fissured spitting sparks into the load mere inches behind us Granddad said the dump wouldn’t take anything burned or wet. So, we
reloaded the charred wood carefully hiding its new nature. We drove the contraband to the dump, unloaded it faster than we’d unloaded anything
we don’t get caught. we drive home returning on the same road only this time in a silent grace more eloquent than even he could deliver as a preacher from
the dais in his church.