Saying goodbye to a road not taken

Here it is the May 24th weekend (which for some dumb reason is actually taking place a week early) and I am home alone. My kids are at their dad’s, my husband is in Muskoka working his dream job. I am having an orgy of spring cleaning, tossing every piece of junk not nailed down out the front door. And in doing so, I have finally thrown out my old construction boots. The last time I had them on was about two months ago, to help my husband move some wood with nails in it, and they were so stiff they hurt my feet. They are simply unwearable now.

Boots 002

Perfectly ordinary work boots, with steel reinforced toes and rated for shock (or whatever they call it – that green triangle thingy they put on them). But I love these boots and have carried them around, hardly ever wearing them, but refusing to get rid of them, for 26 years.

The summer I was 21, burned out from my boring university course and fed up with the city, I was determined to find a summer job outside. An acquaintance suggested I apply at a local christmas tree farm – he said the guy hired a few girls every year. I don’t remember applying, the interview, or the guy who hired me, but I do remember the job. You walked in a circle around the tree, trimming the branches into a nice cone shape, then moved on to the next one. Equipment required – steel toed boots, shin pad, and an 18 inch long machete.

Since my first job at 14, I have worked at offices, a bakery, Burger King, a golf course and law firms, and one 3 week stint as a waitress. That tree farm job was my first experience with manual labour and I have never loved a job that much before or since. Outside all day, one simple job to do, and being left alone to do it. Taking breaks when you need one with no accusatory stare from a superior. Listening to my Walkman all day. Riding to and from the fields in the back of the boss’s pickup. I remember my mother thought it would be too hard for me, but I had a ball. She took this picture of me at the end of my first day.

Work camp pic 2

In the years since, I often thought of that job and why it appealed to me so. It was the physicality and simplicity, and the peaceful environment, that drew me to it. If I could live my life over again, I would take an apprenticeship and learn a trade. Even now, if I could, I would love to learn carpentry – or masonry. That one intrigues my husband – as supportive as he is of my interest in the trades, he has a hard time picturing me working with cement and bricks. And so would anyone else looking at me right now – 47 years old, 188 lbs, sitting in a chair all day. But I actually thrive on physical work – it feeds something in me that working at a desk can’t satisfy.

I have spent most of my adult life wishing I’d made different decisions, and stubbornly holding on to the hope that one day things might be different. That hope is the reason I kept the boots – always waiting for a chance to wear them again. Even now, with all these responsibilities and really no options or freedom to change, I dream of quitting my job to work with my husband. To spend my summer outdoors, painting, feeling the sun on my face and fresh air…a gloriously unregimented existence.

But it’s not going to happen. If it was just me I’d do it and start fresh, but being responsible for three kids stops me. Steve’s income has proved too precarious to be our only income; I need more security than that for the life I want to give my kids. By the time all three girls are grown up and I’m responsible only for myself again, I will be 57 years old.

So I took the boots out of the closet – old, cracking, stiff with age. I put them in the garbage bag. Then, like an idiot, I started to cry. Took them back out again. Left them on the couch for a few hours while I threw out different things. Then, just before I tied it up, put them in the garbage bag again. No tears the second time.

I may still have the occasional day where I can work with my husband. But there will never be a new career in the trades – I’m too old, I’ve missed my chance. I have arthritis in my hands and could never wield a paint brush all day. Even food prep can be painful. It’s such a shame – there’s so much more acceptance for women in trades now, it would be a great time to become involved. There is even a new brand of construction wear especially for women in trades called “Moxi Trades”. They sell boots, safety glasses, tool belts and hard hats in construction yellow, powder blue, and pink. So, last week, I went out and bought a new pair of work boots.

Boots 003

Just in case.

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