This week I celebrated my fifth year of living in the country. I still go gaga over sighting ground hogs, wild turkeys, or deer in my backyard. I name them in a generic fashion. All the ground hogs are Mama Groundhog, all the chipmunks are Chip or Dale, and the turkeys are, well, turkeys.
Three years ago, I was informed by the State Department of Transportation that our property would be the border of a major drainage project, as well as some work on the road to help with visibility for a corner of my block.
"No, no," they said, "we aren't touching your land or trees, but the work will be extensive and will take three to four months in the fall and another two to three months in the spring. And not to worry, we're sure the heavy machinery and jackhammering will not harm your 250-year-old farmhouse structure."
Jackhammering? I work at home and treasure my quiet setting. This just wasn't fair.
Sure enough, they showed up. I looked across the street at the backhoe and portable toilet and sighed. I wrote a poem for the trees they took down from my neighbor's land. When the workers arrived, I braced myself for the worst.
I only knew one name: John, the foreman. At first, I just watched them from the window of my home office while I worked at my computer, the same way I used to look out at wildlife and nature.
I started to recognize each worker and to realize how unfairly I had judged them - judged them on the basis of a stereotype of how I thought construction workers behaved. Day by day, my narrow definition of these workers broadened into a complete picture. They were courteous, professional, and I never heard one word of offensive language.
I just had to write a letter to John's supervisor, the owner of the construction company. Knowing that these companies bid in order to obtain state contracts such as this, I pointed out all the ways these workers had been exemplary. I asked that my letter be noted when making any future bids, as there are some things you can't put down in just dollars and cents.
Before long, at my invitation, the crew was parking on my hill so they had a little privacy for lunch. We didn't exchange names per se. I called the backhoe operator Fred Flintstone, and he took some gentle ribbing for it. John would occasionally tell me about his family. And service?
The workers who controlled the traffic flow would stop all traffic on either side to allow me to leave my driveway. I felt like a queen and would give the royal wave to them as I exited or entered my humble country domain.
The crew got wind of my letter, as it was circulated to the workers. I became "the lady" who wrote "the letter." Their smiles and waves grew more enthusiastic. I even got teased for offering a lawn chair to the one female member of the crew (but not to the others).
It was not a long winter, and before I knew it the spring brought the usual flock of robins and the return of the work project. By now we felt like old friends. I would pick up a little something at the bakery in town for their coffee breaks now and then.
One day, John came to the door and announced that the crew and company would like me to have something for my kindness to them. At first, I was a bit flustered; I didn't want them to feel obligated. What they wanted to give me was "Item 4" for my small parking space.
Totally clueless, I replied, "Gee, thanks, John." It turns out that Item 4 was a small white gravel that would give my bare dirt spot a better foundation.
So one day I left for a luncheon appointment. When I returned, all the crew were smiling as if they had a secret, and, for the first time, they prevented me from heading up the hill in my car.
"You need to let it sit for a day," they warned me.
I walked up the slope to my usual spot and realized that they had transformed a dirt space into a bona fide driveway with asphalt (better and more expensive than Item 4). It had been carefully laid and would clearly last me a long time, giving me a wonderful parking spot.
The last few days of the job, my buddy, Fred Flintstone, came to me and asked if I would like the leftover boulders from the job to ring another area for visitor parking. I thanked him, and before they took the machinery away, another area was transformed by their kindness.
I still feel a sort of sadness, despite the noise and mess of the construction work, when fall comes around. I take an extra moment to wave to crews as I run my errands, because now all construction crews represent my special one.