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Construction Site

January 17, 2016

When I was growing up, there was an empty lot next to our house.  It was the last empty lot on the block.  It must have once been a formal garden.  I remember the plants, tall and dry, standing all over it.  I also remember an archway down the middle, probably covered in vines at one time.  They were all dead too.  There were concrete pillars, with concrete bars across the top.  The concrete was weathered and crumbling when I saw it.  Some of the pillars had fallen over.  Others I was able to push over by hand.

One day, all of that was cleared away, and a new house was under construction.  I watched in fascination, after school.  I recall watching a plumber at work inside the house.  He was melting lead bars in a small pot sitting on top of a blowtorch.  He warned me to keep away from the torch and the lead so that I wouldn’t get burned.  I did as I was told.  When it had melted, he poured the lead into joints in the cast iron drain pipes to seal them.  That was exciting to me.  On weekends, when there were no tradesmen around, I explored the entire construction site.  I didn’t touch any tools that they had left lying around, but I did take a few short pieces of scrap lumber.  After all, I needed them more than they did.

Just a couple of blocks away, I discovered another construction site.  It only had the excavation for a basement, partly filled with water from a rain we had had a few days before.  There was a pipe sticking out of one side of the hole, with a faucet on the end.  It was just above the water level.  When I reached down and turned the handle on the faucet, water came out.  We needed more water in that hole.  The splashing was too visible, though.  That was easy to fix.  I put my foot on the pipe, and pressed it down a bit, until the spout on the faucet was below the water.  A few days later, the water level was much higher, and the faucet had disappeared.  That’s when I decided to build a toy boat.

The boat was just a short piece of wood with a pointed end, and a smaller square piece on top.  I put a model airplane propeller and elastic band on the bottom.  The propeller had the ends cut off so that it looked something like a boat propeller.  Some of my friends and I went over to that water-filled basement to try it out.  It worked really nicely, moving in a wide circle, and drifting to the side when the elastic unwound.  Suddenly, we noticed splashing in the water near the boat.  Workmen on the roof of a nearby house were throwing nails at it.  Everybody was playing in the water!

In those days, anybody could walk onto a construction site.  There were no fences and no locked gates.  Kids like me could play on construction sites.  Parents would be appalled today.  Certainly it was dangerous.  Certainly kids should be kept away from the danger.  Fences and locked gates are a good thing.


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