The Secret to Great Lemonade

Swab boiling tar on a steaming roof in the sizzling heat of a blazing July scorcher in Florida, and you just might have a sense of what hell might be like. I did just that one summer, six days a week, ten hours a day. I am mighty thankful for that summer for it set the standard for what a hard day’s work actually was for the rest of my life.

Come two o’clock in the afternoon, you feel your flesh begin to cook. The sweat on your arms gets so hot that it turns to steam. The vapors of the tar begin to sear your lungs and the tar feels like it is seeping right into your soul. Your shoes begin to melt and if you’re not careful you can end up welded to the tar paper.

The slowest hour of the day is from five to six in the afternoon. Though you dare not check the time, the lowering sun tortures you with the thought, “Human, this day is almost over, . . . but not yet.” So you press on, finishing that one last stretch of roof before it finished you.

Back then, we were paid five bucks an hour for our labors – mighty good money for those times. It seemed it took forever, but eventually the foreman would give us the shut-down whistle. We would pack our gear, hitch the tar wagon to the truck, and then Antonio, a Mexican gentleman with a wife and five kids, Lester, a Cajun fellow who sang bawdy bayou ditties all day, Big Larry, a former football player who grew up on a farm near the Everglades, and me, a college boy who had the hankering to be a preacher one day, we’d all pile into the rusting, half-broken down, pick-up truck. Our next stop would be a nondescript, run-of-the-mill, Seven-Eleven convenient store.

A clerk named Sandy would say, “Howdy, boys. Hot day out there, I suspect.” Every day she’d say the same thing. And every day we’d answer her in the affirmative, each of us in our own native way. Then we’d each buy a gallon jug of ice cold lemonade, pulled from the lowest shelf of the cooler.

Then we’d go outside and sit under this kind, old oak tree. We would guzzle some lemonade, wipe off another layer of sweat and tar from our faces, guzzle some more lemonade, and talk about how, in spite of it all, life was good. And, let me tell you, my friends, that jug of lemonade was the best lemonade a human thirst ever knew.

The End

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