This morning as I drove my daughter to school, we were talking about her work schedule. She is working at Panera for some teenage cash flow. She often works until close, which means she gets to clean the bathrooms at the end of the day. I said, "You're going to get really good at cleaning bathrooms." She shrugged.
I told her about my days working on a nuclear power plant construction site. About 5000 people worked there (only about 100 were women). I was 20 years old, taking a break from college to earn more money for college tuition. I was an Engineer's Aid. I accompanied the Pipefitter Apprentice to the field in order to watch a Pipefitter tighten the bolts on pipe hangers. As part of the engineering staff, I was not allowed to carry the torque wrench, which is why we needed the Pipefitter Apprentice. I had to sign off on the fact that the hanger bolts were tightened properly. There are lots of rules on a nuclear power plant construction site. I also looked up valve vendor information the engineers needed for their drawings and did other small jobs for the small pipe engineers.
My desk was in a big metal building on the other side of the road that wound around the giant plant. On the side of that road closer to the building was a long row of portapots. Every day, there was a man who drove around cleaning out the portapots. He had the big truck with the large vacuum hose. Every day, when he parked that truck outside our building, and cleaned out those pots, he sang. He sang loud. Really loud. He sang so loud we could hear him inside our building, over the sound of the truck sucking the crap out of the pots. He sang hymns with great joy. He did this every day, without fail. He was the most joyful person I had ever encountered in my young life.
I wish I knew his name. I think I waved to him and smiled once in a while as I walked out to the field to check on bolts or find some info on valves. Eventually I was given more important jobs like making "as-built" changes to drawings of pipe after it had been installed and inspecting the welds on the hangers. I was able to save most of my earnings because my parents supported me by letting me live with them and feeding me while I saved for college. (My dad worked at the plant, too, and helped me get my job there.) I worked there for a year, and then made my way back to school. I don't know what happened to the man who sang while he cleaned the portapots. But, I wish I could tell him that his expression of joy has been with me all my life. I remember him every time I have a yucky job to do and I want to complain. And I start smiling. And singing.
So, if anyone out there knows a sanitation worker who worked at Limerick in Pennsylvainia in 1981-1982, let him know that he did important work. He made a difference in this world. Tell him that I am deeply grateful for his gift to me.
Here is one of my favorite hymns to celebrate this man today.