Hold the light. That’s about the only command I can remember from my Dad growing up. I idolized him, as I think most lucky kids do. So I was his shadow.
Whenever I got the chance I would go to work with him, no matter what the work might be. For a time he wore the hat as town Marshal for Huntington, Utah. What that meant, in reality, was that he was chief of the volunteer fire department, in charge of law enforcement, grave digging, and utilities for the city. He spent most of his time digging ditches, graves, and putting in water and sewer lines.
The vehicle he usually drove while at work was an old backhoe. When I got the chance to go to work with him (I was seven or so), I rode in the bucket (I know, I’m a Safety Guy now, go figure).
When he didn’t work for the city, he worked on the farm. He cut off the handle of a shovel and I would shadow him (my cut-off shovel in my hands, his big one in his) as he checked the fields and irrigated. It was and is the greatest memory of my childhood. There wasn’t anything my Dad couldn’t do.
Whenever one of our cars or trucks would break down, he would go about fixing it with whatever he had on hand, and I would hold the light. I’d climb up on the bumper and hold the light while he changed an alternator, adjusted a carburetor, or switched out a radiator hose. He would tell me “hold the light” and I would do my best, but I have to admit, I let it drift more than I should have.
But he never told me what he was doing. It was always just “hold the light.” So I held it.
I never really learned what he was doing or why he was doing it, and his lips would quiver while he worked, which wasn’t a good sign, so I didn’t ask as many questions as I should have.
As a child, the one time I can remember him giving me clear directions was when I dug out the basement of our house in Murray. I was 13 or so. We lived in a rambler and Dad worked for a construction company. The president of the company would let him borrow equipment from time to time on the weekends and one weekend he came home with a backhoe and the memories of riding in the bucket made me smile.
He dug a trench in the front yard, below the foundation and we stared down at the dirt beneath the house. He handed me a shovel and a pick and said, “Start digging.” But before I did, we got on hands and knees and went into the crawl space. He pointed out each support under the house and told me, “Don’t dig here.”
I spent that summer digging under our house. When the digging got too far to throw it into the trench, he lowered down a wheelbarrow. I would fill up the trench and he would borrow the backhoe to remove what I had dug out.
In the fall the digging was done and he poured concrete and put up cinderblock walls along the foundation. What help I could provide was pretty much “hold the light.” I wasn’t strong enough to haul the concrete in a wheelbarrow. But he was.
When the work was done and it was time to build the interior walls, he took me into the basement and told me “tell me where you want your room.” I drew out a pretty big one, I have to admit. It was much larger than the room he shared with my Mom. And he put up the walls. I stayed there until the day I went out on my own.
As an adult, the only time I can recall him giving me instruction was after I was a father myself. I was in the Air Force and found myself a single parent without transportation. My car was a 1976 Cutlass Supreme and the water pump had gone out. I had no idea how to fix it and as an Airman First Class, I certainly couldn’t pay anyone to fix it for me.
So I called Dad collect (for you millennials, collect calls were a thing, look it up) and he walked me through how to replace a water pump and I was able to stop carrying my son on my shoulders to daycare while I went to work.
Decades later, the only thing I regret about my upbringing is that my Dad told me to “hold the light” and never explained to me why. What was he doing? Why was he doing it? How did it work?
I resent my Dad for nothing. He was my hero then, and he still is. But I regret the things he didn’t teach me, because I am still in need of the learning.
With most of my children now raised, I look back and think that I wasn’t very good at teaching them what I had learned, either. I didn’t say “hold the light” because I was making it up as I went along (anyone that has seen my work can plainly see this).
So, if you know how to do something well, pass it along to those interested.
I still remember how to run a shovel and a pick, ride in a backhoe bucket . . . and hold the light.
That is all.