"Roofing for Jesus" by Diane Marquette

In the crisp morning air, we joined hands and bowed our heads.  We stood in the front yard, in the shade of the Habitat for Humanity house we’d be working on that morning.  Volunteers from local churches were working on the ambitious project, and my husband and I were taking our turns.  After praying, we listened to a brief speech concerning safety on the job.

“The task for today is putting roof shingles on this house,” the coordinator said to the group of two dozen.  “Now if anyone is not comfortable going up on the roof, there are other things to be done.  We’ve got another house down the road and its walls are ready to be painted.”

My husband and I exchanged glances, eyebrows raised in questions.  “Are you going up on the roof?” I asked.

He squinted toward the single-story house, the sun just rising above the black papered slope.  “Probably not,” he answered.  “You?”
“Maaaybe,” I said, looking at the house.  Truthfully, I was bored with painting, having just done a good bit of it at our own house.  Painting or roofing?  Wasn’t there another choice in between?

A white pickup truck pulled into the yard, a huge tan shaggy dog in the bed.  A man about fifty, dressed in black, with tattoos and a long ponytail, got out of the cab.  The dog stood and stretched, then faced his owner, tail wagging in anticipation.  “Stay in the truck,” the man said softly.  The tail stopped and the dog sank back down, eyes on his master.

The coordinator’s voice continued.  “This is Danny.  He’s a professional roofer and we’re going to be working with him this morning.”  The man in black nodded to the crowd.  “Danny’s also volunteered his time today for this project.  So listen to him.  There’s no such thing as a dumb question.  If you don’t know something, please ask.”

“And remember that the roof and ladders and scaffolding are all a little wet with dew right now, so please be very careful.  We’ll start on the back, which should dry out faster with the sun on it now.  And <i>please</i>, if you are going to be working on the roof, don’t step back to admire your work.”  Everyone chuckled.  I managed a slight smile and a gulp.  “So, those of you working on the roof, follow me.  Those who will be painting can go on down to the other house.”
“Then I guess I’ll see you later.  Be careful,” my husband said, joining the group heading down the road.  

I heard someone ask Danny what his dog’s name was.  “Samson,” was the reply. I wondered if he needed someone to stay with the dog.  I could do that.  But Danny had already filled a large metal bowl and secured Samson’s leash to the truck, so there wasn’t much left to be done there.

I joined my group behind the house.  Several people were climbing the scaffolding, and hoisting themselves onto the roof.  I noticed one other woman on the site.  She was standing on the scaffolding, helping to secure the first shingles in place.  She looked like she’d done it before.  Those climbing the scaffolding had some difficulty navigating the widespread rungs.  In spite of what I’d thought all these years, scaffolding is not the same as a ladder.  Being a little vertically-challenged, I didn’t think I would be able to manage going up that way.

A ladder was secured to the front porch roof for additional access and others climbed that.  I didn’t feel quite ready to commit to the height, so I helped carry shingles from the trailer in the front yard to the scaffolding in back.  Knowing I couldn’t lift the one-hundred-pound packages, I broke several bags open, making three trips per package.  At that rate, it seemed this would take up most of my morning.

A buddy of Danny’s arrived, bringing with him the machinery to lift three packages of shingles up to the roof at one time.  After the apparatus was assembled, those of us on the ground were out of a job.  I busied myself with a few other tasks – securing some boards under the scaffolding, helping move another ladder into place, picking up trash – but soon I needed to make a decision.  Paint brush or hammer?

The roof was crawling with volunteers now.  I studied the scene for a few minutes, observing the shingling process.  Rows of shingles had been laid side-by-side and nailed into place starting at the bottom left edge of the back roof.  The second row was started just above the first, also running left to right.  Then up to the left again for the next row, and so on.  I observed that as soon as one row had several shingles nailed down, the row above it would be started.  That way, many people could be working at the same time.  There were about a dozen scattered on the roof, either handing out the shingles or hammering them into place.  The hoisted packages of shingles had been distributed along the peak of the roof.  I felt pretty confident that I could help hand out shingles.

I buckled on my tool belt and hammer (just in case).  I had purchased the leather tool belt several years before when I worked on another Habitat house -- one that was constructed by an all-woman crew.  But everything I had done on that house had been with my feet on the ground – sadly, no roofing experience there.  For today’s job, I had brought the hammer that had been my father’s, hoping it might have more roofing experience than I did.  Ignoring the concern that the tool belt might not be a figure-flattering accessory, I focused instead on the rich buckskin color of the leather with its pretty silver metal accents, and considered it a fall fashion statement.

I approached the supply trailer and loaded the cute little pocket of my tool belt with shiny nails.  The coordinator was standing at the foot of the ladder that rested against the porch roof at the front of the house.  “I’m ready to go up if you think they need another helper,” I said, as though volunteering to fly a bombing run over France. <i>I can do this</i>.

“Okay, good,” he said.  “You’ve got nails?”  I patted my pouch.  “I’ll hold the ladder for you,” he said.

Remembering the safety talk, I climbed slowly and carefully.  At the top, one of the roofing pros helped me off the ladder.  Both of my feet then stood firmly on the black paper.  “Woman on board,” I heard someone say.  

“Is that good or bad?” I asked, pausing, ready to go back down if necessary.

“Hopefully, good,” he answered, and so I stayed.

I was very proud of the fact that I was standing on the roof, but by coming up the front ladder instead of the scaffolding in the back, I was on the wrong side of the roof.  The work being done was on the back, which meant I’d have to walk all the way up the front of the roof and over the (gulp) peak and down the back to get to where the work was being done.  <i>Not a problem.  I can do this.</i>

I began taking baby steps toward the peak, not looking up, not looking down.  I decided I felt more comfortable placing both my hands on the roof, too – that way I had four points of contact.  I’m sure it wasn’t a very pretty picture, but it got me to the peak.    Throwing caution to the wind, I stood upright on the highest part of the house, looking down at the dozen or so men (and one woman) who were hard at work.  

“Can you hand me some of those?” a man asked, gesturing to a pile of loose shingles next to where I stood.

I sat down and inched my way over to the pile, sliding one off the top and pushing it toward him.  I handed another shingle to someone else, and pretty soon found a rhythm to the task.  Other people distributed whole packages (one hundred pounds!) of shingles at various locations, and others took a break from nailing and instead handed out shingles. So I was again out of a job.  And it became evident that I needed to become a nailer.

I slid over to the spot where help was needed.  “Line up the top on the chalk line, and use four nails,” someone said.    

“Put one in each end, right between the two white lines, and then put two more in between,” someone else offered.  Sounded simple enough. <i>I can do this.</i>  I’d climbed up on the roof – nailing had to be easier.

Within a few minutes I was into the job.  Danny unloaded shingles from the lifting apparatus and monitored our work.  He answered questions and offered suggestions.  Some of the volunteers specialized in putting down the chalk lines or trimming the excess from the shingles on the edges of the roof.  I was happy just being part of the main workforce and it seemed we finished the back section in no time.  

Feeling more comfortable with the task and each other, the hammering became mingled with conversations about weather, politics, and food.  Because of our expertise, the job on the front portion went even more quickly.  When lunch was announced, the only area still to be shingled was part of the front porch roof, which would be completed by the afternoon volunteers.  Since our team had done such an outstanding job, I figured most of the new workers would end up down the road, painting.  

Other church volunteers provided lunch, the brown paper bags decorated by their Sunday school classes.  My bag had a crayon drawing of a brown dog either howling at a purple moon or balancing a tennis ball on his nose, a sticker that said, “Each day is a miracle”, and “THANK YOU” written in big purple letters.  

My husband’s bag also said “Thank you”, had an orange leaf sticker, and another one that said, ”Be thankful for the bounty nature brings us every day”.  Whether that applied to the ham and cheese sandwiches, chips, and peanut butter cookies we were sharing, or the many opportunities we are given to help each other, I don’t know.  
I suppose it means both.