My parents reshingled their roof today.

I helped.

I’m not much of a worker.

That kind of work anyway. When it comes to anything manual, or mechanical, I generally take a back seat. My brother is the engineering and construction brain.

Most of the day I sat on the peak of the lower of the two roofs they were tackling and handed the men on the other roof–the one with a pitch steep enough to make a seagull think twice–things they required. Nails, staples, hammers, tarps. Once a roast beef sandwich and a can of pepsi. When they didn’t want me I read. My ass perched on the line of peak that ran across the lower roof and my feet planted squarely on one side and a book on my knees. My father quipped once that we would make quite a photograph from the ground — three men working and one reading.

We could title it: Writer Gets A Job.

Or: Who Gets Laid Off First?

My Dad was only kidding. He knew I was being productive, and just filling in time between when I was needed. My nephew, one of the he-men on the steeper roof, asked my what was the book I was holding. I told him. He told me he had just read The Fountainhead by Ayne Rand. I was proud of him for tackling such a weighty novel, but vaguely worried all afternoon he would become a libertarian.  I needn’t have bothered. He was doing the work without the knowledge he was getting paid (my folks surprised him at the end of the day with a hundred bucks) and I think Nathan would be fairly happy with socialism if it meant he didn’t have to go to his day-time job at a call centre and could focus on his music full time.

It occurred to me while working that I belong to my family. I always thought when I was younger that I didn’t. Bookish. Gay. Shy with people where everyone else was boisterous and outgoing. Instead of embracing my differences I did my best to hide or suppress them. It never occurred to me that not only do my family tolerate these differences it is what they like most about me. When my father, feeling weary and looking to take it out on someone as he sometimes does, did make a pointed comment about my compulsive reading on the lower roof, my brother told him to leave me alone.

“He’s working,” he said. “He’s doing what we asked him to do.”

It felt good. Having my brother defend me like that. Knowing as I do now, and didn’t then, that I am slightly different from the rest of my family, and they are all slightly different from each other in little ways. We are all very close because we accept these things about each other. No-one goes through a crisis in our biological platoon alone. We are there for each other. When I got sick in San Francisco it was my family who told me to hold on and eventually, when I was well enough, brought me home. They took me in. Gay or not gay, manually-inclined or intellectually-inclined, I was their son, their brother, their uncle. I was–am–a part of them.

They shingle a roof. I hand them things and learn life lessons.

Seems like a good deal to me.

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