TRUE STORIES — Fiddlers on the roof

J.T. Knoll
J.T. Knoll

Balance is everything, is the only way to hold on. – Alice B. Fogel

Late last fall, after finally getting our "Leaning Tower of Euclid" 1880s carriage house / garage internally stabilized, I decided it was time to tackle the overdue shingling of its roof.

The first roofing contractor looked it over, made some measurements, and gave me an estimate. Same with the second. The third, Russell, from Good Faith Contracting, looked it over and observed that it had hail damage. He then checked my house (taking pictures with a drone no less), found hail damage there, and suggested I have my insurance adjuster meet him at my place to review his findings.

A couple of weeks later I sat in my back yard with the both of them, reviewed the findings, signed some paperwork, and was handed a check to cover (less the $500 deductible) the cost of tearing off and reroofing both my house and garage.

As winter was upon us, I elected to wait till spring to get the work done. Last Sunday I got a text from Russell that the crew would be at my place at 7 a.m. Monday morning.

At this point I’d like to quote the opening lines from the classic musical “Fiddler On The Roof,” A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But here, in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck.

The next morning five fiddlers (young Hispanic men) showed up to ‘scratch out a pleasant, simple tune.’ Not only did they scratch, they scraped, pounded, ripped, and banged as they scuttled, scooted, scurried and danced around the peaks and 50 degree angles of our 135-year-old Victorian home removing shingles and nails.

From the bottom floor the cacophony sounded like behemoth, voracious woodpeckers and locusts were tearing away at the roof. On the second story, my son said it was more like incessant gunfire.

A couple of hours into it, the Labradorian and I left to run a couple of errands. Upon returning, I stopped half a block away and watched the men. Marveled really, at the confident, fluid, balanced way they moved about - free style or tethered by long ropes. Or sat on large pieces of foam rubber and methodically worked their way down the slants and angles.

At this point I had a shivering flashback to the time — thirty five years ago — I’d gotten up there to check on a leak around my chimney.

Going up wasn’t too bad (and the view was marvelous!) but when I looked at the steep angle and thought about inching back down to the ladder, it scared the bejesus out of me. So much so, that I considered hollering to my next door neighbors, Pat and Phil, to call the fire department to rescue me like the proverbial kitten stuck up in a tree.

After that, the only time I went up was to the gentle slant of roof above the front porch to hang the Christmas star. Nowadays, even that I leave to my son.

In fact, I’ve developed a form of acrophobia (fear of heights) that’s sometimes triggered by simply looking at photos or watching commercials of people standing on cliffs. Or cars rounding roads on the sides of mountains. This from the guy who, at 19, worked on the crew that painted Pittsburg’s water towers suspended in a free-swinging boatswains chair 150 feet up.

Getting back to the roofers, they showed more amazing "fiddler on the roof" daredevil moves and stamina as they hauled the new shingles up and nail gunned them in place. My son saw one man nonchalantly leaning backward as he descended the roof of the garage with both hands full while talking on a cell phone crooked between his shoulder and ear!

They finished both the house and garage (redecking included) in two days, just as Russell predicted … but Linda and I doubted. We were thoroughly impressed. Besides painting water towers, I worked local construction crews building the Holiday Inn, Mt. Carmel Medical Center, Hix Corp. and more back in my college days and have never seen a crew work harder — or more efficiently.

On Thursday, even though Russell’s crew finished our house on Tuesday, I again heard the sound of scratching, scraping, pounding, ripping, and banging.

I went to my north window, and there they were — doing their scuttling, scooting and scurrying dance as they removed the shingles on Karen Brady’s hail-damaged roof two houses down.

Walking back to my room I began to consider re-roofing as metaphor.

We are all, on any given day, called (by choice or circumstance) to scratch, scrape — and sometimes rip — away our past views and ways of behaving and take on the heavy lifting involved with carrying in new ones, aligning them and putting them into place.

To do this, we have to be willing to stand on the edge. To teeter there a while and admit that it is only from the edge that we can see the bigger picture.

And, like the roofers in my neighborhood, maintain enough confidence, fluidity and balance to do it without breaking our necks.

J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and eulogist. He also operates Knoll Training & Consulting in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 620-704-1309 or jtknoll@swbell.net