Nebra is down on her knees, bent over in the dirt. She is dragging loose soil from the holes I’m digging for a trellis at the entrance of our backyard gate. The holes need to be about 12 inches deep and six inches wide for the cement footings. She scoops the dirt out by hand. Her fingers are dirty, her brow drips with sweat. It is midmorning and already the Phoenix temperature is 94. Nebra is not having fun.
It would be no problem for me to drop down and do the grunt work myself. Or I suppose I could hand Nebra the spade. But I don’t. The trellis was her idea. And I have had to interrupt my morning routine. I’ve put the newspapers aside along with the coffee cup. I’m not having fun either. But I know the trellis is important to her.
“Why is it,” Nebra says suddenly as she scoops away, “that I feel like a slave?”
“Do you mean that?” I ask.
“A little bit.”
I can understand her point in a way. While we are both doing manual labor, I am probably doing the skillful part if you can call digging a hole requiring skill. Yes, I am using a tool. She isn’t. And it is I who also does the skillful job of placing the measuring tape at the bottom of the hole and reading it.
There are four holes, and after I dig another, I get down on my hands and knees, bent over, and do the dirt-scooping myself.
“Look,” I say to Nebra. “See what I’m doing?” She is unimpressed.
The slave labor of doing mindless, repetitive work is always an issue when Nebra and I tackle projects together.
For example. When we recently spread 14 tons of gravel over the yards, Nebra was mildly resentful of doing the raking while I did most of the transporting with a wheelbarrow. Again, she saw it in a different light. I was doing the hardest and most important work and she was doing mindless slave labor.
On other projects there have been even more pronounced differences in the division of our labor. If the work requires precise measurement, plumbing to level, technique with tools or an overall strategy, I usually bust in and do it. I don’t trust Nebra to do “a good job” and I am too impatient to teach her. Like many women her age who were raised in the city, she grew up not understanding the principles of construction and mechanics. Or gardening. When she plants seeds, for instance, it drives me nuts when she does not smooth the soil first to make sure there is even drainage.
I don’t know what the answer is. She has learned a lot since I have known her. But still. I probably should stand aside and let her make mistakes and hopefully learn from them. Although very intelligent, she is a multitasker and not always focused. And she is usually in a hurry to move on to the next thing. She can get many things done in a day, but I fear the concept of “a good job” may forever be lost on her.
I do know one thing. Nebra picked out a beautiful cedar trellis for the back gate. We stained it a light brown and it will greatly enhance the visual aspect of an otherwise drab area. It will, anyway, if we can set aside our labor differences and get the job done.