One of the nice things about working with workmen is that you never worry about clothes, except to think, “Will I be warm enough?” or maybe, “Will thorns rip my arms if I wear short sleeves while weedwhacking?” But the whole “how do I look?” question is gone from the equation.
This is very restful, particularly for me, the plain sister among two pretty ones who always understood and enjoyed the mysteries of dressing attractively. I myself enjoy being on a sartorial playing field where knowing to carry an extra pair of dry wool socks or to put on long underwear is key.
In winter I wear my quilted Carhartt coveralls and in summer I wear blue Dickies. Day after day after day. All the men do this too, though in my experience it’s only the older generation who still wear Dickies. The young men wear jeans or shorts with ripped sweatshirts. I assume, though I’ve never inquired, that everyone changes their undergarments daily, but the outermost layers remain constant — and steadily grow more stained with grease, mud, paint, spilled coffee, and in my case, manure.
Randy, who is painting the apartment and siding, has worn the same pants and sweatshirt for six weeks; they’re so splattered with white that he is beginning to look crusty.
When my elderly friend Allen and I used to eat lunch in my truck, the heater would bring out waves of aroma. I stank powerfully of cows. “I’ve got to wash these coveralls,” I once said apologetically. He shrugged: “What d’ya want to do a thing like that for?” Allen’s layers of Dickies jackets carried the strong scent of diesel fuel mixed with Vicks Vapo-Rub.
Nobody pays attention to these details when you’re working. That’s the point of work clothes. Now I only think about it when I go out among “civilians.” Sitting in an enclosed, pristine, carpeted bank office I suddenly realize Something Smells Like Barn. Though I’ve left the coveralls and boots at home, they are generally so overripe that a faint redolence clings to me until my next shower, like the cloud of dirt following the character Pig-Pen in Peanuts. I simply pretend not to notice as the bank manager retreats to the far side of a conference table.
Still, there are times when you do have to wash your coveralls, and for me this week was one of those times.
After a long hiatus, the hens have started laying again. Hens will lay much more steadily through the dark months if you extend the day with artificial lighting. However, because in winter my chickens are in the barn with the rest of the livestock, I haven’t put my lights on a timer. I don’t want my steer awake and thinking up mischief at 4 AM. I just do without fresh eggs for a couple of months. But now the days have lengthened and once again the girls are back on the job.
Unfortunately, they do not have access to their nest boxes. The hen house is outside and through the snow in the harsh cold, so at this time of year the girls drop their eggs anywhere in the barn that strikes their fancy. In Katika’s manger. In the sheep hay racks. In the corner of the lamb stall. I’m always picking up a stray egg and putting it in my pocket.
Allen watched me do this last year. “You’re gonna forget that,” he’d warn. He was by nature neat, methodical, and organized; my messy slapdash ways pained him. Why would I put an egg in the bib of my overalls or balance it on the rear bumper of my truck instead of taking a moment to put it away? If I did actually remember the egg and move it to safety later, I was always triumphant, and Allen feigned shock. I did not tell him how often, exactly as he predicted, I’d swing up a bale of hay or bag of grain and feel the sickening crunch of eggshell and seep of sticky egg yolk through my shirt.
This weekend it was so cold that one day the hens’ eggs froze and cracked. I gathered them in my pockets.
Though I haven’t seen Allen in many months, I still hear his voice in my ear. You’re gonna forget those.
No I won’t. Watch me.
And indeed, I finished all of evening chores, tossing bales and carrying water buckets, without crushing a single one. However then I drove home, kicked off my boots, hung up my coveralls, washed my hands to cook dinner… and forgot all about the eggs.
Overnight the eggs thawed. They oozed out of their cracked shells to join the bits of shavings, hay chaff, assorted deck screws, and crumpled wrappers in my pockets, forming a cold unholy stew. By morning my coveralls were dripping orange glop.
Even I draw the line somewhere. I washed my coveralls.
And ever since, I have decided at last to follow Allen’s advice and keep eggs out of my pockets.