When I was twelve or so, I started working summers on my fathers construction jobs. I think he paid me ten dollars a day, which, for a twelve-year-old kid in 1962, was a fortune. [ He subtracted the dollar or two a day he advanced me for lunch; there’s no free lunch. ]
Most of my workday was spent picking up trash, carrying material around to different parts of the job, fetching tools or a drink of water to who ever was thirsty, and helping where I could.
From the first day, I started hearing a certain phrase; “Hold the foolish end of that board”, or ” Grab the foolish end of this chalkline”, ” Take the foolish end of this tape”.
It took so much mental energy to decipher the terminology being thrown at me all day; common rafter, cripple rafter, jack rafter, or cripple jack rafter; that I didn’t pay much attention to it at first. But as that first summer stretched out to the fall, and back to school, and in the summers that came after , I never got away from that phrase, ‘ the foolish end’.
It seemed at first to be a put down of those at the bottom of the pecking order, me, and the other helpers with all the different trades on the job. Gradually it dawned on me that it was mostly used by men of my father’s age, and directed at those on the job who fit a very narrow criteria. Not just the helpers, but some of the journeymen; electricians, bricklayers, painters, and carpenters would have the term directed at them.
There are people on any job, in any field, who aren’t there, or at least their mind isn’t. They are doing what it takes to draw a check, to finish the day and get to the thing that does interest them. They are the last to pick up their tools and begin the days task, and the first to drop whatever they are holding for a coffee break, lunch, or quitting time. They don’t really care about whatever it is they are being paid to do, so long as they are being paid. You will never see them standing back to admire the work of their hand, or, beaming with pride as they tell someone; ” Look at what I made”.
You couldn’t call my father a devout man, but he took the Biblical admonition – “What ever your hand finds to do, do it will all your might.” – very seriously. He lived by the doctrine that nothing was more important than doing the job and doing it right. If the work gets done on time and to a high standard of excellence, then the customer is happy, you all get paid and none of that pay is wasted having to redo something that should have been done right in the first place. Too many bad things can bloom out of a poorly executed piece of work for him to tolerate any slack from anyone on the job.
So, when he noticed your interest or attention wandering you’d be told – “Take the foolish end of that board”, because that’s where fools belong, on the foolish end.