Mark Millican: Laboring not in vain

Mark Millican

“Commit your work unto the Lord, and your plans will be established.” — Proverbs 16:3

He's an experienced carpenter. If his tool belt, sweat-stained T-shirt and continued presence at a three-story ridgetop cabin under construction weren't a giveaway, one of his hands would be. He's missing most of his fingers, with just a thumb and half an index finger to help hold the tools of his trade.

Immediately, you would think of a bloody encounter with a saw blade of some type. Be that as it may, whatever happened doesn't seem to bother this senior gentleman at a development I inspect for soil erosion in another county. He's always willing to cheerfully greet a fellow laborer and pass the time of day at this construction site.

During the summer, I've tried to make those inspections in the mornings. However, in another part-time line of work that timing is just not possible. Recently, I mentioned working on Lake Chickamauga helping build a large dock. It's much hotter on this reservoir than stomping around in the shady mountains and watching for copperheads while taking photos and notes. In fact, drinking five to six bottles of ice water a day and sometimes a Powerade is par for the course.

Drink more, you advise? Keep in mind yours truly still has to sleep at night without dreaming of sloshing around on a life raft in the middle of an ocean. 'Nuff said.

Although it's not an extensive entry on my résumé, working with carpenters has always proven instructional — especially the older ones. At times, it's even fascinating to watch a skilled carpenter overcome challenges that inevitably arise when a contractor before him hasn't squared a foundation, didn't get the massive posts for the dock set straight or used the wrong materials that are too expensive to replace at this phase of the project.

There's a safety aspect at play, as well. Many years ago, I learned there are other ways a concrete truck can kill besides just backing over a man. Such as when the truck is on a grade, and the chute man loses control of the chute and it picks up speed as it swings toward an unsuspecting man “grading” the mix with a concrete rake. Think of being slammed in the head with a sledge hammer.

Fortunately, I've seen neither happen. But one always has to be on guard working around heavy equipment — and lighter tools as well. For instance, if you're prone to redneckism and try to pick fights on a job site, avoid doing that with a concrete finisher or brick mason carrying a trowel in his hand.

As referenced earlier, power tools can be especially dangerous. A few weeks ago as my employer/friend and I were putting down planking for the walkway to the dock, he looked up to see one of the two Latino men he hired working waist-deep in the lake. This was not unusual, since we'd all been in the water in the initial stages. However, the guy was using a “saws-off” to cut a post that was powered by a 220-volt wire.

The danger was obvious — if the saw slipped and fell into the water, he'd be electrocuted. Rick hollered at Pedro to get out of the lake and onto the deck frame to cut the post, then asked me if I thought he or Pedro's co-worker, Sebastian, were truly aware of the danger.

Maybe he was trying to get a better angle on the post and was confident he wouldn't let the saw slip, I posited. It kept me up for awhile that night thinking of what could have happened, though, and I thanked the Lord for answering our prayers for safety on the job.

Another endeavor on a weekly basis is getting the Times-Courier newspaper (Ellijay) into readers' hands. It's a job I enjoyed on occasion while working as news editor because it got me out from behind a desk for a few hours, and now it still is rewarding to deliver the paper to the public.

“Paper man's here!” is an announcement I like to hear when walking into a store with a couple of bundles, because it means the paper has once again hit the street with the latest local news, sports, features and commentary — not to mention the best deals being advertised or services available in the classifieds.

Allow me to interject here that if your newspaper is ever late, it's not because I slept in. More likely, it's a printing press issue, or recently, the fact that our delivery man who drives from Murphy to Franklin, North Carolina, to pick up the papers, then to Ellijay, had a vehicle breakdown in the middle of the night in an area where he didn't have cellphone service. But Burt is faithful and steady, and takes his time going through the mountains and passes when the weather is icy.

For this Marine veteran, getting the newspaper out each week is a mission completed.

We're trying to be missional in our church, as well. Being in a “red” or risky county, we've only met a couple of times in the last few months. But with primarily older church folk, we're OK with that for the time being. Teresa and I keep in touch, and carefully visit, members as well as other seniors in the community.

Just the other Sunday, I was socially distanced in the living room of a man who had recent cancer surgery on one of his ears. He related how an injection to prep the site in this sensitive area was the most painful shot he'd ever received. He went on to describe a stay in the hospital due to pneumonia where he'd been given 38 injections. Wow, said I in amazement, when was that?

“In 1951,” he replied. “I think it was some of that penicillin left over from World War II that wasn't any good.”

Inwardly, I chuckled and marveled at his memory as he continued to describe the medical ordeal from the middle of another century. This is stuff you don't make up, and only hear when you get out and talk to seniors ...

How long will your quasi-humble scribe keep this schedule up? Only the good Lord knows. He's given me strength and health to continue working, and I'm unsure I'll back off even when I reach “full retirement age” at the end of next year and begin to draw Social Security. After years of working primarily behind a desk, it's almost like a reward to be in the Great Outdoors again.

Besides, my last dermatology checkup was better than when I was working indoors; then again, I'm paying top dollar for the best sunscreens and continually wearing a hat.

Augustine said, “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.”

With God's help, that's pretty much the plan — even if I choose to work on Labor Day.

Mark Millican is a former staff writer for the Daily Citizen-News.

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