Bird #21 — Chimney Swift

chaetura (from chaite, stiff hair and oura, tail) pelagica (of the sea)

Friday, June 8, 1979 — 2:30 p.m.

Glencoe, Illinois — residential area

I graduated from college, and real life kicked in — I had to find a job. With an assist from my Dad, I ended up working for C. R. Ebert Roofing, in Glencoe, Illinois. The owner, Bob Ebert, attended our church. The previous winter had been hard, and the roofing business was booming. Bob had four or five crews out every day, and I was put on one of the asphalt shingle crews.

On my first day on the job, my crew worked on the home of Mrs. Allen, the widow of the former owner of the Chicago White Sox. It was about 400 yards back from Lake Michigan, an elegant, three-story house. I got stuck on the backside of the roof, where my rookie work couldn’t be seen from any convenient point on the ground. I was handed a leather belt filled with nails, a roofing hammer, several bundles of shingles and given a five-minute lesson. The supervisor of the crew left me alone, and I went to work. On about my third shingle, I smacked my left thumb with the hammer. If you’re not familiar with roofing hammers, the head of the striking surface looks somewhat like the face of a waffle. On a new hammer, the little points are sharp. I took all the skin off my thumb from the first knuckle to the nail. I didn’t make a sound. I just kept on working, sucking the blood from my hand to keep from leaving puddles on the roof as I went.

After about two hours, Bob Ebert came by and stood and watched me for a couple minutes. He asked me if I’d ever roofed before, and I said no. He said, “I always pay my guys what they’re worth. You just got a dollar raise.” This put me all the way up to $6.00/hour, pretty good starting wages in those days.

Anyway, not long after this, we were putting a roof on a house in a heavily-wooded residential area surrounded by high trees and gardens bulging with forget-me-nots.

A small flock of Chimney Swifts were circling and twittering high overhead for most of the afternoon

This was the first of several birds I saw while roofing. I didn’t hide the fact that I watched birds, but the other guys would have been upset if I did it when I was supposed to be working. I got around this, in part, by volunteering to work cleanup. While the others were up on the roof, I’d stay below and pick up the shingles and garbage that fell off the roof. This would give me opportunities to look at any birds that happened by, almost all of which were novelties to me at this point. Unfortunately, I couldn’t use binoculars.

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