"I can't picture you in a hard hat," Bob from my church told me after reading "A View from a Catwalk".
I've spent the last two days thumbing through thirteen years of photos in preparation for a DuPont reunion and thought of Bob every time I came across one of me in my hard hat.
So here you go, Bob. This one's for you.
Me and JD. I remember the day it was taken. A photographer was roaming the plant, taking promotional photos. He asked us to pretend we were working on something. I felt silly. JD, on the other hand, went right to work on that water station.
JD was a sweet guy. We shared a passion for genealogy; he's the one who lit the fire in me to start researching my lines at the Clayton Library in Houston. His was trying to track down family behind the Iron Curtain at the time. He hinted at a big scandal.
He also taught me how to look at my pay stub, to make sure my overtime was correct and things like that that I'd never even thought about. Before donning the hard hat, he drove a UPS truck, I believe.
One morning when he was only in his 40's, his heart gave out at the breakfast table. His funeral was a reunion of sorts for me - I had already turned in my hard hat and big paycheck to stay home with my three babies. The funeral home overflowed with people, mostly people from his church who stood and spoke of JD's generosity and compassion.
Isn't it funny that, even after all these years of women's rights, blah, blah, blah, people still have a specific idea of what a chemical plant worker looks like - and acts like? I doubt if JD or I either one fit the stereotype.
Actually, most of the people I worked with didn't fit the preconceived hard-hatted mold either. They didn't even have much in common aside from the plant. But no matter our differences, we hold memories of the same pipe alleys, catwalks, columns. We fought fires together and shared pot luck holiday dinners.
That's what kept it interesting for me and helped me stick it out for thirteen years and three pregnancies.
And that's why I'm excited to be seeing some of those people again soon. Many of them for the first time in more than 20 years.
Everyone won't be there. Some, like JD, have died. Some we haven't even located. Some have other commitments... or perhaps just aren't interested.
But the ones who can't, or won't, for whatever reason, will still be with us. Those with family emergencies will be in our prayers and the rest will be there in our memories, stories, photos and laughter.
Here are a few more for you, Bob...
Fire school in Beaumont
Fire school again (we went every year) We're smiling because it's over!
Out of the hardhat zone... I think this was an open house
A visit from Santa Jim (out of the hard hat and safety glasses area again, obviously)