At least twice a month, my wife and I jump in the car, drive approximately forty miles to the south, and spend time with my mother-in-law in Pueblo, Colorado. It is a gritty blue-collar town that for many decades relied on the local steel mill as its primary source of employment. There is a sense of true work ethic that still pervades the fabric of the local community. Even in declining economic times, there exists a feeling of pride.
It is a town where men and women earned modest livelihoods through working with their hands. Dirt under your fingernails served as a badge of honor. During World War II, the city produced four Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was led to state, “I want to know what they put in Pueblo’s water!”
Unfortunately, my mother-in-law’s backyard is not enclosed by a fence. That means that every time the dog needs to go outside, I need to take her out on a leash. She is never satisfied with just going into the yard, opting instead to take me on short walks around the neighborhood. That translates into me spending a lot of time looking down at sidewalks. I have yet to find that 1909-S VDB penny lying around on the sidewalk; so I can forget making some $78,000 and retiring to write on the beaches of St. Thomas!
My sidewalk inspecting activities have not gone unrewarded. Late one afternoon I began to observe that the lengths of sidewalk were marked with the symbol of the company that laid down the concrete. Each mark has its own design, but they all share a common trait; the impression always displays the name of the contractor, their location, and the year that the work was completed. These demarcations appear at the beginning and the end of the stretch that was laid down by the particular concrete company.
As the dog paused to collect the latest news by sniffing the base of a large maple tree; I stared down at the sidewalk. Lying there below me was a mark indicating that this particular length of concrete was laid down in 1959. I marvelled at the fact that some half a century had passed since the handiwork was completed. The concrete looked absolutely fresh. There was not a blemish or crack to be found anywhere. Some ten squares later, the same trademark appeared and we were continuing our walk.
It was not long before we found ourselves on quite a different stretch of sidewalk. It was filled with gaping cracks, and at several junctures it eroded into stone rubble. You could almost see the dirt that had originally lined the path. I was surprised to get to the end of this piece of path; only to find an impression that indicated the work had been completed in 2004. Much to my hound’s chagrin, I made her double back to where the well-worn portion of sidewalk had begun. Sure enough there was the same mark from 2004!
I was puzzled by what I had just witnessed. One would think that technology and materials would have advanced over the course of some forty-five years! Surely a seven year-old sidewalk would outlast its counterpart from the late 1950’s! Perhaps there had been some aberration when the newer concrete was poured. Had it frozen? Had too much water been used? Was the ground ill prepared beforehand?
There was a time where pride in workmanship was paramount. This would have held especially true in a blue-collar town like Pueblo in the middle of the twentieth century! The workmen, immortalized through a simple impression in the sidewalk, had been careful to assure that their work endured. They used only the finest materials and plied their craft expertly. They had simply done it right, as evidenced by the pristine condition of their work that many years later!
So what had happened only seven years ago? I suspect that the contractor enhanced his profit by using inferior materials. They rushed the job, surely being paid by the project rather than by the hour. If their worked faltered prematurely, they would benefit by getting to perform the task again. In short, unlike their earlier counterparts; these workmen had decided to think of themselves rather than those who would walk this path!
We all lay out our own sidewalks in life. They showcase the paths we have followed, immortalized by hardened concrete. They leave a legacy for those who will follow, and they each carry our own personal trademark.
Will your sidewalk be pristine after a half a century, or will it be an eroded pile of rubble in less than ten years? Will you take shortcuts in order to maximize your personal gain? Or will you use the finest of materials and take the time to leave an enduring legacy? Will you leave behind an everlasting path for others to follow? As for me, I am busy looking up the phone number for that contractor who poured his path of concrete in 1959!