The twelve men riding in the bed of the truck were quiet as it moved along the gravel road. The sun was barely above the horizon as their work day began.
When the driver stopped the truck, three men jumped out – grabbing spades and shovels before they walked to the spot marked by the yellow tape. As the truck moved out, one of the men yelled “Wait!” – ran over and grabbed their water cooler so that they would have water as the day warmed up. Pounding on the side of the truck to signify it was ok to move on, their day officially began.
The men moved to the tape and pulled one side down, using their spades to mark off the area to dig. Once they had marked it off, the tape was thrown to the side out of the way. Lifting the first layer was always the hardest, since the grass knit the earth together. Once that interweaving was broken down – lifting the brown dirt as the whole opened up was relatively easy. The dirt was loose underneath. Probably because it was watered regularly, it kept it nice and soft – and easy to move.
It took the men about two and a half hours to get the hole opened, measuring their progress with a tape measure that the leader had on his belt. It was funny, though, that he even carried the tape measure at all. After over fifteen years, he knew when they reached the necessary depth. As he used a five foot long two by six to pound the sides tight, making sure that the four sides were not only well-packed, but straight up and down, the other guys took a short break and then brought him a cup of water. Signaling a five minute break, the men leaned back on a tree and rested their legs and shoulders.
The five minutes passed quickly and the one in charge got up, the other two followed suit. As they jumped down into the hole, one said, “Only another foot, and we’re done.”
Of course, the last foot was always the toughest. It became more of a job heaving the dirt from the hole to the ground above. No longer just throwing it a little distance, but lifting the shovel while not letting the dirt fall back into the hole. This is when their shoulders got the real workout. It was hard too, knowing that they had such a thankless job. Most people didn’t even give the job a thought. They referred to themselves as ‘invisible.’
It was then that the truck pulled up, “Done yet?” the driver called out. As two guys pulled themselves from the hole, the third was pounding the sides to make sure they would not collapse and fill in all of their work. Once he finished and pulled himself out of the hole, he nodded to the driver, grabbed his shovel and the plank, jumping over the side of the pickup bed by stepping up on the rear wheel.
Before the guys turned the last corner on the gravel road, they noticed a car coming toward them. As it got closer, the driver flashed his lights, so the truck pulled over and stopped.
An older gentleman got out of the car and approached the truck. He spoke to the truck driver for a few moments and both drivers walked to the back of the pickup. “Sean, Joe and Cody, would you jump out for a second?”
As they moved away from the truck, the stranger introduced himself, “My name is Warren Gilbert, and I wanted to meet you.” The gentlemen shook hands, still unsure why the man wanted to talk to them.
Mr. Gilbert continued, “I am 79 years old and my wife, Josephine, has been with me for the past 56 years, I just want to thank you for making sure her resting place is ready for the service this afternoon. She was the love of my life and what you have done in opening her grave is a service of love, even though you didn’t know her. I cannot express how much I appreciate what you have done for her. And for me. Thank you.”
With that, the men shook hands again, and the old gentleman returned to his car and drove away.
The three diggers looked at each other and nodded, realizing that they made a difference. At least for today.
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