There are many methods by which a to cast a spell. There was a time in this crones life when I was feeling hopeless. I found myself in a work environment where I was the only female worker in an entirely male dominated “blue-collar” field. To say that I was “unwelcome” in this work place would be, an understatement.
Poppa was not well, he could not work during this dark period. We had three small children. I had to step up and become the sole wage earner for our young family. We had no health insurance. Caregiving, was my vocation, but, at that time, caregiving was not paying very well, not well enough to support a household of five people. I worked for myself, and it was fine as a second income, but, I couldn’t pay for private health insurance for a growing family, and provide the other necessities as well.
Poppa was having no luck finding work due to his medical issues. This was when I got the bright idea to join an educational program sponsored by the government, in which, low-income adult women were being trained in nontraditional (higher paying) blue-collar jobs. Women were being trained and hired in occupations such as truck driving, coal mining, carpentry, mechanics, and construction. My father was a welder, so, I knew that this was a well-paying field with a vast array of opportunities for gaining employment. I joined the program for women and became a certified welder in record time. I was hired to weld and repair highway bridges. There was full insurance coverage provided, decent pay, and, we were back in business! I was very proud of myself. Poppa was proud of me, my children were impressed by their Mommy’s steel toe boots, her leather apron and her welding hood.
What I did not expect, was to be treated so rudely. Sure, there were laws in place against sexual harassment, but, as soon as you filed any sort of legal grievance, you were branded as “difficult to work with” and pulled off of your job and placed in something more “feminine,” I had studied and trained diligently to become a welder, I did not want to do anything else.
I laughed at the burns around my neck from my overhead welding test, (the hot slag drips down under your leather collar, if you instinctively pull away, your weld is compromised, (by a pocket of air) On the test welds, I never pulled away, my weld was solid in the exrays!) In fact, I was proud of those burns, when I looked at those scars in the mirror, they made me feel capable and stronger than steel. (they still do) So, I was going to make this job work for us! For long months, I tolerated the daily workplace harassment, I wasn’t going to give up. I would stand in the fire and I would do what I had to do for my family and for myself as a woman.
However, a person can stand only so much disrespect, so, after a while, it was clear to me that I had to do something to make my work life tolerable. I was miserable. I was tired of dealing with the crude comments, the whispers, the nasty insinuations. I couldn’t have friends on the job like everyone else. If I so much as ate lunch under a shade tree with a coworker, the rumors started, I was “doing him!”
It was a nightmare being isolated from the laughter and the camaraderie of the others, not that I wanted to be their buddy, but, because, I was alone and I was bullied. The outright meanness of my coworkers was something that I could not have imagined, I began to hate my life. Every night I was exhausted from carrying steel from the road down to the creek bed, and then, welding in the heat and cold of the season. My coworkers helped each other, but, if I asked for help, I was told to go up on the bridge and throw refreshments down to them as they got thirsty (in the hole) and they needed a good waitress! The job was physically hard, but, I was good at it, I have always been a strong woman, so I carried or drug my own damned steel down to the creek. They fetched their own damned refreshments.
Frankly, I was a better welder than all of them, with the exception of the two “foremen” who were the most experienced. The county where we were working at that time, had no public sewage systems, and often times, human waste, dirty diapers, and women’s used hygiene products floated around my boots as I welded in the creek bed. I have a strong stomach too. Thankfully, they did provide portable potty’s on the jobs, (after I got a urinary tract infection from not emptying my bladder) I finally went and complained to the supervisor because my coworkers were urinating on the job, (yes, that was very pretty) and short of pulling down by work pants and squatting like a dog, I was unable to use the bathroom. I had to demand a private place to relieve myself. Of course, they laughed at me for complaining, calling me names and baby talking to me. I had to share a potty with them, and they were nasty men, I do mean, filthy, extra filthy…. because they knew that I was using the facility behind them! Still, I was glad to have somewhere with a door on it to go to the bathroom.
There were long rides to the work sites, generally it took us about two hours to get where we were working. We would caravan in vans and trucks. Everything was tolerable until on the ride in to the work site one day, they began joking about the rape of a young mentally ill woman. They bragged to me that one day they were welding a bridge way out in the country, when, an odd-looking teenage girl caught their eye. Her house was by the bridge where they were working. They explained that her parents had left her alone for the day while they went into town for supplies. Two of the guys (neither was present on my crew that day) had gone inside and had “sex” with the girl. They all laughed about this story, their eyes growing bright and large. I was silent, I kept my eyes down, I got a book out of my lunch bag and buried my red face in it. They knew that I was listening though, so, they carried on with their loud, hideous perverted tale, they went into great, boastful detail. They re-told their terrible tale as often as they found one grain of amusement in “sharing,” I am guessing around thirty times over two years.
At some point, disgust and hatred for my coworkers began to give way to hostility, then, to suspicion and fear. I became paranoid for the first time in my life. I was startled easily, I had nightmares. I began taking my own chipping hammer to work with me. It had a six-inch sharpened spike on the end, it had belonged to my Dad, it chipped through steel like a knife through butter. I began to suspect that I might need to use it for something other what it was designed to be used for.
We often worked in isolated territory. When it rained, we all piled into vans and trucks to wait out the rain, sometimes, the “story” of the mentally ill girl would be recanted during one of those thunderstorms. There I would be, in a van that was tucked deep into the woods. just myself, and about ten of them, all laughing and slapping their knees. I would feel for my chipping hammer. I wore it hanging through a loop on the leg of my pants. I would fake interest in a book, and run my thumb over the sharp point of the hammer. I kept one hand free at all times, I sat near a door.
These were not progressive, educated men. These were angry mountain men, red necks, they did not appreciate being told that they had to have a woman on their job site. Their masculinity was threatened by the sight of me simply doing my job. These men referred to their wives as “their old ladies” and bragged that they would get laid every first and fifteenth of the month because those were our paydays, and the “old lady” wanted to keep them happy, and keep the money rolling in. I felt as if I had entered some warped alternate universe, and I wanted desperately to escape my ill fate.
At home, Poppa was busy, cleaning, doing homework, going to the children’s school events, cooking, baking, and taking care of the rescue dogs. At night, he ran my bath, he rubbed my sore back, he encouraged me, he praised me, he apologized that he was unable to defend me. I missed my real life, I secretly envied Poppa, I cursed each dawn. I was a witch, even back then, but, I had no time for the peaceful practice of the craft. I was too burdened and too distracted to appreciate nature, or to meditate, or to lay my burdens down and release them within the blaze of a sacred flame. I was too wary and too exhausted to cast a spell, or, to pray. I functioned, I put one foot in front of the other and I moved forward.
That is when I began to paint on the weekends. I am no artist, but, painting, even in my own crude fashion, was the only way that I could connect to my magickal roots. There was no peace in my heart, my spirit was distracted, and fearful. Painting inspired me to empowerment, and, in the end, painting granted me some measure of peace.
I painted several paintings during that period. In the interest of brevity, let me say that it all worked out. Poppa got well, he found a decent job with health insurance and I went back to my real life.
I still see some of those men, as I am driving along the road, and they are working on bridges. My hair has turned gray now, and most of them have died or retired, but, there are still a few of them remaining. I stare at them for one mean moment, then, I smile.