Monday, November 9, 2009

Manliness and Sunflower Seeds

The first time I remember trying to eat sunflower seeds was when my big brother offered me some out of Dad's bag as we laid the stone skirting of our trailer home.  I couldn't get Nic's directions right away and didn't think I was meant to.  I thought he was acting and didn't know either.  We were boys and sunflower seeds were meant for men.

My dad was respected among working men.  Around 9 and 10 years old, Nic and I started working construction with Dad and quickly learned what made a manly man: beer for lunch, cigarettes or chewing tobacco, always, blaring classic rock on the stereo, always, foul language, always, and hairy muscles.

Dad had none of these as far as I could tell.  He always wore a shirt to protect his Scandinavian skin -- sometimes he even wore long sleeves in summer -- so I never saw his muscles, though he had a red beard large enough to beat all the hairy backs and chests I'd seen.   He didn't like having to yell over music, so he didn't allow it on the job.  He never touched booze or tobacco, and he never cursed. But he'd juggle a trowel and bucket of mud, while scaling scaffolding and arcing sunflower seed shells out over his beard.  So I thought men must've revered his seed skills, and his beard.

"You gotta put it in your mouth, suck the salt, then crack the shell in front, then dig out the seed with your tongue and teeth, then spit the shell," Nic said.

"How does Dad do that with a whole bunch in his mouth?" I mumbled and mangled a seed.

"Try one first."

I swallowed as many shells as I did seeds till I got bored with the one-at-a-time and threw a handful in my mouth.

"Kyle, bring some stone around the mud board," Dad said.

I ran the wheelbarrow around the front of the trailer, where the skirting had already been freshly laid, and loaded it with the best remaining stones.  I held off loading for a second while I focused on the seeds.  It was no use.  I'd get one on the opposite side of my mouth from the bunch, but as soon as I'd try cracking it, the rest would crowd my tongue.

"Kyle! Where you at?"

I quickly clanked a couple more stones in the wheelbarrow, and then, while straining the load back to Dad, I crunched down on the load in my mouth. "Crap!"

"What?" Dad said.


While unloading the stone, I chewed the seeds all up till they expanded and filled my mouth.  I tried to spit them out . . . half came out in a spray of spit and broken shells; the other half dribbled down my chin and shirt.  Nic gotta big kick out of the show, but he was nice about it.  "Don't take so much," he said.

"If you're talking, you're not working.  If you got a boy at work, you gotta man.  If you got two boys at work, you got half a man," Dad said and slung mud on the wall, cut and smoothed the excess with his trowel, and shot seeds under the house through the hole between the stone and skirting.