"Shucks- I've done that hundreds and hundreds of times and never...", "Two Ladders and a Plank", Albert "Jerry" "Brody" Kenel, Broken Back, Francis Anton "Papa Tony" Kenel, Hard Work, Michigan, OSHA, Risk, Roofing, Saginaw
For those of you who REALLY can’t do math, forty-four years separate 1938 from 1894. I bring this up because my grandfather, Francis Anton “Papa Tony” Kenel, came into this world in Arth, Switzerland in 1894 and his ultimate progeny, Albert Jerry “Brody” Kenel, was born near Saginaw, Michigan forty-four years later.
Fast forward twenty-eight years and we wind up in June of 1966, or 6/66 for those of you with a Biblical Revelations fixation. Twenty-eight years brings Jerry to or near the top of his physical game, but 44 + 28 makes Papa Tony seventy-two year-old. Seventy-two can be seen as Golden Years time, but my Grandpa Tony came from hearty Swiss stock who valued work, and when I say “work” I don’t mean light labor. Papa Tony was a roofer and Papa Tony was a worker.
Old Tony and young Jerry were experienced roofers. Tony was such a hard worker that he actually prospered during The Great Depression that engulfed the world from 1929 through 1939, but that’s another story. Tony and crew had been roofing for years but even old hands make dumb mistakes. Tony and Jerry’s mistake was almost their last.
OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, did not come into being until April 1971, five years after June of sixty-six. Safety was important, but without rules and regulations “safety first” is just a goal and in June of 1966 that goal came tumbling down.
“Two Ladders and a Plank,” may or may not be a good name for a roofing company, but it’s definitely not a good recommendation. We all do things that aren’t great ideas, things that are unsafe that we get away with over and over until one more time is one time too many. So it was for Tony and Jerry. “Shucks, I’ve done that hundreds and hundreds of times and never…” You fill in the blank.
Risk is inherent with every activity, but June of 1966 brought that truth crashing down for Tony and Jerry.
Papa Tony and Jerry were roofing a house in Saginaw. They had placed a plank between two ladders and were standing on it when it snapped, sending them both tumbling to the ground. Tony landed on grass and was knocked out, Jerry wasn’t so lucky.
Jerry, who landed on concrete, broke his back. Jerry can’t walk, his father is unconscious and could be dying and there’s no one around to hear Jerry’s cries for help. What does a strong, seconds ago able-bodied twenty-eight-year-old man do when he sees his father dying? He crawls.
Jerry crawled, broken back and all, from the back of that house to the front. Inch by torturous inch. Elbow-and-forearm pull by elbow-and-forearm pull, his lower body nothing but pain shrieking dead weight. There were neighbors close by. All Jerry had to do was get to a neighbor.
Fortunately for Jerry a postman saw him crawling, rushed to him and found a house with a telephone, something that wasn’t a given even as late as 1966. Two ambulances came to transport Jerry and Tony. Turns out Tony, who fell on grass, only suffered a concussion. “Only suffered a concussion,” probably means more at seventy-two years-of-age than it does to you. Maybe not, but likely so.
Jerry spent a week in the hospital before convalescing at home for three months. Jerry’s sons, my cousins Dave and Chris, have vivid memories of Jerry’s bed in the dining room.
Say what you will about risk, responsibility, government regulation, freedom and self-reliance, they were lucky they didn’t lose the roof over their heads.