Being a general contractor is not simply about knowing how to build. To have a shot at success, one has to have the ability to grasp the core of an individual while simultaneously managing the tapestry of a team. In short, it’s business acumen, an attribute most often ascribed to men in my vocation.
Along with the amazing women in my family, I had the pleasure of growing up surrounded by smart, loving, successful men and, among other things, the men in my family taught me how to communicate, befriend and be a friend, negotiate mutually beneficial relationships and be of service. They also taught me how to listen, how to laugh at myself and how to let go. Over time, a myriad of bygone relationships brought along the lessons of how to allow others to take care of me, how to be fearless, how to love unconditionally. And my husband – who is the kosher salt of the earth – has schooled me in how to put my foot down and set boundaries, how to trust and protect at the same time, how to loosen my reins, and how to partner both my strengths and weaknesses with his own.
All of these characteristics, these pearls of active wisdom, have aided me becoming a different kind of contractor, a better leader, a solution-seeking boss lady, and the type of woman I am today. Perhaps I am not typical, but I do not intend nor ascribe to be.
More often than not, people are curious about how I became a builder and, with that, inevitably, they ask me if my father was in the business – the assumption being that I was introduced to the trades in my youth. Let me assure you, nothing could be further from the truth. My dad, like so many of our fathers, was a master of duct tape, spit and spirit. Suffice to say, my knowledge base of construction was limited to terrariums, paper mache and dioramas (and we have my mother to thank for that!).
That being said, he always found his way from point A to point B.
I remember when my dad built us a tree house just after we moved to Massachusetts. It was a simple platform nestled into the crotch and nailed off into strong limbs three stories up. We ascended to our sky fort on 2”x4” pieces of lumber nailed to the trunk and, if memory service me correctly, there may have been a handrail of some sort on two of four sides to keep us steady. Maybe.
Certainly not to code, but we got there – every time – without issue.
I have wonderful memories of being up there secreting away the day with books and toys, and an even better memory of what I call The Great Fall.
Autumn was lovely on the East Coast. The crisp clean air, the smell of old fruit and rotting bark filled our nostrils as we headed into winter. My brothers and I spent the day raking and bagging the latest castoff, a chore we were assigned to every fall season. Of course, like all children, we raked everything into the biggest pile we could before filling our Hefty bags, and then we would go flying off the roof of the garage, praying we didn’t catch a stray rock in the head upon touchdown. There we would romp and play in the decay, immune to the mildew, the creepy crawlies, the future.
Nothing mattered. We had a big-ass pile of leaves! Pure delight. Things couldn’t be better.
Or could they?
As children do, we invented a new game. As Barton children do, we combined science and math into our new game. The idea was to create a weight-counterweight system with bags of leaves that would allow us to – if only for a brief moment – experience weightlessness. Brilliant!
Out came the ropes and we put my elder brother Jim’s Eagle Scout knot-tying skills to work. Then we sent my younger brother Billy – being that he was already missing several teeth from a downhill skateboarding snafu – up and out onto the largest, highest limb he could manage. Once he caught the loose end of the rope and looped it off at our tree house, we were good to go. At the bottom of our fly zone was the now-relocated huge pile of leaves that would accommodate the softest landing possible. BRILLIANT!
We spent the next several hours climbing up and jumping off as quickly as we could. Our calculations were spot-on: weight, counterweight, weight, counterweight. We were flying!
If only for a moment.
We worked that tree until Mother blew the air horn that announced supper. Time for one more flight, and it was my turn.
Bill stood attendant on the platform holding the loose end of the rope for me while Jim manned and assembled the counterweights below. I slicked back my pigtails, pulled up my mauve Toughskins, and began my ascent. Bill handed me the rope and we all shared a knowing grin before I set off on what was going to be THE best jump of the day.
And it was. It was the best jump of the day, of my life, and one I am quite sure will never be repeated.
I was flying. I was literally flying!
If only for a moment.
I landed hard, backside to the earth, the wing knocked out of me, the ground solidly rammed into my spine. Insults being companions to injury, my first manageable inhale was accompanied by leaf dust and winter moth. Although my soldier lay prone, I took it all in like a guard at Buckingham Palace as I stared skyward at my loving brothers – now smiling and doubled over with laughter – then at both ends of a suspiciously unattached rope coiled on my belly and our counterweight, unmoved, three feet away.
Among everything else, those boys taught me how to take a joke.
And a hit.