The job was simple, but dangerous, but I accepted it just the same. This was my best year, as a landscaper and general "I can do that for you" year! Today, I was to get on top of a three story house, pressure wash all the moss off the roof, and unclog one gutter spout. The problem was the downspout was at the part of the roof that had a 45 degree slope. Three stories down to an asphalt parking lot. I was very uneasy about that part of the job, and was going to do that last. The house had been sold, so it had to be done before closing!!!
It was an all day job, doing my best to keep the nozze spray close enough to the shingles to remove the moss, but not close enough to tear the shingles, which would cause leaks. Finally, all the work was done except the down spout. As I surveyed what I had to do, and ways to do it, I didn't have much to work with. I would need something to tie a saftey rope onto, to keep me from falling to my death, if I slipped on the wet shingles. I had to unclog that spout, one way or the other. I hated letting people down. I looked around, and the only thing I saw, was a 5 foot tall TV antenna, supported by a metal pole tripod, bolted to the roof.
I walked over to it and shook it. It didn't move. The bolts were large, and I felt it would be safe. So I climbed down my ladder and returned with a long rope. I tied one end to my waist and the other to the antenna pole. Then, I began pressure washing the last little portion of the roof, making my way to the down spout. As I neared the edge of the roof, I didn't like what I saw. If I fell, I wouldn't need to worry about calling 9-1-1. I had no phone and this was a vacant house. There were two cars parked in the driveway of the house next door. If I slipped, but didn't fall, my plan was to yell my head off, and hope the neighbors heard me!
I barely reached the down spout, and had pulled a couple of handfuls of slimy leaves out, when I felt myself slipping...and the next thing I knew, I was dangling off the roof, as the pressure washer hose fell to the ground. My heart was racing 90 miles an hour. I looked up towards the roof pitch and saw one of the three bolts had pulled loose from the tripod! I was scared to death. I didn't know how long the other two bolts would hold, before I would be falling three stories.
I managed to get ahold of the gutter with one hand, but not in a way that I could pull myself up to safety. I had to safety rope tension to support my weight. Sweat was running down my face and into my eyes, as I yelled, no, "screamed for someone to help me". I didn't know how much longer I could hold onto the gutter for support. Suddenly, just out of view, I heard a man's voice call out to me..."hold on, I'm coming to help you"! In just a moment, a man appeared by the tripod, looked at what happened, and took hold of the safety rope.
I was so relieved to see him... as he looked at me with kindness in his eyes. "This isn't gonna be easy friend. I'm gonna have to crawl down to the edge and get you back on the roof, before I can get you out of danger"! At that point, all I cared about was getting back on the roof, before I had a heart attack! When he made it to the gutter, his eyes showed, nervousness to. "Just stay calm, and help pull yourself back up as I pull too he said. If the gutter nails pull out, we'll both be falling"! That wasn't what I wanted to hear at that moment. I kicked my foot up several times, until my foot landed in the gutter. He grabbed my hand and said, "now pull"!!!!!
It felt like it took forever before I was back on the roof, but far from being out of danger. There was sweat dripping off his brow, as he wiped his forehead and told me; "Now comes the tough part. I have to let go of you, and get back up to the tripod. Once there, I will pull back, and keep it steady, so you can pull yourself back to where I'll be". My greatest fear was that when he let go of my hand, I would fall to my death. It was such a steep pitched angled roof. When he let go, I could feel gravity wanting to pull me over the edge, but I was ok for the moment as he made his wy to the top of the roof.
He pulled up the excess rope and tied it again to the tripod, and held onto the loose tripod pole that had pulled free. Once that was done, he told me to pull myself up. Foot by foot I pulled myself up, hugging the roof, as he smiled and nodded his head. I don't know who looked more nervous, me or him? When I reached the top of the roof, I collapsed, fighting to catch my breath as he patted me on the back. "You did well my friend. All in a days work...right"?...and then he laughed. I couldn't help but laugh too. I told the stranger..."you saved my life! I would have surely died, had you not come and helped me"!
As he tried to catch his breath too, he shook his head no; and said, "you owe me nothing of the kind! I did roof jobs just like yours for years myself"! I told him my name, and he said his name was Gary Chalfant. As I lay there, I asked Gary, "Have you ever thought about the risk of you falling off a roof before"? He thought about it for a moment and replied, I used to some years ago, but not anymore"! I noticed a look in his eyes that bother's me, even to this very day. He looked away from me, as if he wanted to tell me something, but changed his mind.
Suddenly I heard the realty agent's VW bug pulling into the driveway. "That's my boss Jake, the guy who hired me to do this roof job"; I told Gary. Gary reached out his hand and shook my hand saying; "well, I best let you get back to work"...and he headed for the ladder, when I said , "Wait Gary". I want to introduce you to my boss, and tell him you saved my life". There was a sadness in Gary's eyes, as he shook his head no. "I wish I could my friend, but I can't", and in that split second, he vanished!!!!
I just sat there, in shock and disbelief, as I saw Jake's head pop up at the top of the ladder and wave hi to me! Jake made his way over to me, and kidded me that I was on the clock, and supposed to be working. He said it in a joking way, but saw the look in my eyes. "What's wrong, Raymond, I was only kidding you"? I took a deep breath and explained to Jake what had happened, and told him a man named Gary Chalfant saved my life, I described his clothing too. I told him, that after he had saved my life, he disappeared, as if he had been a ghost!!!
Jake's jaw dropped open and he was speechless. Finally, Jake recanted how a previous owner had hired a man by the same name to do some roof repair, three years earlier, and that he had fallen to his death. After a few more minutes of silence, I got my rope and I followed Jake down the ladder.
© 2002 Raymond Brown