Sunday, January 30, 2011

There's a Lesson in the Telling

This weekend was one of the local Home and Garden Expo's held by the Home Builder's Association. This year, instead of holding this event at the University coliseum, it was held at the county recreation complex.  Even scaled down like this it still wasn't all that busy. Not with businesses showcasing their goods or services nor with those who came to see what was new and exciting in architecture, design, construction or landscaping.

FishyDesigns  was invited to hostess a booth for a Contracting company for whom we provide planning and design services. The carrot here was we could showcase ourselves too without paying for a booth. We will do this  again in two weeks for the home show 2 counties over. Same deal.  Many said this year was better than last. Maybe. But on a scale of  one to ten I would give this show a 2.5 .

Even so, I had a great time. I ran into a young builder I haven't seen in a while so we took this opportunity to catch up. His business is "wobbly but standing" and according to him they are willing to build just about anything that pays the overhead. To quote DrewJ  " Fishy if it is an outhouse, doghouse or cat house we will take it on. At the moment we are building a half dozen program houses. Each about 900  square feet and the most basic materials I've ever seen. I mean the budget for labor and material for the flooring is a thousand. That's $1.10 a square foot for the material and labor".

DrewJ and his partner are smart young men with families. DrewJ has boys 5,3 and 2 his partner has kids a bit older at 8,6 and 3. They are smart,hard working, honorable men. Love their wives and their kids and are striving hard to make the world a better place. But! They also are risk taking hellions with more confidence than you can load in a semi. Some might say cocky and brash but really it's just the exuberance typical of youth and joy. Then too there is the competitiveness. Both played football for their respective universities. Both played for smaller schools with  come from behind against all odds winning seasons. They bring that same yard by yard fighting spirit to their business lives.  Tough is a great trait to have in this business.

As part of their infomercial there was a professional video tour of a house they built for the Parade of Homes Showcase back in 2007. FishyDesigns did all the specifications for that house. In the last mad days of rush before the opening (there were 14 houses on the tour) we were all in there together  doing whatever needed doing to make everything as perfect as possible. Three days before the opening  the house wasn't finished.The landscaping wasn't in and it was looking like it wasn't going to happen. Some of the subs had bumped them  to meet the schedules of more established  homebuilders. About 30 hours before the opening event these men were exhausted and trying hard to huddle up a new game plan for completion. Finishing was looking doubtful. God only knows when they had slept last, or had a shower or been home to see their kids. They were dog tired, terribly discouraged and disillusioned but not defeated and still determined.

While they, I and a substitute landscaper were having a  conference a truck nobody recognized pulled up out front. Out of the truck stepped two huge men in their late 50's. I heard a gurgle deep in the throat of DrewJ's  partner Jed, before he took off  at a flat out run toward the truck.  Then DrewJ did the same thing.   Did I mention these men are BIG? DrewJ is 6'-4" about 280 pounds and his partner is even larger at 6'-7" and 330 pounds.  They are younger versions of their daddies, those men exiting the truck. One had come home early  from  a down state vacation, the other had come from Virginia, to help their weary sons. They didn't any of them cry but I did. It was a sight to see those 4 giant men stand shoulder to shoulder, generation to generation with the Dad's saying to their boys, just tell me what you need son and I'll do my best.  I loved witnessing that moment.

Seeing the video reminded me of that day.  I told DrewJ how much I still treasure the memory of that moment with he and his Dad. He sort of nodded and said, "It is a real fine thing now but Daddy and I didn't always get along". I could tell, from his way of saying this, I was about to hear the whole story.

Drew J is an only child. He grew up in a small Carolina town where his Dad was the high school principal, a Deacon at the church, sat on the town council and, coached little league. His Mama was educated but had never had a "career" preferring to be a volunteer and  organizer for the local charities and arts groups.  All his life DrewJ swears he  had an awareness about how lucky he was about family. He  loved both his parents with all his heart, was proud of them and did all he could to never disappoint two such fine people. As he put it, "by the time I was 8 I would rather die than bring shame or embarrassment to my family".

The summer DrewJ was between 9th and 10th grades his Daddy came home one day and told DrewJ to go on down the block to a cousins house and to not come back home until he was called.  Shocked by these instructions DrewJ disobeyed his Dad, walked out the front door and then came back inside by way of his bedroom window.  He was eavesdropping  in time to hear his Dad tell his mom he was leaving her for another. He told her he knew he was choosing to "wrong her" , was probably making a mess of everybody's  lives, he was sorry but the decision was made.  He went on to say he had transferred all his retirement money into a trust for she and DrewJ so "your life as you know it won't be financially disrupted".  Then he left.

You can imagine what life was like for DrewJ and his Mom. Small town gossips are ruthless. His Dad was removed as a Deacon, resigned from the town council, was found unfit to coach young boys  but remained the principle of the school DrewJ  attended. It was Hell in so many ways.  The worst being the awful betrayal of the values his Dad had instilled in DrewJ. When the divorce was final, DrewJ's dad immediately married the other woman. DrewJ declined to share time with his dad and his dad did not force the issue. Soon  though, there were whispers around town that wife2 was ill. Seriously ill. She died within a few months of a brain tumor. DrewJ and his mom did not attend the funeral, didn't send flowers, and offered no sympathy. His Dad took a leave of absence for the remainder of the school year and left town. No one knew where he was.

When DrewJ  was a junior he came home one afternoon to find his Dads car parked out front. He  came in the Kitchen door just in time to hear his father saying, " I think we should make every effort possible to be a family again".  DrewJ swears what came next was pure reflex sans any thought processes whatsoever.  He hauled his Dad out the front door where,

" Swear to God Fishy, Dad and I went at it like two stud dogs in the front yard. If the neighbors had known what was coming  they would have put out the lawn chairs and made popcorn. There we were two big men, the young and the old just doing our damdest to beat each other to pulp. My mother came out the front door and  turned the hose on us like we WERE dogs. At first it wasn't too effective but she turned that nozzle to the power setting and it got our attention. Once  I backed off she stepped in closer and  aimed that water jet right at Dad's treasure. He went down fast and hard but Mom wasn't done. Those boys down at Gitmo could have learned a lot from my Mom about water boarding. She had stored  up a soul full of rage for a year or more and she was letting that water do her talking and her screaming and she did some damage. They hauled Daddy off to the hospital unconscious on a stretcher"

It is a shame you can't hear voices on a blog. I know this must seem  terrible but by the time DrewJ was telling about the ambulance drivers reactions to the injuries I was laughing hard. He is such a fine story teller I could have been watching a video of his parents instead of the Showhouse.  It is a talent when someone can relate a personal tragedy as a comedy. I did ask DrewJ how he and his Mom and Dad manage everything now. He laughed and said, 
" She married him before he got discharged from the hospital. I was so put out by them both I lived with my coach until I went to college. In fact I have never lived with my parents again."

That didn't make me laugh.
I thought about how terrible it must have been for him, how confusing, how infuriating. He claims it's what gave him an extra edge as a ballplayer.  All that unquelled wrath. I told him I was amazed and impressed with his ability to forgive trespasses. He shrugged and  mentioned everybody sooner or later had to recognize their parents  are humans not deities. He laughed a bit and said this,

"It was my wife  Dana who taught me how to accept my parents. Before Dana I had never truly been in love. I'd had my share of youthful romances in high school and college but nothing like I feel for Dana.  When I asked her to marry me she told me she loved me with all her being but she could not say yes because it terrified her to think about life married to a man who cannot forgive. I had to agree to go to counseling with Dana and then with my parents because she was not going to marry into, or bear children for, a family that couldn't all be together in joy ."

Amazing wisdom in a woman so young. They married when Dana was just 21.

I told DrewJ  I guessed his parents were crazy about Dana. He claimed if there was a fire  both of his parents would save Dana first and come back for him if they thought about it.  He went on to say that sometimes  when he is checking on his boys, one last time before going to bed, he thinks how glad he is to be a dad and how glad he is his boys have a grandfather in their lives. Then he said this,

" I don't tell what it was made my Dad choose the things he did, or why my Mom chose to marry him again. What I do tell folks is that I am grateful".


Pam said...

Oh Fishy! What a grand hoot of a story! I love it. You write down his words in your own way and I can hear his voice in my head. Who knows why dad acted the way he did, but I know why mom turned the hose on him. And for marrying him again? There's more to this story! But good on these young builders for getting into the affordable market ... everyone has to start somewhere and that market needs integrity in the builders!

Sharon Rudd said...

My! A fascinating and well told story, Fishy. As much as the economy is difficult and work can suck for any of us on any given day, this is a very personal story that also helps remind me of the big picture. Many thanks to you and DrewJ for sharing it.

fishy said...

Hi Pam,
Howling funny!
In an odd way it is a testimony to the resiliency of "family". What is interesting to me is they all still live in the same small town. They have homes on opposite sides of a lake. In the evenings, DrewJ and Dana walk the boys around the lake, his parents walk dogs. DrewJ showed me a picture of this family ritual, it could not be more Norman Rockwell.

Very hard on them to go from building half million houses to government "program" houses. As
DrewJ said, if government work is all there is that's what we will build. And yes, they absolutely do maintain the same integrity and ethics as always.

You know it is tough to be out there scrapping for every job of any scope. But back when we were all living the boom it was hard and extremely competitive to get the subs needed for our jobs. In a way those challenges were the preparation for having the grit, resolve and goal mindedness needed now. One of he things DrewJ said was, " I know these are little 1 or 2 yard gains but to tell you the truth we were proud to get these contracts. Since they are all being built on the same street in the same time line we are running the job tight and efficient. Like one big project instead of 6 little houses. We will do alright and these folks will have finely constructed homes." I love the goodness of this comment and these fine young men.

Where but in the deep South will you find an "Andrew Junior" shortened to "DrewJ". He is as unique as his name and clearly so is his family!

Jenny said...

Wow! Wow! I'm so glad I had a fresh cup when I sat down to read this post. As you said, everyone has a story and this one is full of so many good people. Dana was so smart and wise to know her future husband's family needed to be whole before she could join them and his family was smart to agree to counseling.

Turning the hose on her son and husband was brilliant. Turning the hose on his "treasure"? that made me spit my coffee out.

YOU are a great story teller, Fishy and I'm glad you had a good weekend. :-)

fishy said...

Had I not been sitting down I would have spilled more than my beverage!

If you could meet this giant , sweet man with the wicked sense of humor you would love him too. He calls one of his boys 3D and sometimes refers to Dana as "the goddess".

To my surprise (and shock) he tells really personal stuff about his family, himself and his business all the time. He tells his history in a way that mingles the shock of the telling with his humorous take of the reality. He might be the funniest human being I ever met. Ever.

If he ever decides to give up "building dreams for others" he could get rich as a stand up comic.

chickory said...

very interesting. maybe the wife agreed to allow him to marry the other lady since she was dying. who can figure out the mysteries of love affairs? the most flumoxing of all. Quite a tale fishy!

moi said...

Wonderful story and I agree with Chickory: trying to figure out what people do in the name of love/lust/what have you is like trying to contemplate the beginning and end of the universe. The tragedy is, though, that so often children are right there in the middle of the very drama parents are supposed to shield them from. I feel for Drew J and am amazed at his ability to forgive. Not sure I could have.

Aunty Belle said...

Fishy, youse quiet--wanna come mess it up some--talk wif' me about Egypt on the BACK PORCH

Jenny said...

missing Fishy's Haikus and Friday Design.