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Working Together

My dad passed away on this date, three years ago . I'll admit that I still have a hard time with it, knowing that I'll never see him again or talk to him in this lifetime. You always hear that time heals the heart, and the pain has faded some, but you never truly get over losing a loved one. What I am left with are the memories, for better or for worse. In my head, I can faintly see his face, can almost make out the sound of his voice among the the many others that have stayed with me through the years. Sometimes I try to remember certain things he said, and when I can't, it drives me crazy. There are things that I have wanted to tell him since he passed, but can't. I have questions about things that only he would know the answer to, but I am left wondering now for the rest of my life, with no access to that answer. I've ran into trouble with a car engine, or air conditioning unit, or electrical panel, and my life- line that was always just a phone call away, is now on the other side of forever.

The other day, I recalled a time in my life when we were particularly close. For just over two years, my dad and I worked together at a plant that made textile machinery. We were on the maintenance crew together, and eventually, I was appointed to be his "helper". It was aggravating as hell sometimes, but I did have the privilege of spending eight hours a day with him. We got along pretty good, even though he was at times overbearing, taking me back to those times when I was a kid playing little league. He was always there to tell me the right way to do something, which was a good thing, but when it came to actual work-- especially something dirty or labor intensive-- he let me take over.

 Everybody in the plant knew him well. He took me around the plant on the first day and introduced me to as many people as he could. He was proud that I was working where he had for so many years. Growing up, what little we had came on the back of that company. There was a familiarity for me that you just don't get with starting a new job because I had met most of the people he had worked with, and had heard all the stories that he told about them. I was familiar with the plant because he would take me with him on after hour calls. I felt like I had been there my whole life.

I also found out quick through some of those friends and co- workers that he wasn't nearly as heroic as he made out to be. I was working on a piece of equipment for a lady, and she seemed impressed and happy with the job I did. When she said,"Now you ain't nuthin' like your daddy!" I knew that she meant that as a compliment.

Our boss one time, found me working and asked where my dad was. There was an emergency, and he needed us up on the roof. I told him that I had no idea where my dad was, knowing full well he was hiding around the corner, smoking a cigarette. Deep down, I think my boss knew. After the job was 75% complete, my dad called to the boss on the walkie- talkie and asked if he was needed up on the roof, that he had been busy, and had just found out what was going on. I heard my boss reply, "No, Tom. I've got Josh. I needed somebody that would come up here and work!"

There were dozens of instances, just like that, but there were times when I was proud to be in his presence. He knew chilled water systems, refrigeration and electrical like nobody's business. He could solve almost any problem from his years of knowledge and experience. He knew the plant's HVAC equipment like the back of his hand. He could tell you what he did to a particular unit twenty years before. He was the man they would call to keep them cool in the summer, and toasty in the winter. And I was in training to do the same thing.

 Often, he would help people with their air conditioning problems at home.When I was younger, I remember riding with him to a co- worker's house, and we'd stay for hours until it was fixed and they were comfortable. We'd go wire up somebody's panel box in their workshop or garage so that they could have power in a pinch. We ran gas lines and drain pipes and even fixed toilets. But what impressed me the most, was that he would never take a dime. I watched that man turn down money so many times. He'd wave them off, and poke the money back in their shirt pockets, even throw it back inside their house sometimes. Even though our family could really use the money. Even though his truck was on it's last leg. Even though we might not make it out to the highway without running out of gas. We'd eat cornbread and milk for supper, not because we wanted to, but because we had to, and my dad, he wouldn't take their money. When I was a child, that perplexed me. I didn't understand why he did things for people, and things were left undone at our house. I knew these people were his friends, but he would work for them sometimes for hours, and when they'd offer to pay, he'd refuse.

He made it clear to me, from a young age, that these people were his friends, and that he had to work with them every day. He had a certain integrity about him when it came to those kind of things. No matter how he carried on and argued with people, he had a heart of gold, and was always willing to help a friend in need whenever he was able.

When I got layed off from that plant, my dad was crushed. We both knew that with economic trouble and the  ongoing decline in the textile industry, it was inevitable, but never- the- less, we were surprised.  I'll never forget the day it happened. My dad called me as soon as he found out, and I could  tell by his voice he was crying. He was so worried about me losing my job. He felt bad that he had encouraged me to go to work there, just for me to lose my job. He was furious, but he was heartbroken. Partly because I had lost a job, but I think mostly because what we had-- working at that place together, sharing our lives, spending all that time together-- was over. I'll never forget that phone call. I'll never forget that feeling. I'll never forget him.



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