“We Love You Guys” But . . .

My husband, John, was a master with people. His philosophy about people was “it doesn’t matter if they drive the truck or pick up the cans.” He motivated others by making them feel extraordinary thereby bringing out their best. He sincerely cared for others and had a giving spirit.

I especially enjoyed watching him “work his magic” with service people, people who would fill a need we had, people we would only meet one or two times. One important lesson that I learned from John is that “people love to hear their name.” No matter who crossed our path, he greeted each person asking their names. Whether it was a crew to help us move, paint our house, pave our patio, maintain our yard, he knew them by name. He always provided a cooler of water and Gatorade for the workers. For the guys who moved us to FL, we bought lunchmeat, bread and chips for a “take-out lunch” before they left. He never failed to thank them by name when they were done.

Two weeks ago, construction started on our dream home with an opportunity for me to put John’s lessons into action. On the first day, I drove out to meet the crew and watch the process of building a log cabin. I met Glen, the crew chief and head carpenter. When they took a much-needed break, I met the other three: Charlie, Ray and Roger. They are definitely a “motley crew”, and my initial thoughts were “I hope they don’t cut off an arm or leg or get stuck under a pile of logs!”

Throughout the afternoon, I sat on their trailer and observed. I couldn’t tell if they were amused or intimidated with my presence. They took breaks for Mountain Dew and water, but they never ate a bite. Around 4:00 p.m., they started cleaning up and packing their tools for the 2-hr drive home. Before they left, I asked, “don’t you guys eat lunch?” Glen said, “we grab breakfast at McDonald’s; we don’t have time for lunch.” Charlie could see the surprise on my face and said, “she doesn’t believe him!” Ray and Roger just smiled and kept packing up.

I walked to the car and grabbed some cash. I handed it to Glen and said “have breakfast tomorrow on me.” He shook his head and said, “no ma’am, that’s ok”, but I was insistent. All of them thanked me, and they drove off.

The next day, I grabbed four Cuban sandwiches from the Publix deli. When I got to the property, Charlie, Ray and a new guy were taking a break. I handed them the bag and said, “I brought you lunch.” They looked surprised but gladly ate the sandwiches. I watched the slow manual progress of stacking logs for the detached garage. When the new guy walked to the trailer, I introduced myself. He shook my hand and said, “I’m Jason, Glen’s son-in-law.”

Again, around 4:00 p.m., they packed up and headed home. I told Glen that I wouldn’t make it Thursday but would be back on Friday. Charlie thanked me again for lunch, and said “you’re the best.” It felt good to hear “thank you”, like I was appreciated. I drove home fighting back tears.

On Friday, I grabbed chicken tenders and a 12-pk of Mountain Dew. Luckily, I arrived before 2:00 p.m. because I learned something new. On Fridays, they leave earlier to give them time to stop by the shop office. The blue-collar construction world is new to me. It’s very humbling to watch these guys work in the hot sun, hauling logs with sweaty hands for an hourly wage. They left early so they could get paid.

Week two, a rainy Monday postponed construction. On Tuesday afternoon, I showed up with Mountain Dew and water. Now, there were six guys on the crew to build the house: Glen, Charlie, Ray, Roger, Jason and Glen’s son, Kyle. I was glad I didn’t bring food because I would have been two short!

But over the weekend, I had a brainstorm. I could achieve two important needs: clean out the freezer and pantry and provide lunch a couple of days a week. On Wednesday, I showed up with BBQ crockpot pork sandwiches. When they took a break, they couldn’t help but peek into the bag. They eagerly grabbed a sandwich as I walked around taking pictures of the work-in-progress. When I returned, one of the guys called out, “hey, you can cook for me any time you want!” I said, “I want to make sure our cabin is built right.” They were all smiling and said the sandwiches were fantastic. They went back to work, and I sat on the trailer fighting back more tears.

By Thursday, they had grown accustomed to my daily visits. They also know I’m the General Contractor and have figured out I ask a lot of questions. (John’s nickname for me was “Perry Mason” because of my never-ending barrage of questions.) And, they reluctantly try my suggestions for process improvement. Glen found out quickly that I can read a house-plan and will point out anything that doesn’t look right.

Snack crackers on Thursday and more sandwiches on Friday. Charlie, Jason, Ray and Kyle were taking a break together. Jason, was the first to peek into the bag, and say “what do we have today?” Charlie said, “you’re the best; you know how to motivate us through our stomachs.” After a couple of bites, Ray asked, “are these home-made?” to which I replied, “yes”. He smiled and said, “I can tell because they are made with love.” And then Jason said the most profound thing: “You know, the lady from the last job told us every day ‘we love you guys’.” And then came the BUT . . . “But she never once gave us something to drink let alone feed us. You bring us drinks and feed us. You wouldn’t believe how most people treat us.”

The guys worked until around 2:30 p.m. and packed up. I turned away to take more photos, and I heard Charlie say, “see you Monday.” I waved as they drove off wiping away tears.

They say “actions speak louder than words”. Greeting the crew by their names . . . providing water, Mountain Dew, and homemade sandwiches don’t seem like big “actions”. But to these guys, who typically aren’t recognized, let alone appreciated, they bring a smile to their faces and maybe a small bright spot for the day. For me, they give me a feeling of purpose, if only for a day.

I’m honored to share a couple of John’s simple but positively impactful life-lessons. I hope you will do the same . . . take a moment to speak someone’s name, share a drink or meal, put a smile on someone’s face.

He Smiled At Me

The gymnasium was set up for a career fair at the high school for the Great American Teach-In. There were tables set up for participating companies, disciplines and even the U.S. Air Force from MacDill AF Base. I reluctantly signed up to help with the career fair since they said it would be 1-on-1 with students vs. classroom.

I don’t like crowds  and quickly became claustrophobic, especially with all of the chatter in the gym. Science/Technical isn’t a popular subject matter to the vast majority of students, so not many stopped by. Those who did were grabbed up by the other two at my table.  I sat quietly, tuned out the noise and watched the students mill about the gym. It was very apparent to me that the students were more interested in being out of the classroom than careers. Most students did “drive by’s” each table, picked up freebies, hung out with their friends until the bell rang.

Two and half hours was an eternity to me. A new group of students entered the gym. My two table-mates quickly found someone else to talk to. I saw the young man standing in front of our table. He was all alone and holding a U.S. history book almost as big as him. He looked uncomfortable and almost frozen in front of our table, unsure of what to do.

It pained me to see him all alone and uneasy. I saw his name tag, and said, “hello Michael”. He looked up, and said hello back, surprised that I spoke to him. I asked him how he was doing, and he said “ok”. I continued speaking and asked him if he was interested in the science/technical field. He told me he didn’t really know what he wanted to do. He told me he was a sophomore. He was shorter than me with a slight build; I surmised that he was one of the smaller boys, if not the smallest, in his class. I told him he has a lot of time to figure out what he wants to do.

Then I asked him if he liked history, and he nodded “yes” and relaxed a bit. So I asked him, “what are you studying?” to which he replied, “World War I”. I asked him to tell me what started the war, and he was eager to share. He told me that U.K., France and Russia opposed Germany and Austria-Hungary. I said that I didn’t remember the details but “why did the U.S. get involved?” He told me that we remained neutral until Germany invited Mexico to fight against the U.S. and would help them recover TX, NM and AZ.

Curious if he was abreast of current events, I asked him, “what do you think about what’s going in our world today?” He was very thoughtful and said that we need to look back on history and understand what lessons we learned. We need to think long-term and hopefully make a good decision for our country. I asked if World War II is next, and he told me the Great Depression is next. I told him, “as bad as our economy is now, it’s nothing compared to the Great Depression.”

Just then, the bell rang and it was time for him to return to class. I said, “you’re a very sharp young man. Thank you for talking to me and good luck to you.” And that’s when he broke into a full, tooth-filled smile. He held out his hand to me which I shook. He said, “thank you, thank you for coming today.”

It was an emotional drive home, mostly because I wouldn’t be able to share my experience with John. All afternoon, Michael’s smile kept coming back to my mind. Then, it dawned on me – John loved history, especially U.S. history. He always told me how he was a scrawny kid growing up, a loner, uncomfortable in crowds like me, like Michael. It was less than 10 minutes in the three hours I spent at the career fair, but it’s as if Michael stopped in front of me on purpose. He needed me to speak to him, and I needed to speak to him. It was as if John, my guardian angel, smiled at me through Michael’s smile, a tiny little God-wink for me.

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