Back in the summer, unwillingly, I would rise early and take a run to beat some of the oppressive heat and humidity that smothers the South when the sun inches higher in the sky. Many mornings, I encountered something that would stick with me for the rest of the run.
Few cars were out so early on non-school mornings, but I often saw a rusty pickup, perhaps 25 years old, which is ancient according to today’s need for new vehicles. A man, whose face was covered in gray whiskers, hunched over the steering wheel while a lanky, teenage boy slumped in the passenger’s seat. The bed of the truck had cattle railings around it and tied to the boards were rusty rakes, shovels and hoes. There was a push mower in the back and it, too, had seen better days and many yards. The first time I saw it, I smiled. This is the South I love. The South that is unencumbered with keeping up with the moneyed class.
As is the tradition of Southerners, we always wave, whether we know you or not. It’s the neighborly thing to do. So, I would toss up a hand and the man responded by flinging up a couple of fingers that were resting on the steering wheel. After a few mornings of meeting the rusty truck and its passengers, I began to gain admiration. They were going to work. They didn’t have much of the best things to work with — not even a shiny shovel — but what they had, pretty though it wasn’t, worked. And so would they.
I stopped waving when I saw them. Instead, I took two fingers, touched my brow and saluted. For this is the America I love, the one I grew up believing in, the one where a man with a strong back and a willing spirit can feed and shelter his family. I know not this whiskered man or this young boy, and chances are that never shall I know them, but I know all that is important: They are hard working, ingenious, resourceful and prideful in a good way. They will rise with the sun, toil in its relentless heat and be proud of the crumbled dollars stuck in their pockets at the end of the day.
Where, I wonder, are these kinds of people when we need something done around the house? Whenever a repair arises, my heart sinks. I think of all the calls I’ll make before someone returns one, of the days I’ll wait until that someone shows up and the out-of-market kind of prices that will be demanded. Stubborn and frugal as I am, I will refuse to pay for such robbery and then set back through the trail of finding someone who will show up and do the work at a reasonable price. If it is a major repair, I will be in need of nerve medicine before it is finished.
Sure, we have a few folks to be counted on for dependability and fair pricing: Ronnie, our plumber; Doug, our septic-tank guy; and Allen, our cabinet maker. But they are the exception not the rule.
A few years ago, I needed a real-estate attorney for a relatively simple matter. Three did not return my messages, so I called the assistant to the lawyer who handles contracts and such for me. “Please ask him to recommend a real-estate attorney who will call me back,” I instructed.
Two or three days later, she called to say, “I asked him, and he said that if you want one who will call you back, it’s going to be very expensive.”
I was speechless. Still am. But now I understand all the other folks who have quoted such high prices — returning calls and showing up makes a person valuable, so they can charge more.