Thursday, July 03, 2008

Remembering my life as a plumber's helper

I recently had breakfast with an old friend and former boss.  Jeff is a third generation plumber. Back when I worked for him, he was working for his dad.  We were both poor back then. (I still am.)  Admission to the local cinema was $1 on Tuesdays, and Jeff used to call me sometimes after work and say, "It's plumbers' night at the movies!  Wanna go?"  When his dad retired Jeff and his brother split the company, and both of them have done exceptionally well.

Here's the story of how I got the job.  Jeff and I went to the same church.  He was helping lead the youth group that I was part of.  On Wednesday after the regular youth meetings a group of us would meet for prayer.  I was about to graduate from high school and was planning to attend the University of Southern Mississippi in the fall.   I asked my friends to pray that I would get a good summer job.  Jeff asked us to pray that he would find a good Christian helper.  We all prayed fervently and somenow it didn't occur to any of us that our prayer was already answered.  A couple of weeks later my mom suggested, "Why don't you ask Jeff if he's hiring?"  I took her suggestion and ended up getting the job.  It was quite a while later that we remembered the prayer meeting, put it all together, and laughed about it.  We imagined that God was up there saying, "Ok guys, what do I have to do to make this more obvious for you?"

I ended up working for Jeff that summer and off and on through my college years.  I dug trenches, busted concrete, soldered pipes, and ran out in the truck to pick up supplies.  I've never had a knack for working with my hands, but I worked hard and learned a lot -- though not necessarily about plumbing. For example, I learned to appreciate coffee while drinking the free stuff out of little styrofoam cups at the plumbing supply houses.  (Associative logic rabbit trail:  Reminds me of the W. C. Fields quote:  "A woman drove me to drink and I didn't even have the decency to thank her.") I learned to recognize the smell of marijuana.  I had had almost no contact with that kind of kids in high school, but many of my co-workers on the construction site were toking at work in those days.  One of them was doing community service to pay for a drug conviction, but that didn't stop him.  And that wasn't the only new lifestyle I was exposed to. We installed the plumbing in some rich folks' houses, and I was intrigued by the glimpse that it gave me into their world.  

As Jeff and I reminisced together last week at the Broken Egg (a fantastic little restaurant near the Lakeshore in Mandeville, by the way), we found a lot to laugh about.  For instance, I reminded him of the time that he asked me to blow on a copper pipe to get the excess moisture out so that the solder would seal up the joint.  The pipe was still hot from his torch, and as soon as I touched it to my mouth I yelped and jumped back sporting a bright red circle around the center of my lips.  Once the pain subsided enough for me to see the humor of it, I said, "Wow, I've never been kissed like that before!"

Jeff has experienced heavy heartache and abundant blessings during the last 20 years, and I'm always encouraged when I get together with him to see that he's still faithfully following Jesus. It was especially thrilling to me to hear his powerful testimonies from a recent missions trip he took into the Amazon jungle. 

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