It was a special day for the old plumber. One of his grandson’s was visiting, one of his oldest girl’s boys. She had two kids. The youngest had two settings, silent with a book in hand or constantly talking. He was too little to really help on jobs, but he was good enough to at least stay out of the way. Except for the talking. But after raising four kids of his own and helping out with a host of grandkids, the plumber wasn’t bothered by the chatter of children.
But this week it was the older boy who was here for a visit. He talked less and was a little anxious, but he was a good kid. A smart kid who at nine was already showing real promise of being good with his hands. He understood machines and was comfortable with them in a way a lot of people weren’t. When the youngest came for a visit, the plumber had to keep in mind how to keep the boy occupied. When the older boy came he could give him some work to do, teach him a few things.
The plumber liked teaching and he had a good manner for it. He was slow to talk, but it gave every word a little extra wait. His eyes twinkled as he talked, like he was letting go of a precious hint. Before he was a plumber he was a teacher. Or was it the other way around? He grew up as a sharecropper, working in the fields and learning lessons that can only be learned growing up as a poor farmhand.
He was the first in his family to go to college. He paid his way by working with his hands. He graduated. Got a job as a teacher. Got a wife. Made some kids. Went back to school. Got a higher degree. Got a divorce. Got some grandkids. He stopped teaching and went back to working with his hands.
He was a plumber. He liked it. He liked being his own boss and being able to take his grandkids with him on a job if he wanted. Today he was in a fancy part of town. Occasionally fancy people lived in the houses he worked on and occasionally they were occupied by those who just wanted to appear fancy. He knew in which category this job’s homeowners belonged in.
She had sniffed at the sight of the fifty year old plumber and the little boy carry the toolbox. She showed them to the bathroom that had the problem. The boy’s eyes widened at the sight of the gold fixtures. Even the toilet handle was plated gold. The plumber’s expression didn’t change. He noticed the gold fixtures, but he also noticed that the niceties normally found in such a bathroom were missing. No toothbrush holders, no knick knacks. The wicker magazine holder was empty. If the boy asked about the emptiness of the room, he would tell him the family was probably worried about water damage. After all, it could be true. The woman left them alone and they began to work.
An hour later, she brought them water. It was the proper thing to do. They drank and she collected the glasses. Before leaving again she stopped to give some advice to the boy.
“Young man, take a look. This is why you need to stay in school and try to go to college. Otherwise you’ll be an old man who is just a plumber. Try to get an education for your own good.”
She left. The boy looked at his grandfather, who had continued working.
“Does that happen a lot?” the boy asked.
“Not a lot. Sometimes,” the plumber answered.
“Do you ever tell them?”
“Tell them what?”
“That you have a doctorate? That you were a professor?”
“Well, I’ll tell you,” he stopped working and looked warmly at his grandson. “People who think like that probably don’t see any worth in what I’m doing now. Even if I told her my past, all she would see is what I am now. More than that, I’m not ashamed of what I do now. I do something that a lot of people can’t and it’s a job that needs to be done. She might not respect it, but if I weren’t her fixing this toilet, she’d be in a lot of trouble. You understand.”
“Yeah.” He looked worried. “I don’t like that she was mean.”
“Neither do I,” the plumber grinned the same impish grin he had since he was a boy. “That’s why I’m going to charge her double. What do you think?”
The boy nodded his head and returned his grandfather’s grin. Together they went back to work.
(This is based on a story I heard from my older brother about a time he was working with our grandfather. All the life details about the plumber are based on my grandfather’s real life history.)