"Mr John Chambers"
Del Rio, Texas
I see him every Sunday morning when I go from Sunday School into our church's sanctuary. Along with JR's dad, who’s Johnny Riggs, and Gilbert Murray's brother, James; Mr. John Chambers is an usher.
That means that he and the other men are always in the church foyer before our worship services. They open and hold the doors for people who need help--especially the old ladies--and they hand everyone a bulletin for the worship service. I always shake hands with at least one of them because I know how, and I want to show them exactly that.
See, my dad taught me that a man doesn’t want to shake hands with a dead fish – unless the “dead fish” belongs to a girl or a lady. Men are supposed to use a Firm grip, but not a crazy firm, moron grip and certainly not a “dead fish” grip. It’s gotta be just right, and you gotta look the other man right in the eye as you ask him how he’s doin’.
Mr. Chambers, Johnny Riggs and James Murray all know how to shake hands, and they all have very strong, very rough hands. Johnny’s a rancher. James is a car mechanic, and Mr. Chambers is a plumber –a darn good one at that.
During each service, there are six ushers who always come down the four church aisles to take up the offering. There’s one on each of the narrow outside aisles and two each on the wide aisles that border the big center section of seats. They all wear their suits on Sunday mornings, and Johnny’s suit coat is always “Western style.” Sometimes, Mr. Chambers also wears the same style suit.
Anyway you look at it, though, these are handsome and good men--all of them--and they’re all nice to me.
But there is something different about Mr. Chambers. Sometimes I think I see him sorta staring off into the distance, even when he's talkin' to me, like maybe he's thinkin’ about another place or another time.
If anything ever breaks pipe-wise at our house, Daddy calls Mr. Chambers to get it fixed. Of course, Daddy almost always winds up complaining about how much it costs too!
But today, Mr. Chambers is having to work on One Nasty job!
I'm watchin' him dig down through stinky, sloppy muck because our sewer pipe is down there, and it’s stopped up a little bit – well – a LOT actually.
I’ve watched him fix lots of broken water pipes, sink faucets, etc., and I’ve seen him dig up this stupid sewer pipe several times in the seven or eight years we’ve lived in this house. It’s what he calls a “clay pipe,” and sometimes roots and things get in it. At other times too much stuff gets flushed down, and That stops it up. But whatever it is, Mr. Chambers is always able to get it fixed.
Of course, when we have plumbing problems, we need him to get here quick. With five people left in the family now, (Linda left last year to go off to college and get married) there’s a lot of need for plumbing things to work right.
Today’s already hot, though, and I wish he didn’t have to work so hard. He is really sweating; and, of course, once he breaks through the top of the pipe, there’s a real mess here.
One of the reasons I like to hang out with men like Mr. Chambers is that I always think I can learn something. Men like him all seem to know so much, and I want to know everything I can. Also, men like him usually don’t mind answering my questions.
Today, I’m trying to learn more about plumbing – even this stinky, messy part.
As I watch him work, I start wondering why he has these old steel license plates with him. Then, after he gets the big clog all cleared out and runs some fresh water through the pipe, I see why he needs those plates.
Like he’s working a jig saw puzzle, he carefully puts the pieces of broken clay pipe back in place right where they belong, and then he bends several of the license plates so that they match the curve of the pipe. Finally, he presses them into place over the entire length of pipe where he had it opened up. Nice! He’s made a really smart repair.
He doesn’t seem to mind me standing by and doing nothin’, but I’ve brought Daddy’s shovel and I start to help him shovel back the sloppy mud and carpet grass. But just before we’re done, he stops and leans on his shovel handle to tell me something; and this time, he’s looking right at me. No “far off” look in his eyes,
“Billy, if you don’t want to have to work like this all your life, finish school. Go to college and get a nice air conditioned job where you don’t have to crawl around like this and ache all over every night when you get home from work. This is honorable work, and I’ve made a good living at it; but it’s not for you, Billy. You need and deserve more. Understand?”
And I feel so very sorry for him. He is such a fine Christian man. He and his wife have raised two beautiful and wonderful daughters, but he seems to be saying that he made some bad mistakes a long time ago. I’m thinkin’ he never wanted to be a plumber. Not really.
So, I don’t leave him hanging. He’s confirming what my parents and grandparents have always told me. As much as I like fixin’ and buildin’ things, I need to go get the best education I can, and I need to somehow make more of myself than I tend to believe I can.
I must study harder than I have been, and I must go to college. No question.
“Yes, sir. I completely understand.”
- Present Day -
I am not one to look down on men and women who, for whatever reason, didn’t go to college. And, in fact, I’ve seen many, many examples of people who have become more than a little successful without a complete formal education.
However, in my case, my life was pretty much laid out for me. College was the right path for me, and at the time of the conversation pictured in this story, I even knew that I wanted to be an engineer. But I think that on that day out in our backyard by the swing set, Mr. Chambers was feeling down about the path his life had taken, and he wanted to help me avoid the same mistakes he had made.
As I thought about our conversation over the years, I began to figure out why he sometimes had that “far away” look in his eyes.
I think that he was just taking a quick and longing look at the path he felt he Should have taken a long, long time ago.
William Richard Meredith