I just attended the funeral of one of my brother-in-laws and realized that he was one of what seems at times to be a rare or vanishing breed of men. Instead of asking for help he went out and did things for himself and helped others too. He grew up in humble circumstances, okay, poverty. How would he say it? “It was root hog or die”.
He left school by eighth grade, I believe, and began to do construction work. He, and his brother, learned a lot from a small-time home contractor.
He did most of his work up here in the northern end of California’s Sacramento Valley. As is the custom in these parts, he often not only did the carpentry to build houses, but some or all of the plumbing and electrical work and so on. He had little use for unions.
In fact, having known him for decades, ever since I was a teenager, I had thought he never did belong to the carpenter’s union. But he told me that he and his brother did for awhile. At the time it was the only way they could get work. But both of them got tired of showing up to a union hall and waiting to get work that might never come. They decided to just go out and get it themselves.
In addition, my late brother-in-law told me that he resented union reps coming out to a job in their air conditioned vehicles and wasting his time and telling him what to do when he was tired and hot and sweaty. He said that once when on a job he helped the concrete guy because you can’t afford to get behind when you’re pouring concrete lest it set up prematurely, he got chewed out by a union rep and threatened with losing his job for working out of his classification.
Both him and his brother built up a reputation as hard, dependable, and skilled craftsmen in their trade. Unfortunately his brother was eventually hurt on the job and his full-time career ended there.
But my late brother-in-law carried on for many decades. I can never remember him having trouble finding work, and he seldom had to leave the local area. And he was always well paid.
He raised two children and provided well for them. He usually lived out in the country and did many of the things many of us end up hiring others to do himself. I don’t think he was much of a vegetable gardener, for by his own admission he tried at times to raise a garden but had little luck.
But I recall him helping me or telling me how to do several things around the house. I recall him installing a swamp cooler for me at one house and he had no trouble getting the contraption onto the roof, using a kind of makeshift rope noose or pulley set-up. He taught me — with much effort and patience — how to do the truck driver’s hitch, and I’m a truck driver (although in my brand of trucking I don’t use it).
I can’t imagine a man of his breed ever being out of work. There were short periods of time in which he had to work out of his regular trade. He told me he once worked at a local lumber mill and did not care for it. Fortunately he was able to continue his regular trade in short order.
Being brought up in the root hog or die environment seemed to have taught him the value of learning skills that people are willing to pay for.
Some look to government. Some look to themselves.
I did not agree with many things he said. I was sometimes too sensitive to his not always gentle gibes. But I admired him nonetheless.
I miss you already Robert Lee Geeter (Nov. 17, 1946 to Jan. 22, 2010).