By Wayne Lee
Most of the time I can sit down and just write, that and talking have always come easy to me; but this time it has been writer’s block.
Last week a team of us were at the BPI/NWFA class, and it was a blast, along with some hard work. It brought back some memories that have been lost in the back of my heart and mind. Take a look at this photo of me and Mr. Dick Hammond from 15-18 years ago; truth is I do not recall the exact date but it was at a NOMFA class in Memphis. Maybe that is what set the wheels moving again: being in Memphis (like I had been so many times before) doing one more class with great friends.
My point is: We all start someplace, and that someplace can lead us down a path that we may or may not have picked for ourselves. When it was my time to fall under the direction of mentors like Dick Hammond, it did not seem real. At that time it was not my dream to become a “floor man” but learn more about wood so that as I repaired the units for a real flooring contractor, they worked like they should. The strange thing was that fell in, like, real fast with the flooring.
So now I have taken a new path, and as I learn more about the mill and all that it has to offer, I am still using the knowledge gained from some of the best in their fields. I never dreamed folks would want to read my stories from my life on the blog, but you did, and I say thank you for taking the time to read them. Today you all read the HF Contractor Blogs from Avi and Scott … Passing the torch is something that can be interesting and, at the same time, sad. To think that “us” older guys and gals now are the ones to offer the younger folks words of wisdom is just a blessing. I took a long hard look at my face in this photo, then looked at my face now; it has the lines and gray like my mentor’s. In the photo it has the look of wonder and joy, while today’s face has the look of joy and confidence.
So as we get older and, with the grace of God, wiser, we need to remember our youth. This is my blog of thank you to so many who gave their time but most of all their heart so that the young guy in the photo can become more than a flooring contractor: a floor man. It all starts with someone, and for me it started with Mr. Hammond, a man who saw more in me than I still see in myself today. He gave of himself to teach me the craft of understanding… Understanding how so many flooring contractors pour all they have into a wood floor… Understanding the need to be the best service tech I could be, not for myself but for the folks who depend on the tools to provide for their families… Understanding that love of a craft is more than a job, it is putting your name on the work we do.
Galen Fitzel is one more I need to thank (that’s him above in the red shirt during last week’s school); he is passing the torch this July when he retires. During 40 years with 3M, he has given his skills and knowledge of a thing we call paper. Just think about all that goes into a grit, how it cuts, how it does what it does. It leaves a mark in the wood, and that mark will tell the story. So with Galen, I see the need of leaving a mark in the lives of others. That mark can be deep and harmful, or it can be fine and improve the qualities of a person. If we shortcut and skip grits, we see the lack of commitment to our craft. In life, if we shortcut and skip over people, well, it can show our lack of concern and compassion. What grit we use and how we use that knowledge makes for a sweet floor, but again, how we share our knowledge with others can make the next generation’s skills last a lifetime. He always wanted to give of his knowledge, and it was real clear to me that his “cut” was always to improve the craft or lives of the folks he came in contact with. Thanks for 40 years of making the right cut and giving of your skills to so many. Enjoy your retirement, Mr. Fitzel, aka Dr. Wood.
On a personal note, I have the greatest parents in the world. My dad worked his back to death to provide for his family; he was not a flooring contractor but a truck driver in the city of Chicago. Something not many know: Daddy only had one eye, the other was lost in a accident when he was young. Think of how hard it was to drive a 45-foot-long truck in Chicago; even so he always won safety awards for his driving. His work ethic and never-give-up attitude left a huge impression on me! Just when I felt like a job was going to kick me hard, I would call Daddy and just talk to him. He always had time to talk, and because he lost his daddy when he was in his young teens, he always had the right words to share at the right time. Dad started me off with tools and using my hands. I have two older brothers who were book smart, but Daddy knew that my talents were with my hands; he gave me the skills I have today to work a wrench and swing a hammer. Mom, on the other hand, had to use a hammer to get me to do my homework or sit still in class.
My Mom is the best! She is tough as a pine knot and never let three boys get the upper hand. Back in the day when moms stayed home and took care of the family, well, she took care of us and the other kids on our block. We lived on a dead-end street in the middle of nothing back then. Yes, in the western suburbs of Chicago 40 years ago we lived in the country. Mom would watch the kids for the other families during the day; she was the supernanny of her day. Mom is the rock of our family. She knew what it took to build a family and a keep life straight when it was not. My Mom made it clear that how you build a strong family and keep it strong all stared with the foundation. When we started our business here, those words of a strong foundation and where it all started rang clear. They both are up in years, and if you follow me on Facebook, you know Mom is fighting cancer right now, but even in her battle she still has a strong faith. Her foundation is what will keep her straight even when it is not.
Bottom line to this blog is: Learn from the mentors; use their knowledge. Most of all, never ever, ever stop sharing the skills you have and the knowledge you have. Like so many before us, become a mentor to others. Thank them when you can, and remember.