Mr. H. stands about five feet seven inches and weighs maybe 140 pounds after a big meal. About sixty, he moves with the ease of a man less than half his age. His head is always with a cap adorned with the scripted “A” of the University of Alabama. The cap is less to cover his thinning white hair than it is show his devotion to the Crimson Tide. His enthusiasm for his team is only surpassed by the love of his family, especially his grandchildren. There are many things I love about the Deep South, like sweet tea, our barbeque (pork, not beef!), the climate (other than the tornados), and of course, our football. But it’s the people like Mr. H that I love the most. He’s what we call a “good feller.”
About six year’s ago my wife brought Mr. H. into our family when a friend recommended him for to refresh the paint in a few rooms. I say “into our family” not so much because we’ve invited him in as much as he has assumed the role on his own. He arrives at our house most mornings around 7:30 a.m., whistling to announce his presence and remind us he will shortly be knocking at the door asking “Coffee ready?” He now brings his own cup as one morning he found he’d finished my cup and his. He is kind and polite, always addressing my wife as “Mizz” Owens, albeit I am “Chief” or “Cap’n” or “Dude.” Never Jim. Sometimes “Mr. O.”
Project days begin with coffee and his need to share his progress and plan for the job. “Lemme tell ya my plan today,” he begins oblivious to the fact I’m trying to get to work. We always detour off in to some rich tale of another experience he’s had. Yesterday it was the story of a woman he’d been referred to. She cracked the door of her dark home, decided he was harmless and invited him to follow her along a path to the kitchen where several cats stood upon the counter. She was one part hoarder, one part cat person.
“Knew I was in trouble the minute she opened the door,” he said. “Big ole woman. Gave me a flashlight when I asked her if we could have some light.” She wanted him to fix upstairs leak, said she never went up there and told him to “mind the raccoon” that lived up there. (Yes. I said raccoon.) “So there I go,” he finished “up the stairs, in the dark, armed with nothin’ but a flashlight. Raccoons’ll bite you know. Gotta get them rabies shots in the belly.” He pinched through his paint stained “Crestwood Hospital Cardiac Center” T-shirt at his tabletop flat abdomen. And then we were done. “Well, I gotta get to work. I’ll see you later, Chief.”
On the days my wife is around the house he might ask for a glass of water or another cup of coffee. This has little to do with thirst or the need for caffeine. Though he might want the coffee to enjoy with a Winston Light. He really just wants to talk a little. They will discuss his progress, other projects and such. Often, he will share details about his life and family. “My wife works at the hospital. Has to work late sometimes. Can’t come home ‘till those surgery patients go pee-pee.” There’s something normal in his saying it regardless of how odd it is to write those words. He has told her tales of his dog being bitten by a snake. “Gave it a Benadryl. Dogs have a different immune system you know.” Sometimes he will share things only family should know. After re-caulking a tub announced, “You’re not gonna believe it, but there’s nothing I love better’n a bubble bath.” He once confessed she could not hear him knocking at the every door of the house and that he “had to go Number 1 so bad he went behind the bushes” in our backyard. The Leyland Cyprus trees and the privacy fence have kept the neighbors from complaining so far.
Mr. H is one of a thousand of characters you’ll find down here. Yes, we name dogs things like Saban or Bear or Shug and our daughters Crimson. We have vanity tags that read “15TITLES” and “MOMNEM.” Down here fish is meant to be fried, the same with chicken and country steak. These are all great things about Southern Culture. But Mr. H. represents the best of us. Reliable. Hard working. Loves his family. Honest. After buying materials for a job he brings me every receipt from the nearby Lowe’s. We leave him alone in the house frequently. He’s careful to clean up and lock up at the end of each day. His day actually ends no later than 1 p.m. Mr. H. works for himself, you see. He just happens to do that at your house or mine. So when he decides he’s done for the day, he’s done. But he’s back every morning, whistling, waiting to tell me his plan for the day, no doubt with some tale to tell when you’re with family.