Williams column: A fish lost at sea and Joe Green's Honey Wagon
By Mack Williams
For the Salisbury Post
I mentioned in a previous article that when I was growing up, a good many of the men in my neighborhood had the sorts of jobs which little boys idealized: railroad man, postal worker, truck driver, etc. All of these, both then and now, were seen as necessary jobs which fulfilled vital functions of an organized society.
There were other jobs dealing with specialized repair, which weren’t performed by the neighborhood men; but men from other areas of Rowan County or Salisbury could be called upon when something which had been working ceased to work. TV repairmen could be summoned to make a “house call,” or if the television was fairly small, it could be taken in to Mr. Fries’ shop. A car could be driven , or towed, to such places as Hedrick Motor Co., Salisbury Motor Co., etc. Having observed auto mechanics at their job over the years, it becomes apparent that some car designs have proven to be more “workable” than others. In some years, the most current designs didn’t seem to be very practical, with vital things put in hard-to-get-to places, but if “art mimics life,” so sometimes does the mechanical design of what’s under the hood. The vital organs of the heart and lungs are safely tucked away, “hard-to-get-to,” underneath our protecting ribs. Many of the “fix-it” professions proved fascinating to little boys back then, and probably still do now.
One time, as a child, my loss of a pet fish unfortunately turned my attention to that work which preoccupies the plumber. While changing the little aquarium’s water, the fish took an unplanned plunge down the drain of the bathroom sink. Many parents give their children’s dead fish a “burial at sea” with a flush, but my fish descended from a higher position in the plumbing “caste,” with its gills still operating.
The fish’s still being alive upon its exit made my “closure” fraught with questions. My mind was left to imagine how it might be getting along, wherever it was. My mother saw me troubled and told me that the fish was probably happy, as there was plenty of water where it went and it would be doing the same there as it had done when it was with us. This statement resembled those comforting words said to a young child when an aged grandparent passes away (except for the part about the water, as I don’t remember any of my departed grandparents being particularly aquatic).
My mother’s words made me think about a Dr. Seuss book which I had read in our Granite Quarry School library. In it, a young boy looks down at what looks like a small puddle and sees a little fish looking up at him. The fish bids him to jump in, and the puddle miraculously opens up into a subterranean sea, with the fish becoming the boy’s tour guide. My own imagination, mixed with my mother’s comforting words on the subject, became the “silver lining” surrounding an event which had previously held only the potential for tragedy.
Since we lived outside the Salisbury city limits, my fish, instead of going on some sub-city, “Seussian” odyssey in a maze of sewers, actually went straight to a place around which the inscribing of a silver lining would have been thought to have been impossible (although the late Erma Bombeck was highly successful in her placing an aura of green above it). It was fortunate that my young mind didn’t make the mental connection of the logical, final, dead-end destination of those pipes leading from the sink’s basin into and beneath the floor.
As previously mentioned, when the car, TV, plumbing or other appliances weren’t operating properly, measures were taken to get the faulty device to its prescribed repairer or summon that repairer to the home. These workmen’s pride in their work was evident in their knowledge and attitude toward their work.
I remember one occasion in which a certain swampy (actually, somewhat worse than “swampy”) smell, coupled with an “oozing” in our side yard, necessitated an urgent plea for another prideful workman’s presence at our home (whose work-related pride, in retrospect, now seems to me to have been matched by no other man of labor back then).
It is a natural thing to take such pride in one’s work, no matter what it may be. It gives the worker a good reputation for a job well done, thereby generating more business his way. The use of certain words can also be marketing aids. This skilled man, whose cheery outlook evinced “the sunny side of life,” and whose artful usage of the English language drew the “silver lining” around his business, was Mr. Joe Green. His work truck he referred to as a “wagon,” painting that word onto the metal tank carried by that truck. Painted in front of the world “wagon” was the word “honey,” and placed in front of both of these words were his first and last name, the surname written in its proudly, grammatically possessive form.
In his inclusion on that tank of the noun which refers to the naturally made confection of bees, Joe Green put the ultimate silver lining around his life’s profession. In such earnest “positiveness” he had no equal, for that which he removed from somewhere beneath the surface of our side yard and carried away with his truck could in no way have been construed to have been “sweet.”