When my ol’ friend and neighbor, Udo, decided to retire in 1977 from the excavation business I bought his office, yard and some equipment. The office was in a great location, not far from the current Austin airport.
Woody had been his accountant for many years and a deal was struck for him to come with me. Woody was trustworthy and meticulous. Just the kind of guy I was looking for.
He and I became best of friends. Woody and Lucy were both around 60 and had been married for about forty years. They never had children.
Madeline and I were about 30 years behind them in our life journey.
I thought so highly of him and allowed him to handle all of the finances. He signed every check.
After a few years Woody let me know that he was going to retire in three more years. He and Lucy had plans of pulling their travel trailer and go around the country.
Woody brought in brochures of a new GMC pickup that he planned to buy to make those travels in. He wanted me to go look at it and drive it with him. We got to the dealership and setting beside the truck he intended to buy, was a beautiful blue and white, four door truck. It was loaded. Woody’s choice was a plain, single cab, a very basic model.
It was a few thousand dollars less than the blue and white one. I encouraged him to buy the nice one. He just couldn’t justify it, knowing that he needed to watch his dollars. On our way back to the office I made the following pitch to Woody. If he would get the nicer one, the company would make the payments, calling it rental each month. We could legally do that.
That way he would have it paid off at the same time he would retire. It was a way to reward him for several years of hard work and dedication, while letting him stick even more money back for his retirement.
While it was a huge purchase for him, it represented less than 1/2 of 1% of the total debt of the company. So what may appear to be a magnanimous gesture on my part was a business decision, based on rewarding an employee for a job well done.
Woody tearfully excepted my offer. Woody and Lucy were so happy with the new truck. He smiled everywhere he drove.
Moving forward a year or so and I hired my friend Winfield, a CPA to come in to help us move to the next level in business. Woody liked the idea, because he knew I needed a replacement for him when he retired.
A few weeks later Winfield wanted to talk to me after work, so we met at a bar close to downtown that he went to most every afternoon. He open up the conversation with “I bet Woody feels good today“.
Why is that is ask?
“Well he paid off his pickup today“.
In auditing the books Winfield discovered that Woody would make 2 or 3 payments each month, instead of one.
I knew why. He was always afraid that one day I may renege on our deal or that the business may fail, leaving him with the pickup payment. Or at least that’s what I figured.
So I was left to wrestle with how to handle this. He had betrayed my trust, but on the other hand we never actually spelled out that only one payment per month would be made. Maybe he was right. Any business could fail. But what he was wrong about, he had never seen me go back on my word, with anyone. Maybe even that to a fault.
I drove home feeling empty inside. Feeling violated. I slept little, if at all that night. Woody was the person I most trusted in the whole world. I was closer to him than to my own father.
The next morning early, it was a Saturday. Woody wouldn’t be going to work that day. I called him and asked if I could stop by and maybe we could talk.
I gave him time to get around and then I stopped and picked him up. We drove to the office. Not much was said. We made coffee and set down opposite of each other.
I said “Woody since your truck is now paid off, I’m going to ask you to go ahead and retire”. He said he understood.
Nothing else was said about that. We sat there the rest of the morning drinking coffee, talking about the fun, the hard times, the struggles and the good times. We talked about friendship and where we wanted our lives to go. About my family. All 5 boys were born by then. We talked about raising them in the business and teaching them to work. There wasn’t much missed that morning. With laughed and we cried together. Then I helped him box up his personal effects and I dropped him off at his home.
I continued to try to understand what had happened and why people do what they do. Then one day I thought about it and decided it had only to do with self preservation. It’s just that everyone’s view of self preservation is different. Mine and Woody’s was far different.
Soon things got busy and I moved on. But this didn’t end the story of Woody and me.
Woody – The Next Chapter
Woody and I talked occasionally during the next year or so. He and Lucy traveled a little but he decided to work a little longer and hooked up with a contractor in Giddings that he knew from his days in the west Texas oilfield.
Time passed and then one day I got a call from him. Lucy had just died. He was in east Texas. They had been visiting Lucy’s sister. I ask if he wanted me to come there. His former boss Udo, my old contractor friend across the street had a Jet Ranger Helicopter. He agreed to fly me to Woody. So within a couple of hours I was by Woody’s side. We remained there until Lucy was buried. We drove back to Austin and he became my constant companion for several months. He had dinner with us just about every night.
After a while he started spending his evenings at the local Elks Lodge. So I saw less and less of him at night, but anytime I was traveling around the state bidding work, Woody was with me.
One day he brought his girlfriend over to meet my family and me. It hadn’t been but a few months since he had lost Lucy. Mariam had been widowed for just a year or two. That was why he had started going to the Elk Lodge, I found out later. To see ole Mariam. They were very compatible. She had a successful child day care facility and was very financially stable.
Coincidently, she only live about 6 blocks from us in south Austin.
They dated for a short time and decided to marry. They ask Madeline and me to go stand up with them for a weekday, middle of the afternoon wedding. Just us four and the pastor. It was very nice.
We stayed in close contact but he and Mariam were able to travel and enjoy life together. It looked like they were meant for each other. They could not have been happier.
Within a few months of their marriage I got a call from Mariam one afternoon. They had rushed Woody to the hospital. He was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome. That is a nerve disorder that came on him without warning.
I would pick her up every night and we would go for a 2 or 3 hour visit. On the 30th day of his hospital stay Woody passed away with each of us at his bedside.
Mariam had no use for the blue and white truck and travel trailer after Woody was gone. My brother Kenny bought and enjoyed them for several years. I was always reminded of Woody every time I would see it.