This is a story I wrote a couple years ago. I know this because it was the 43rd birthday of my oldest son Matthew – August 22, 1974.
Sometimes it takes a call from an old friend to stir up memories from the past.
Jimmy Palmer called to wish me a happy birthday. He always likes to sing happy birthday to me.
I reminded him that 43 years ago today we were working over on Knuckles Crossing Road in Southeast Austin. I remember that because we lived just a very shorty distance from that job while Madeline was really big and pregnant (that may not be the PC thing to say anymore, the big part) and I could go check in on her often that way.
We were nearing the finish of that job, it was a couple of miles of 24″ water line. Big Jimmy was one of my first employees back in “72”. Glenn Lewis and Kenny Jackson being the other two. Each of them had gone on to greener pastures by the well before the summer of 1974 rolled around.
On the Knuckles Cross job, Big Jimmy was following up doing backfilling and cleanup. I remember distinctly saying these words to him. “Jimmy, watch when you are backfilling around those valve boxes and be sure they are straight. If not we won’t be able to get a valve wrench on them to operate the valve”.
Well it came time to fill up the line with water and we needed to operate a main line valve and the valve wrench wouldn’t go down on the valve nut. I shined a light down in box and sure enough the box was out of alignment and would have to be dug back up.
I went down the way and found Big Jimmy and hauled him back up there to show him what we were up against. I handed him a shovel and said “here dig that valve up and next time you’ll probably pay more attention to what you’re doing“. It was in the hot summer time. He started digging with that shovel. Dirt was flying every which way.
A few minutes later I stopped back by and said, “come on Jimmy, let’s go down and get a backhoe so you can get this dug out”. To which he let me know what I could do with my backhoe and he’d be just fine excavating it by hand.
With all that being said I went on about my business and by the end of the day he had slung enough dirt that he got the valve box straightened out and we could go on with opening or closing the valve.
The next day was Friday. He came to me and said “you think I can take my vacation next week”? Since things were winding down on that job, it seemed like a very opportune time for that to happen.
Jimmy took that vacation and actually didn’t return to work for about 10 years. When he did come back in the 80’s it wasn’t for very long, maybe a few months. Then it was the late 90’s before he decided to give me another chance. That time we had several good years together. Maybe 15?
I’m sure if you asked him, he’d say he gave me the best years of his life.
In fact he told me that more than once.