His name was Marvin, which fit his crinkly smile and sun-bronzed, wiry frame clothed with muddy jeans and plaid shirts. As the owner of his company (as well as the only laborer), he assumed full responsibility and tore headlong into hard work with steely arms muscled by many decades of hands-on labor. His job? Building seawalls along the shorelines of local Michigan lakes.
Marvin lived in a small town just north and west of our lake, and I envisioned him practicing the same attitudes at home that I observed while he was “on the job” at our house. Optimism. Discipline. Patience. Kindness. Good humor. Common sense. Uncanny strength mixed with tenacity.
He dug out our existing seawall made of railroad ties, man-handling them up on shore before stacking them neatly in piles. Then he used a jack hammer to break apart the remains of an even older concrete seawall which had fallen into the lake behind the railroad ties. I watched in amazement as he threw the chunks into huge piles as if they were made of cardboard rather than concrete.
The weather turned against him, with temperatures soaring to over 100 degrees. Humidity skyrocketed, making conditions intolerable. Still, Marvin continued to work.
“Have a sore throat – my wife thinks it could be strep – but I might as well keep working since there’s nothing I can do about it,” he said with a smile.
Was this man, in his 50th decade of life, made of iron? He continued on, day after day, carefully placing concrete forms and preparing for the day when the ready-mix truck and pump would arrive to fill them.
One stifling afternoon I offered him a glass of water. “Oh, no thanks, I’m fine. I lost weight last week since I couldn’t even swallow with such a sore throat, though. But you know, I’m feeling great again.” This was said with a nod of the head and another one of his characteristically bright-eyed grins.
“Wow - well, hooray for that!” I responded. “What do you do to keep the energy going all day…on an average day? Like today?”
“Oh, a Twinkie and bottle of Mountain Dew in the middle of the afternoon does the trick,” he replied with a wink.
Two days before the concrete was to be poured, my husband and I felt it was necessary to refigure payment. Marvin had originally quoted us $4,700 to do the job, but the removal of two older seawalls rather than one required him to rent unexpected equipment and expend quite a bit of additional labor. “Oh, just throw on a couple hundred extra,” he remarked with a casual gesture as if to say, “It’s no big deal.”
My husband, an old concrete man, quickly did some mental math and realized the “extra” amount should be more…maybe even much more. “How about five hundred, Marvin?”
Marvin was throwing chunks of broken concrete into his loader when he heard this offer. He stood up straight, gloved hands dangling from his sides, and wiped the sweat from beneath his billed cap with his forearm. His eyes opened wide to express surprise. Then the Twinkie-energy that seemed to pervade his countenance exploded in full force as he exclaimed with a strong voice, “Well now, that’s really nice…and I thank you very much.”
No Marvin, the thanks should be mine. I was too timid right then to say so, but I wanted to thank you for your example as a “good old boy” who cares about his work and his patrons more than himself. You, Marvin, are a dying breed – a work-horse typical of a by-gone era when people stood by their word, worked hard, and found great joy in sacrificial service.