March 21, 2004

When he was very young

The other day I mentioned I had bathroom tile issues; we've had a couple of guys come out to the house to look at the job. We replaced the tub about six years ago, and in the process the bottom row of tiles had to be removed in order to squeeze the new one into the space. Apparently the replacement tiles were glued onto drywall instead of a new layer of cement, as the rest of the wall is. Well, as you can imagine, in an enclosed space like that the dampness finally got to the glue holding the tiles, and they're starting to come loose.

So guy #1 comes out, takes out a quarter and taps all the shower walls, and decrees that they sound hollow. They're obviously all just glued onto drywall and must be torn out and replaced; he can do it for $3,500. I point out that it's only one row of tiles that's coming loose, so it seems unlikely that the entire space should be demolished like Veterans Stadium, but he's insistent. Ok, I say, we'll let you know.

Guy #2 comes out the following day. He's done tile work for us in the past (we're talkin' 20-30 years ago; we had no idea whether he was even living, much less still in business, but we had an old business card, so we called the number), and he answered the phone himself. He remembered the house; he'd done the tile work for the original builder of the entire subdivision. He wanted to come see what had happened to that neighborhood project he'd done back in 1969-1970, and he agreed to come look.

Well now. This is a man who was born in Oklahoma in 1926; he's been in the tile business since 1946, all over the Southwest. He did contract jobs for all manner of places, including Los Alamos during the post-war years when the H-bomb was under development. He got started talking about his life, and we just listened for two hours. During the Depression his house had been blown away by a tornado in West Texas, so they rebuilt in a half-dugout (walls and a tin roof, as he described it). He'd been an Army guard in the first days of post-war Japanese occupation; he'd seen Hiroshima three months after the bomb was dropped. He got out of the Army and went back to Oklahoma; he used his GI Bill guaranteed home loan benefit to buy a house, started a tile business, and eventually began doing work from Wichita all the way south to Texas. Then he got a contract to build a tile mosaic for a hotel swimming pool on the Big Island, came out to do the work, and his wife and kids joined him three months later. His daughter announced after a few weeks here that she was now six, so Daddy had to find a place for them to live so she could go to school, and they've been here ever since. He's semi-retired, but his tile business is thriving, run by one of his sons.

I was wishing I'd had a tape recorder going. Listening to folks that age tell their stories is a wonderful thing.

Oh, about the tile job? He says that one row just needs to be patched; "pay for the materials and we can do it in a day."

Posted by Linkmeister at March 21, 2004 10:26 AM

Can you believe? You've got a few bucks not leaving your pocket over that job. Maybe you should buy yourself something nice.

Great to get a second estimate sometimes.

Posted by: cassie-b at March 21, 2004 11:19 AM

very cool.

(nice digs!)

Posted by: shelley at March 21, 2004 01:06 PM

Great story, Steve.

Posted by: Scott at March 21, 2004 01:53 PM

thanks for the excellent story! and i'm glad that your problem will be an easy fix. you gotta love that.

go buy yourself a tape recorder (or digital recorder) and ask him to dinner.

Posted by: ruminator at March 21, 2004 07:02 PM

I wish you had a tape recorder also...
I love listening to the people in their late 70's and 80's talk about the good old days...

Do you think we will have good old days, Steve???

Posted by: toxiclabrat at March 23, 2004 09:45 AM