I was married, approaching graduation from college and jobless when my father asked me about my job prospects. I replied quite honestly “I don’t have any.” After a pause – he was probably praying he wasn’t about to make a bad decision – he offered and I promptly accepted a job with a salary of $150 per week . Having spent the prior year working in a pizza restaurant – partially living off of “unintentionally” burnt pies – it sounded like a princely sum. I can remember my wife and I dreaming about what we were going to purchase with the extra income.
Lake Weir and Little Lake Weir are located about 20 miles from Ocala. Since before the Civil War they have been popular retreats from the heat of the Florida summer. Having sold a home on the lake and anxious to have a retreat, my brother convinced my dad to purchase a home, barn and seven acres on Little Lake Weir. My father’s company purchased the property and, as my first assignment, I was given the task of overseeing the remodeling of the house and barn.
The house was close to falling down: there was termite damage, floors that needed replacing; a roof that leaked and a chimney that had pulled away from the house. The first thing the remodeling contractor said to me was, “that @#%&* chimney has to come down.” I agreed and asked him to work up a price on taking down and rebuilding the chimney. He returned with a price that was close to the value of the whole house; so my father and brother and I decided that we should remove the fireplace and install a cast iron, wood-burning stove.
Having solved the problem, I decided to be a star by tearing down the existing chimney. To help, I enlisted Joe Lumpkin—a roofing foreman who over the years would become an accomplice in numerous ill-conceived endeavors—and two roofing laborers and early on a Saturday we went to work.
If there was anything in this world Joe loved it was our gas-powered hoist. With that hoist, rope and enough pulleys, he knew he could lift anything; if he could have figured out a way to do so, he would have used it to put on his pants in the morning. So, he decided it would be easy to use the hoist to pull down the chimney.
To keep from dropping the chimney on top of the company’s two-ton truck, Joe measured its height; hooked the hoist to the truck; had one of the laborers fasten a chain around the top of the chimney; attach the rope to the chain and the hoist to the truck. When everything was ready, he cranked up the hoist and with a minimal amount of effort, down came the chimney and with it the fireplace and the side of the house. With that tug of the rope, I immediately knew I had gone from hero to heel.
My first instinct was to blame Joe but I could hear what my dad would say, “Are you trying to tell me that taking down that chimney was Joe Lumpkin’s idea? My goodness, he didn’t even know we were remodeling the house.” There was nothing I could do but fess up and face the circumstances.
I was thinking about how I would put off telling anyone until Monday when my father and brother appeared. They had met for lunch and decided to check out the progress on the house. At first, my dad was pleased that I was working on a Saturday; however, when he spotted Joe he became concerned about what we were doing. Joe,—who had worked for my father for nearly 30 years and knew him well—had the hoist, ropes and chains packed in the truck and like a rat deserting a sinking ship, was ready to flee.
Dad didn’t notice the damage until he walked into the house and found himself looking at landscape where there used to be a wall. He uttered his strongest oath, “what in the horrible hell,” and turned to me. That was when he made the statement I will always remember, “I hope you are smart enough not to make the same mistake twice because it is evident you are going to make every mistake once!”
It all turned out all right: with the fireplace coming out most of the wall would have been replaced anyway; we had a window we didn’t plan on; the new fireplace could heat the whole house; Joe spent a couple of months staying out of site and my father, after calming down, decided to blame himself for assigning me a job I was unqualified to undertake.
I learned several lessons: don’t undertake a task if you don’t know what you are doing and don’t assign a task to someone who doesn’t know what he or she is doing. I also learned that being a hero isn’t as important as doing a job right.
“Don’t argue for other people’s weaknesses. Don’t argue for your own. When you make a mistake, admit it, correct it, and learn from it — immediately.” – Stephen Covey