photo credit: The-Lane-Team
The following is a guest post from Hulbert Lee, author of "From Bottom Up." If you haven’t already, please make sure you subscribe to his RSS feed or follow him on Twitter.
In my mind right now, I’m standing on a broken, cracked sidewalk. I can hear the noisy sounds of the cars zooming back and forth on the main street. It’s always busy and the cars never stop. I see a blue whale. The complete side of the pawn shop wall is a drawing of a blue whale that seems to be swimming deep down in the ocean. It’s not a common site you’d see everyday. Growing up, I’ve always wondered why those people would paint the side of the wall like that. It kind of reminds me of someone buying a used car, getting some paint, and drawing a painting over the car’s frame.
Across the street from this pawn shop, on the corner, is a fax machine store. It used to be part of my dad’s tool store, until we had to lease it out to other people in order for me and my brother to go to college. It’s no longer part of the corner property, so it’s kind of hard to access. To find my dad’s store, you can’t be in the back or you’d never see it. Instead you’d have to be driving out on the main street. And if you were quick enough, you might be able get a glimpse at a shabby old sign that reads, “Sun’s Tools”.
“Hulbert I need you to go to Makita and pick up some tools for a customer. Can you do that for me?” my dad asked. “Yeah, no problem dad,” I told him as I hung up the phone and got the keys to my car. This was great news. Whenever my dad told me to go pick up tools at the manufacturer, this meant that he had made a big sale to a customer, but didn’t have the tool in his shop yet. Basically, the customer would order a tool from my dad, my dad would call me, I’d go pick it up from the manufacturer company, deliver it to my dad, where he would then sell the tool to the customer. The process from leaving my house to getting to the manufacturer company, to getting to my dad’s store, and back to my house takes about 1 and ½ hours.
The drive, however, seemed longer than expected today. There’s usually so much construction going on. I see a lot of giant trucks on the way, and it always feels sort of weird to squeeze through them driving a little, white Honda CRV and all, but I manage to make it to the back of the manufacturer company. I enter and see these men in their working uniforms. They see a clean shaved, skinny guy wearing a light blue t-shirt and dark blue basketball shorts. They look at me.
“Hi… I’m… here to pick up tools for… Sun’s Tools?”
“Will call for Sun’s Tools!”
I sign the papers. They bring out box filled with tools and close the door. Ugh! These tools are heavy! I manage to carry to box of tools down the steps and load them in back of my car. I drive off and pass the construction area. There happens to be more traffic than usual today, and I wonder if I’m able to get these tools back in time for my dad.
Finally, I get to my dad’s parking lot. I drive over the bumpy asphalt ground and pass through the chain fences. My dad hears the car and walks out. With a big sigh, I get out of my car, open the back door, carry the box out, and set it out on the back table for my dad. He took this box and placed it on the counter inside the store, and walked back out.
“Is there anything else dad?”
“No, that’s it, thanks.”
I was glad I was able to deliver the tools on time before his customer came to get it. It’s always been somewhat of a hassle to make money this way, and I’ve always wondered whether or not it’s all worth it. Day in and day out, I see my dad sitting at table waiting for customers to come in. To pass time, he works on the crossword puzzles in the newspaper or talks with best friend, Tom, an 84-year old Japanese repairman who has been working for my dad for 18 years. He’s retiring this month though. My dad says it’s about time.
There are days where there are customers though; the customers are usually greeted by my dad’s thick accent. We get excited for a moment, but the customers usually leave the store with their hands empty. “Thank you, have a nice day!” my dad would tell them in an enthusiastic voice as they were opening the door to leave. Other times, we get lucky. A few people might come in and buy a couple of drills bits, sandpaper, maybe even some grinding wheels, and a couple of dollars are made. It’s enough money to buy dinner for me and my brother when he gets home.
Dinner is always a nice time we share together. Me, my brother, and my dad sit around at a table and usually we eat takeout like El Polo Loco and a side of steam white rice that my dad makes. Odd combination I know… And although I enjoy writing, verbally, I’m quieter than my dad and my brother. But still, I enjoy hearing their voices. It’s nice to know in a world of strangers, there are people at home who still care about you and want to have a conversation about what went on during your day. This moment that we have together makes the house a little warmer. Today, however, the table is quieter than usual.
“Hulbert,” my dad says.
“Yeah?” I reply.
“You know those tools that you got for me today?”
“Yeah, how did it go?”
“Humph… Well today I was in the store waiting, and these two young guys come in the store.”
“One of them wants to return a tool to me. He keeps telling me that he wants to return the tool. I tell him directly that he can’t. The tool that he had wasn’t from our store. It was from another one and he would have to return it there.”
“But he didn’t leave me alone. He kept wanting to return this tool and I told him no many times. I told him that he would have to go somewhere else, and he kept asking me, where… where? After talking to him for a while, they finally leave. It was then I saw our customer from a distant walking towards the store to get the tool he ordered today.
I got prepared to give it to him and I went to the counter, but the tool was gone.
I stop eating. “What…? What did you do then?”
“I started looking through all the shelves and looked around, but nothing. Then I remembered while I was talking to one of the guys, we were away from the counter.
“You mean…” I pause before I continue, “You think the other guy stole it?”
“Yeah, I think so. I went outside to chase after those two guys. But they were gone.”
“What about the customer who was walked in the store?”
“Well, he came in and asked, ‘Where are my tools?’ I said to him, ‘Sorry… I… I can’t find them.’ I had no choice but had to reorder another set from Makita for him and told him that he had to go pick up the tool there. I thought I could make an 80 dollar profit today, since the tool cost $189 and I was trying to sell it for $269. Instead, we had to order another one and basically lost 120 dollars.”
He made a laugh after he said these words, but I could tell that it wasn’t one of those laughs you make when something’s funny, it was more like one those laughs you make when know you have made a foolish mistake.
I clenched my first, and I gulped. I tried to force out a laugh too to comfort him, but I couldn’t. The only words I could find myself saying to him was, “It’s okay dad. Just try to be more careful next time.”
The next morning, my brother’s still sleeping. Me and my dad wake up early and have coffee and pancakes together at the breakfast table. No words were exchanged between us though. We just sit silently with our heads down eating our breakfast. I decided to turn on the TV; it was better than having awkward silence. I left the remote on the table in front of the TV and went back to the breakfast table. The Call was on – a show about investing and people talking about how money is exchanged in our world. For fifteen minutes, me and my dad watch them engage in conversation that’s filled with vibrant energy, as we slowly eat our pancakes and drink our coffee. I’ve always noticed the good looking business suits these people wear, and the colorful, elegant ties they have on. Suddenly, my dad gets up and walks to the door. He picks up the key, goes to his car, opens the garage door, and drives off for another day at the tool shop.
Boldness, to me, isn’t always about facing future danger. To me, it’s about moving on even when we may have a burden of pain inside of us every single day. Life is a constant struggle. You never know what’s going to happen and sometimes, the most unexpected moments can happen to us that carry with it nothing but misfortune. My dad has been working at that tool store for 25 years, around the same time I came into his life. I admire his ability to have worked all these years, even though, deep down, I know how his business is going.
Someday, I’ll have to support my own family.
From the first day my dad started working at that tool shop until the day I delivered those tools for him, I understand that supporting a family isn’t easy. But it’s those small moments that you have with your loved ones that make life worth living, whether this is driving 1 and ½ hours to potentially help them make a sale or drinking coffee for 15 minutes next to them in silence. Knowing that there’s someone willing to do anything for you, just so you can get a chance at life is something that I wish to carry down to my children one day.
But in order to carry on, I’ve learned we can’t be weak when things aren’t going the way we want them to, we can’t stop in our tracks when suddenly face a wall ahead, and we can’t run away from our happiness when somebody else out there wants to steal it away from us; we have to be able to take whatever life throws at us and be able to wake up the next day, walk out that door, and keep on working. That’s what I learned from my dad. I’ve taken a piece of his boldness and put it inside myself to do the best that I can with it, so one day I can give the same opportunities to my children, as he has given to me.
Hulbert Lee is an aspiring writer who writes about the rising stories of influential people over at FromBottomUp.com. He enjoys finding about ways to inspire people and help them out in life. If you haven’t already, please make sure you subscribe to his RSS feed or follow him on Twitter.
What a beautiful story, and a lovely way to illustrate your point. We never stop learning from our parents, and one of their best gifts is to show us how to face life courageously. I’ve seen my Dad do a number of different jobs to support his family, from managing a shop to working in a laundry, to travelling as a salesman. No matter what the job was, he always applied himself 100% to doing the best job he could. For him it wasn’t about what the job required of him, but rather what he could give to the job. Sometimes the best lessons are right in front of us. Thanks for your story Hulbert!