Distant Perspective - A Short Story
By Gerald Sumeracki
Strange what memories come to mind when one thinks about the "Good Old Days." For me, they were the days when Raymond, Robert and I were just kids. Ray was the oldest at 14 with Bob and I just two months shy of 13. Bob and I used to have one heck of a time running back and forth between our houses on our birthdays...I wonder now why our parents just didn't throw a joint party for the two of us, the "Same Birthday Boys!"
It was a time when things were hard for our parents, although we kids really had little knowledge of what they were going through. Not that we were poor mind you, but money was scarce and what "mad money" we kids could earn generally came from paper routes, cutting grass or shining shoes.
At that time the U.S. was in dire need of metals due to the war effort, our parents even had us kids flattening tin cans and placing them in boxes for the regularly scheduled city-wide pick up which helped the country conserve needed raw materials. Paper was recycled also as well as other items which were vital to the war effort. I recall my dad's absence and the little flags in our window to show that he and uncle Joe were in the Army. It still fills me with pride. You got it, my only parent at home at that time was mom.
Mom generally purchased day old bread and cakes at the bakery, soup bones from the corner butcher shop turned out some great soups when combined with the home canned veggies from her Victory Garden. Home heating was a coal burner that produced lots of cinders which were my job to shovel out and discard.
And that refrigeration! I remember the ice man bringing blocks of ice up our back stairs to load in the ice box to keep that high tech system working. Mom sure got mad if I spilled any water when I emptied the pan of melted ice water at the bottom of that cooler. One time I forgot to empty it and the overflow was not a pleasant sight for mom. I got the job of drying the floor with a large towel which I had to constantly ring out. Sure taught me a lesson about attention to chores.
Us kids had an interesting show to watch at school each day. In the back acres behind our school, for as far as we could see, Army tanks were stored, run, then loaded on flat cars at the train terminal in the distance. We boys would often dream of the day when we could get out there and play war with the big guys. World War II was indeed an exciting time for the three of us! Yes, it was a time of plenty, a time of little. Plenty of time to appreciate the little as we enjoyed growing up.
Ray, Bob and I were like all the other kids, we wanted baseball mitts, balls, bikes and other great stuff and we had very little money to pay for them. One thing I can say about the three of us during our days of youth, we did have fun and we learned to make do with what we had and the opportunities that presented themselves.
I remember one hot July day when Ray told me that he had a great idea that would earn us a lot of money. It seems that he had run across a field in the back of a factory in our neighborhood where piles of junk had been thrown, discards from the manufacturing surplusage not usable at the factory. What caught Ray's attention was the copper wiring and tubing. Although most of it was in small pieces and generally mixed in with a bunch of other debris, we knew copper was valuable and as scrap metal could bring a good price.
The three of us decided to accumulate all the scrap copper we could find and sell it to the local scrap dealer. For the next week we went to that pile of trash and picked out all the copper piping, tubing and wire we could find and accumulated close to 80 pounds which we placed in a wagon and pulled down to the junkyard. Scrap copper at that time was selling for 80 cents a pound so the $64.00 us guys would make on this venture was a fortune! Needless to say we had stumbled into a business proposition which kept us in bubble gum and comic books all through that summer.
When we brought in our load of copper on that bright Saturday morning, I noticed a young man at one end of the junk yard fabricating something with a welding torch. I approached and watched as he added a bar of steel here, a hub cap there, a chuck of fender, a steering wheel and whatever piece of metal was handy. He had one heck of a pile of very ugly junk! Needless to say I kept my opinion to myself.
"What ya doing?" I remember asking the young man. He told me his name was Tom and that he was actually just practicing welding. He was hoping to make welding a career and the different kinds of metals he was fusing was his way of learning the trade. Tom said, " One day I hope to make a living with my welding but for now I'll just keep practicing by adding to this pile of scrap until it gets too big to handle."
Nice guy Tom. He was 21 years old and it was his father who owned the junkyard where we brought our copper that day. I never thought at that time that Tom's practice heap would later have an impact on my life. Never would I have thought that a welded pile of junk would be the gift of life itself!
Well, time has a way of passing for all and quickly at that. After a few more years of growing, I found myself graduating from Wayne State University. Five years after being recruited out of college by DuPont for an entry marketing position, I met Darlene at a Marketing Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. We fell in love and as things turned out I gravitated to her home town of Louisville, Kentucky. Yup, I left Detroit to become a "Redneck" and really came to love Kentucky. After a short courtship I married Darlene and found that I got to enjoy her church and the whole religious scene which was somewhat expected of all in the Bible Belt. I did not commit, however, as was expected. Darlene kept praying for me to accept Jesus as Lord but as far as I was concerned, going to church on Sundays and Wednesdays was enough to expect from any man.
It was a long overdue trip back home. Darlene and I arrived in Detroit, the city of my youth, on the first day of July in anticipation of the holiday and a one week stay with my parents. They had a new home of course with a huge country kitchen where we talked at great length about the "Good Old Days" and how Ray and Bob had enriched my life as a kid. Mom sure had all the details stored in her memory banks! This vaction was truly appreciated by both Darlene and me, our careers were so demanding, hers a pharmaceutical representative for Squibb and mine a senior marketing executive for DuPont...we surely NEEDED this break!
It had been such a long time since I'd seen the old neighborhood. We were all now grown up, married, my friends with families of their own. We lived in different parts of the country and no longer chewed bubble gum...well, not often at least. At one point in one of our conversations my mom asked, " Greg, do you remember all that copper you kids accumulated and sold when you were so full of energy and adventure?" I saw my mom reach for her coffee as I said, "Sure do mom, I never knew you noticed!" My mother smiled and said, "The junk dealer was an old buddy of your dad's and he kept me posted on what you guys were doing. Never told you this before, but I was proud of your sense of business. Now look at you, a top notch executive for DuPont!"
To hear my mother's praise was edifying and a pleasant surprise. "Mom, is that junkyard still there?" She told me it was and that although dad's friend had died several years ago, his only son Tom was carrying on the business as a side venture. He had developed a lucrative fabrication business as an outgrowth of the trade he was an expert in, welding.
Remembering Tom, I decided to pay him a visit on Saturday when the junkyard would be open for its busiest day. I wondered if he would remember me, that kid from so long ago who watched him weld hub caps and scraps to one heck of a huge mess that was the epitome of ugly. The yard was pretty much the same as I had remembered it but the mass of metal Tom had been welding was gone. "Oh well" I thought, "I guess he will at least remember that mess when I mention it to him. As I walked toward the office shack, a man stepped out and I just knew it was Tom. He sure resembled his dad. "Hey Tom!" I exclaimed. Tom looked up to see who had called but I could tell he did not remember me. I walked up to him and extended my hand to shake his. "It is so good to re-acquaint Tom, I am Greg Phillips and I remember you from 20 years ago when my friends and I brought copper here to sell to your dad." A glint of recognition sparkled in Tom's eyes. "Yeah. I remember you Greg. You were the kid who watched me do my practice welding when I just started to learn the trade."
"That was me Tom! I remember thinking just how ugly that pile of welded junk was but I never said a word to you since you were so much bigger than me at the time." Tom smiled broadly as he motioned Greg over to the side of the shack from which he had come. In a protected niche there was a large covered object on a pedestal which was able to be rotated like a Lazy Susan shelf in a modern kitchen.
Tom pulled off the canvas and to my amazement, that mass of welded metal, hubcaps and other metal objects stood before me. It stood approximately 8 feet tall and had rusted appreciably over the years. "Wow Tom" I exclaimed, "You still have it!" Tom smiled in the affirmative and began to speak.
"Greg, I was just about finished practicing on this hunk of junk when you last saw it and I in fact completed my welding a week after your last visit so many years ago. At the time I was adding each piece to this huge undisciplined mass of junk, I was involved in a spiritual struggle which had me on the verge of suicide. It is a story too long and personal to tell but believe me, I was minutes away from my end."
Tom asked me to take a good look at the structure he had named "Salvation." I did as he asked. I saw exactly what I had always seen...one big ugly mess. Tom began to turn the mass of welded metal in a circle and the bearings of the platform on which it was placed squeaked noisily. He asked me what my relationship with Jesus was and his question seemed totally out of place. "Well Tom, I really think my relationship to God is frankly a personal matter but if you must know I have been waiting for lightning to strike! I love God but if He wants something from me I don't know about, He will have to tell me."
Tom asked me to take a good look at every aspect of the metal heap as he turned it full circle. I did as he asked and said, "Tom, sorry my friend, it is still a pile of junk to me." Tom then asked that I walk with him into the junk yard. After we had taken roughly 20 steps he asked me to look back at "Salvation." I did and saw that same pile, although it looked smaller due to distance. We walked another 20 steps and Tom asked me to look back again. This was getting me concerned. Was Tom some kind of nut? "Tom" I said, "I see a pile of junk and that's all I see."
Tom asked me to bear with him one more time as we walked yet another 20 paces. "Before you turn for the last time Greg I want to tell you why you are here. When I was leaving this junkyard on my trip to the gun I had in my car's glove box so many years ago, I was led to look back at that pile of welded junk I'd fabricated to learn a trade. I was saying good bye to everything Greg, I was going to end my life within minutes. What I saw changed my life Greg. What you will see will change yours."
I turned and looked at the distant object that was a pile of junk up close but at this distance had taken on beauty beyond compare. Staring back at me was the most beautiful bust of Jesus with tears in his eyes, a crown of thorns on his head. I became filled with an immediate love for the Lord and recalled all the offers that had come my way to accept Christ's salvation. Falling to my knees, I wept as Tom laid his hand on my shoulder. Tom's words were soft and gentle, "Greg, Jesus brought you here for one reason and that was to afford you a special opportunity to open the door to your heart. What he did for me so many years ago he is doing for you... right now."
I would never be the same again. Jesus had come to me and knocked upon the door of my heart in a way that would never be forgotten. Opening that door was effortless, opening that door was pleasurable, opening that door was the beginning of a new life. This trip back home to relax and reminisce about the "Good Old Days" had ended up being the beginning of eternal joy, a life full of promise and completeness, a life now fulfilled as I answered Christ's call of brotherhood and friendship. So this was what I had been missing all this time! I'll never go back to the old self!
Darlene did not know how it had happened to me but she lit up when I walked back into mom's kitchen. "Honey," she said, "you met Him didn't you!" I hesitated briefly then said, "It shows?" Darlene did a small "Hillbilly Shuffle" and threw her arms around my neck and gave me a hug I'll never forget as she said, "Don't you love the way He answers prayer!"
Yes, Darlene's prayer led me to a junkyard where a mass of disorganized, welded metal became the means God use to let me see His "Salvation." God does work in mysterious ways... doesn't He.