The General Motors Plant is closed today. It’s a Sunday. The parking lot is empty. The air is chilly. The way the sun hits the sheet-metal makes it look almost beautiful.
My father spent two years building this plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, not long before he died.
My father’s white welding truck would sit parked out front. Hoses dangling from the back, a clipboard on the dashboard, a welding mask in his front seat. Always a welding mask.
You would’ve liked him, everyone did. He was a foreman on this GM plant. Being a foreman in Tennessee was big news for him. Before, he’d always been just a welder. But a foreman, that meant he was more than just a worker bee. He was some body.
Being “somebody” isn’t the same as being “some body.” That single space between the two words makes all the difference.
You might run into “somebody” at the supermarket. But if you run into Jimmy Carter at the supermarket, you’ve just met “some body.”
My father took me to his jobsite one day. The automotive plant was almost finished. He explained the ins and the outs of ironwork to me, but his words were miles above my head.
He talked about footers, joists, girders, column splices, and I can’t remember what else. All I remember is the welding mask, sitting on his front seat.
When the big project was finished, my father took his wife and boy to Nashville for a celebration meal. It was a fancy restaurant with white table cloths. My French fries were reddish-colored and spicy.
I’d never seen fries look so unnaturally colored before.
“What’re these?” I asked, poking at my plate. I expected a tentacle to slither from beneath the fries and steal my fork.
“Those’re seasoned fries,” my father said. “All the big cities have seasoned fries.”
“What’re they seasoned with?”
“Oh, you know,” my father explained. “Seasonings and such.”
I refused the fries. But my mother forced me to eat them because there were starving children in the Soviet Union who would’ve been grateful to have seasoned reddish-colored French fries and I should’ve been ashamed of myself when kids my age in impoverished nations had to do their schoolwork on rolls of toilet paper.
I suggested to my mother that we box up my fries, and send them first class to the Soviet Union.
My mother almost wore me out with a table napkin.
Anyway my father was a hero of mine back then. He taught me everything I knew. How to ride a bike, to sing old hymns, to pitch a baseball, to swing a bat, and how to slide into first—belly down, hands up.
He taught me to open doors for females, even if I had to jog ahead of them to do it. How to sip a beer without gagging. He taught me to remove my hat indoors—even if my hair looked bad.
He taught me to tell stories. And of course jokes:
A man walks into a bar with a kitten on his shoulder. The cat is wearing a green bikini and lipstick.
“My Lord in Heaven!” the bartender exclaims. “Where in the world did you find something like that?”
The cat says, “I bought it at Walmart.”
A man says to his wife: “My uncle died last week of old age.”
The wife replies, “Really? That’s terrible. I never met your uncle, what did he do?”
“Well,” the man says, “he kinda grabbed his chest and gasped for air.”
Then there was the one about the Georgia hog farmer, holding a pig above his head so the animal could eat peaches from a tree. When the hog finished eating, the farmer lifted another hog above his shoulders to let it eat peaches the same way.
A drifter passed by and said: “Why’re you holding pigs above your head? Wouldn’t it be smarter to pick the peaches from the tree instead, to save time?”
“Nah,” The farmer said. “What’s time to a hog?”
You had to be there, I guess. Daddy could really tell them good.
I drive around the parking lot of the GM plant. I am the only person around for miles. I step out of my vehicle and walk the perimeter.
It might not look like much to some people, but to me it’s the biggest mark my father ever made upon this world.
The factory is the size of a city. I peeked through the chain link fence at what my father built. It was quite an achievement, building this. I reach the end of the parking lot. There, in the corner parking space is a work vehicle. Just one.
It is a white work truck. There is an oxygen canister on the back, hoses dangling. The truck is empty.
I peer into the windows. I almost know what I am going to see before I even see it. Inside there is a clipboard on the dashboard. And a welding mask on the front seat.
You never get over the death of a loved one. And you wouldn’t want to, either.
My father was some body.