'Matter of Laugh or Death,' a humor column
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
(appearing each week in the Republican-American newspaper, Waterbury, CT)
LEAVING BEHIND A CHERISHED GIFT
Recently I attended a memorial service for a gentleman named Dave Allen, who passed away at the age of 77. It was one of those occasions where you shake your head and say to yourself, “Darn, I wish I had gotten to know him better.”
I knew Dave a little, because we worked in the same industry. He was a heating and ventilation engineer, while the primary function of my job is to convince heating and ventilation engineers that the building projects they design simply MUST include the equipment my company sells.
Most of my dealings with Dave went something like this: He would call me and say, “Bill, I’m rejecting the equipment you submitted on this job.”
I would say, “Really, Dave? Why?”
He would reply, “Because it’s not what I specified.”
“Yes, that’s true,” I would say, as droplets began to form on my forehead because my sweat glands already knew where this conversation was headed. “But…but I assure you, my equipment will work just fine.”
“Maybe. Maybe not,” he would say matter-of-factly. “But if it doesn’t work, I’m the one who gets in trouble.”
“I know that, Dave, but you see, um, my company doesn’t sell the equipment you specified.”
“Life’s funny like that, isn’t it, Bill? Have a good day.”
And of course, Dave was right. No professional engineer worth his salt should ever accept an unknown product, even if the salesman involved happens to be handsome and brilliant and sophisticated and completely trustworthy—or on the other hand, even if the salesman involved happens to be me.
So in my mind, Dave was the wily old engineer who refused to retire because he thoroughly enjoyed designing things, and presumably, because he thoroughly enjoyed making salesmen sweat.
Dave finally had to stop working because of health problems, and then he died just two months later. At his memorial service, his son Ed—also a heating and ventilation engineer, which means the family legacy of causing salesmen to sweat will carry on for many more decades—gave the eulogy.
Ed read excerpts from a journal that Dave had been writing for many years; kind of a rough draft of his personal memoir. There were stories from his youth, from his college days, and from the years when he was a young man beginning his career and starting a family.
One story particularly stood out in my mind. As an engineering student at the University of Maine in the late 1940s, Dave and a few of his classmates discovered that if they rearranged some piping and valves in the Plumbing Laboratory, and then turned on a 200-horsepower pump, they could pressurize the entire city sewer system.
The whole church broke out in laughter as Ed read Dave’s account of how one afternoon every toilet in Orono, Maine, simultaneously began to overflow.
Up until that moment, I could only envision Dave as a wily engineer in his 70s with slowly diminishing health. Suddenly, I was able to envision him as a mischievous and energetic 20-year-old with his whole life ahead of him.
Although Dave’s journal will not be on the New York Times bestseller list anytime soon, it is a very special gift that he has left behind for his family and friends. Without it, many events from many years ago, events that defined and shaped a life well lived, would be forgotten forever.
In this age of computers and word processors, there is no reason why we all cannot keep a journal. It just may be the most cherished gift we leave behind for our family and friends.
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