From time to time in our lives, we run into a person who, for some reason or another, just seems bigger than life. These characters usually have something exaggerated in their personalities, something that makes them really stick out in a crowd. In my life, I have known a few of these people, but none stick out in my mind so much as my old driller, Jimmy.
I’ll pause here and answer the question that I am sure has popped into your mind. Beloved reader, I must confess: I have not always been a romance writer.
Shocking, I know.
It’s true. In my past, I have participated in a variety of vocations, but most notably, I was an environmental specialist for over four years.
Now, I know that you may be picturing me as the lady sipping tea at The Pump Room at the Roman Baths in England:
And you would be correct. That is indeed me, at my serene best. However, for those four years as a specialist, I pulled off a somewhat … less refined persona:
And yes, that is indeed a 3/8 inch ratcheting wrench in my hand. When the occasion called for it, I could dig a trench, rebuild a motor, and plumb a drain line with the best of them. I may have been my normal, prim self typing away at the computer and analyzing data in the office, but the moment I headed into the field, I had to roll up my sleeves and, well, get a little dirty.
So back to my driller. Jimmy is a good ol’ boy in every sense of the word. He drives an American made truck, he chews tobacco, and I have only seen him once in my life without his Alabama Red Tide ball cap on. He was in his early fifties when we met, and he was every bit as strong as an ox, and certainly could be as ornery as one. If he was fed up with his workers, he would turn to me and say, “Betchya didn’t know this was Jimmy’s Drillin’ and Daycare.”
The man could make a three syllable pronunciation out of any two letter word in the dictionary, and couldn’t give a short description to save his life (“Boy, I tell you wh-hat, it’s hotter than a $2 pistol on the Fourth of Ju-ly out here. I betchya could cook you some bar-b-que right there on the asphalt.”). Without fail, he ended every conversation, be it in person or on the phone, with a confident and succinct, "Roll Tide!"
He was everything a gruff, mule-headed, southern driller should be. But, wouldn’t you know, he had that fabled heart of gold. He once spent over four hours working by my side for not one red cent, just because he was worried about my safety working in this particular location alone. Over the years we forged a great relationship, one that I truly treasured.
Last summer, I quit my job so that I could focus on writing and baking. It was a huge decision, one that came with plenty of doubt and worry. Shortly after my last day, I came home to this message on my answering machine:
“Ah, yeah, hello, I’d like to order me a couple a cupcakes, one of them ro-mance novels, and a Miller light. Hey, Erin, I’m just kidding. I heard you was followin’ your dreams, and I wanna wish you luck, girl, in whatever you do. I hope it makes you happy.”
No name left, but then again, no name needed. It was one of the sweetest messages I have ever received. I am not ashamed to say I shed a tear or two over the sentiment.
So, why do I bring this up now?
We got a new phone this week, and my husband unplugged the old, broken one and set it aside for the garbage. When I saw it sitting there, panic seized me and I grabbed up the old unit and sprinted to the nearest outlet. Holding my breath and with shaky hands, I plugged it in and pressed the play button on the digital recording.
“Ah, yeah, hello…”
My relief was so complete, I sank to the floor in a limp heap. Silly, I know. But when you take a leap of faith as I did, quitting a perfectly lucrative job to chase my dreams, getting such sincere encouragement, especially when you can play it on demand, can mean the world to a person.
The phone may no longer work, but that answering machine sits next to me on my desk, plugged in and ready to go for the next time I need a shot of Jimmy’s kindness. I don’t think he will ever know how much that meant to me, but I believe I will go whip me up a batch of Alabama Red (Velvet) Tide cupcakes, and ship a few off to my dear friend this week. Who knows, maybe it will be a shot of encouragement to him, too. Oh, and Jimmy?
Perfect Cream Cheese Icing (Stay tuned for the Red Velvet recipe):
8 oz. Neufchatel cream cheese (1 package), softened
½ cup butter (1 stick), softened
1 pound powdered sugar (about 4 cups)
1 tsp. vanilla