Good Saturday friends. I’m back with another installment of the Saturday Special. In past weeks I’ve been telling you about my mother who was for over 30 years, a building contractor. I gave you the epilog to this story this past Tuesday because I felt it was appropriate at the time. It does serve as a lead in to today’s story though.
Many people never have the privilege of knowing who their parents really were as people. At my grandfather’s funeral for instance I can remember people giving these great stories of the person he was. I found myself asking if we were talking about the same person. Not that I didn’t like my grandfather but the, recent, stories people had to share just kind of amazed my sister and I. Some were probably just being nice but I doubt that was the case for all of them. We see them as Mom or Dad and it’s a name that most are happy to have. I can remember though, my mother saying that she wanted her name back at some point. Her given name wasn’t ‘Mom’ but that’s the role she took on when she had us kids. I heard my sister make the same statement and I would imagine that many ‘moms’ do as well. In the eyes of the kids, the parents never really regain their identities as they will for ever be, mom or dad. Most are given new roles as grandma and grandpa as the kids create kids of their own. There are of course, the ones who for some reason or another end up raising their grandkids as well. Certainly not by choice of their own, it just turns out that way. They, become ‘Big Momma’.
Anyway, during this century (jeeze I feel old saying that), mom had several bouts with her health beginning with a bisected aeorta. There were several times I acted as chauffeur for her while she continued to run her business. Either she was on too much medication to drive at these times or she just simply couldn’t do it. Throughout these times, it was discussed more than once that it might be a good idea for me to get my own builder’s license and begin to take over the business or at least learn how to. She would let me do sales calls because as long as I didn’t actually sign the contracts, I didn’t need a license to represent her. Mom’s initial health issue, the bisected aeorta, happened while she was in a screaming match with one of her tenants to get the phuck out of her house. Stress, she thinks, brought that on as it happened during the argument. This also happened to be a few months after my father died. Mom was always a bit of a worrier though in that she was always fearful that if she didn’t go out to sell every day, she would go broke the following day. Nothing could be further from the truth but I guess once you’ve tasted being ‘broke’, you never forget it. As a result of all that, I completely changed my own attitude towards life and the environment around me. I don’t let anything add stress to my life. Mom was a plan for 30 years down the road person whereas I’m a deal with life as it comes type of person. I suppose the best way to be is a little of both. Some day that attitude may very well bite me in the ass but for now it works. I don’t let things I can’t change get to me and I think I’m a happier person for it.
As I said, the idea of my getting a license had been discussed several times. I had decided to do it when mom got sick for the last time but I didn’t actually do it until shortly after she passed away. I was never as brave as my mother to ‘strike out on my own’ and be my own boss which, isn’t all it’s fantasized to be as many of you know. Once she got sick and had accepted the fact she may not recover from it, she began to introduce me to her customers as her son. Until then, I was a person in training when we would visit customers. As far as any of her clients knew, my middle name was my last name and there was no relationship other than business. Each year of this century, as the economy slipped further and further into what it is now, new business was way down. Mom however had many lifetime customers by this point. If they needed anything done or knew someone who did, mom was the one they would call. She would introduce me to them as her son stating that other than her, I was the only one they were ever to hand money to on her behalf. Even when she was in the hospital for the final time, her phone continued to ring. I was simply telling people that she couldn’t come to the phone or she decided to take a vacation. Her best customers knew her condition and many were just calling to check on her but I never told them that she was actually checking out. After she died, even before the funeral planning was finished, I signed up for the classes required to actually get my license.
One of the estimates she let me do years prior to her passing was for a customer she had dealt with before. As her rep, I gave an estimate on replacing part of a sewer stack. That’s the pipe that sticks out of your roof, the purpose of which is to let air escape from the sewer so your sinks and other will drain properly. The proper term is Vent Stack, keyword, Vent. This woman, wasn’t all that impressed with me I guess because she didn’t want a single thing done until she talked to Mom. Even though I was representing her company, somehow she didn’t trust I was being completely straight with her. Actually I was but mom had to sign the contract anyway so it got handled, the job got done, and I got my commission for it.
While getting my license, people continued to call. Her old customers that I had never met, I had to tell them that she had passed and if they wanted anything done, by me, they would have to wait until I actually had the license to keep it all legal, for my own protection. With full knowledge that if anything went sour on a job, I would be standing before a judge and the state building board explaining why I was selling home improvement without the license. Even though, they said they didn’t care if I had a license or not. I knew better. With some, it may not have been a problem but I still wasn’t willing to sign a contract without the license. I would give price quotes though. There’s nothing illegal about that until money changes hands or work begins. Once I had my license, some of the quotes turned into work, some didn’t.
While traveling around the area meeting mom’s old customers, I learned a little of the ‘person’ mom was. None of it really came as any shock to me but it was still nice to hear these eulogies if you will. They would tell me of how she treated them, what she had done for them, and why they remained such loyal customers. Most let me know that the only reason I was in their homes, was her. Many in this business will not even talk to a potential client if there isn’t a certain amount of money involved. With mom, it didn’t matter. She treated each potential client as one who may later spend a whole lot more money and many did. Where many contractors, for instance, would require they get the job for an entire roof replacement, mom would do a partial to get people by, for now. For now sometimes stretched into 10 years but they always called her back to replace the full roof. The types of clients I’m talking about here do not spend money freely. They don’t like having bank notes, they don’t use credit cards, if they cannot pay for it, they do without. Naturally, I’m talking of an older generation here. The grandparents that once again become parents without the fun of making the kids. Know what I mean?
Anyway.. In talking to some of mom’s old customers, many would tell me of how they got the standard three estimates for the job. One story relayed to me was this. Client calls for an estimate and salesman comes out. Nearly the first words out of his mouth were ‘where is your husband?’. When the (female) client would answer don’t worry about it, what’s the price for the job, the salesman would give some ridiculous price. Presumably because, since he was dealing with a woman, it was going to be a problematic job. I don’t know where people come up with this shit, I guess in some cases it’s true but, it was never my experience. I could also tell on the other hand, some of these women play dumb to see if they’re being taken for a ride or played for a fool. You know, the auto mechanic that assumes the woman who actually knows every nut and bolt on her car, knows nothing about them. As these stories were relayed to me, the assumption was that while the woman was the one requesting the job, it was the man that would be paying for it. Now, the question of IS there a husband is a legitimate and completely acceptable one to ask. Selling home improvement is a risky business and if there is more than one home owner, husband and wife, it is strongly advised to get both names on the contract. The above mentioned customer called mom for one of her three estimates. Mom went to the appointment, gave a reasonable price for the job (Half what the others were asking), and then asked, while writing the contract who the homeowners were. In the case of this particular customer, she had been married but had recently kicked him to the curb because he was an abusive asshole. According to her, his name was never on the house. Mom got the job and a lifetime customer. Mom had told me, a couple years prior to her passing, that this particular customer could be a complete raging bitch. So the initial salesmen were somewhat correct in that she may have been a problematic customer. However, the way they treated her, they lost out on a lot of jobs because this customer not only had her own home but several rental properties as well. It wasn’t unusual for mom to do work for entire families and entire neighborhoods. One would hire her and then tell her sisters or brothers about the experience and the contact list grew exponentially over the years just by, word of mouth.
The man vs woman thing in this business wasn’t always sided on the customer being a woman who didn’t like being talked down to because she was a woman. Mom had a slew of male customers as well. Whenever someone would call for a quote, she would tell them, she was a woman. She had kind of a deep phone voice and even in appearance, especially the older she got, she did appear manly. She looked more like her father than her mother. There were some that would let her give estimates and then use that estimate to shop a price from a male run business. Remember now, until something goes wrong, most don’t give a shit about the license, they are after the cheap price. Well, there were quite a few, usually Arabs, who got exactly what they paid for. You know, from the men who they felt more comfortable dealing with. What would happen is an all too common story in this business. They would hire the people who talked the best game, let them start, give them money to do the job (I charge enough of a deposit to cover the cost), and they would disappear. Now the customer is stuck with a tore up house and no one to complete the job. Who would they call back? You guessed it, Mom. They would want the original price. Not going to happen. Now not only does she have to do the original job but she has to fix or undo what the other one phucked up. Her prices were always fair, she always gave people what they paid for, and usually everyone went away happy.
There were also the other types. The ones who spend their Saturdays or lunch breaks during the week at Home Depot buying tools they don’t have the first clue of how to use. Carefully selecting the worse pieces of lumber that shit hole has to offer. Things of that nature. Of course not everyone who does that is as incompetent as the ones I’m talking about here. The ones who have done the research and are convinced that they know how to get the job done. The only problem with these types is this. They don’t know where to begin. This was/is usually the case with kitchen remodels. Mom had a knack for getting the most out of available space in a kitchen. After all, she spent the better part of her ‘non working’ life in the kitchen being ‘mom’ so why wouldn’t she know how to lay one out? She would as part of the quote, by necessity, design the kitchen for her clients. Most would pay her to do it but there were the ones who would take that information to the box stores and use it to try and do the jobs themselves. Cabinet sizes, what to put where, etc. Now what she wouldn’t tell these weekend warriors is where to buy the materials. We can buy things in places that Joe Public cannot and it’s usually better quality stuff. Joe P would get his materials home, rip out his kitchen, then discover the universal truth of home improvement. Nothing ever goes completely as planned because nothing in the house is Level. The one thing that she could see just by looking at the wall, Joe also forgot to note or take into consideration. Not all walls are flat, especially in older homes even though they may appear to be. While Joe with his cache of tools and pile of materials may eventually figure it out, these types of jobs require someone with experience. Whose experience? You guessed it again. Mom’s experience. Some would call her back, I’m certain in some cases, just to see if it could be done the way she said it could. She would get her carpenter in there, tell him where to cut and put what, and these people usually wound up flabbergasted amazed at what this ‘woman’ actually knew about construction and remodeling. Even the carpenter was amazed at times as he would swear up and down it couldn’t be done but, when he did it the way she told him to, it worked. Was that all man vs woman? Who knows but I suspect with some of them, it was.
Bottom line summation is this. The contractors who didn’t want to deal with the ‘wife’ or the sole proprietor woman of the house lost out on a lot of money. The men who didn’t want to deal with mom simply because she was a woman, usually wound up getting ripped off. There were women who didn’t want to deal with mom either. It wasn’t all men. The mentality that a woman cannot handle this type of work isn’t gender specific but has obviously been drilled into minds over the years. I’ve said before, I’ll never know what that’s like, I couldn’t possibly. Mom taught me though, never judge knowledge by the package I’m looking at. That is just because I see boobs, doesn’t mean I’m looking at a boob. Know what I mean?
With that, I’ll see you next week with some sort of historical story.