Over the past couple of months, buying and moving to my new home, there have been a lot of people in my path. I’ve used the services of a realty company, bankers, insurance brokers, Town of Apex employees, many Lowe’s Home store sales associates, painting contractor, carpenter, electrician, and plumber.
I’ve learned what it means to work through a ‘punch list’ from the inspection report, hiring folks to perform their specialty service and then check off that item from the list. I spent much of my day Friday with the plumber– Fernando. He was recommended by my brother-in-law, Tim who’s been a great support and resource–since he lives nearby and has had lots of work done to his homes over the years. He has a keen eye for details and for getting a fair price–and it always helps to say you were referred to that person by a satisfied customer.
Fernando had been good about responding promptly to my text and calls from the very first encounter. That’s impressive when it comes to dealing with these service providers who are in high demand and low supply. On Friday morning, he texted that he was on his way and arrived in the time frame he’d promised.
I sat at the kitchen table and drank my second cup of coffee while he started on the list of items–beginning with replacing the faucet. He was a young and friendly guy and his English was good–especially considering that he was from Honduras. He told me he came to the US when he was seventeen and didn’t know any English.
“I was so shy,” he said. “I couldn’t even say “Hello.”
He put the pieces together of the new faucet as he told me about his first job as a dishwasher and then how he moved from that position to the next in the restaurant, gradually learning more English. Eventually, he was promoted to jobs where he had to interact with customers. He decided the only way to move forward was to attend the community college’s ESL program, where he would also get a GED– or high school equivalency degree.
“I just kept taking one class after another, going to school in the day and working in the restaurant until late at night.”
He finished with the faucet and moved on to installing the disposal.
“I met my fiancee’ in the ESL class. She taught me Portuguese because she’s from Brazil. It’s a lot like Spanish–but not the same.”
I shared with Fernando that I’d been a school nurse and had many students in the ESL program.
“Getting to know those students made me appreciate how hard they had to work to learn the same subjects as the other students–but in their second– developing language,” I told him. “I would’ve had a hard time in my science classes if they’d been taught in Spanish.”
He nodded in agreement and put the broken disposal in the trash box. It was filled with with other plumbing parts that had worn out since being installed fifteen years ago when the townhouse was built.
“It was hard but I knew I would make it. God has a plan and I’m a good guy. I’ve never been one to drink or do drugs or get in trouble,” he said with a slight smile. He told me he had an eight-year-old daughter and he needed to work hard and provide for her.
Fernando had to go to his truck for a tool. When he returned he was finishing a phone call.
“My Mom called me from Honduras to wish me a Happy Birthday.”
“It’s today?” I asked.
He told me he was thirty-two and he hadn’t seen his mother in six years. Fernando teared up and told me his grandmother had died in the past year and he wasn’t able to get back to his country to see her. Although he’s a legal resident, if he’d left the US he may not have been able to return. He went on to say that his mother had come here without difficulty as a visitor and was supposed to stay with him for three months.
“But she didn’t like it here,” he explained. “I came home from work and found her crying because she was homesick.”
He’d told me he came here because there was no opportunity in his country and he wanted a better life.
“My mother didn’t like the way it is here. She got lonesome because I had to work long hours.”
Fernando steadily replaced a pipe under the sink while he told his story.
“My mother said that it’s better in Honduras because people work about five hours a day–since it’s so hot, and then they go home and visit with their neighbors. If you need anything, your neighbor will help you and then you do the same. It’s not like here with everybody working all the time and not many people know their neighbors.”
He tightened the new pipe and slid out from under the sink, tossing the old one in the trash box.
“My mother told me, “You are a Volunteer Prisoner here, Son.”
Wow– a Volunteer Prisoner. What a sad commentary on how we live our lives, on what’s normal in the US.
Fernando looked at the inspection report I’d put out on the counter. He checked off the things he’d completed and said he had to run to the store to get another pipe to finish the job. While he was gone, I worked on unpacking more boxes. I was pleased with what had been accomplished over the past week, putting up my things while also decorating for the holidays. I was also pleased with all that had been done by those service providers that were helping to get my house in tiptop shape.
Fernando returned with an ear bud in one ear and his phone tuned to the World Cup.
“This game is tied up– Croatia playing Brazil. My girlfriend’s going to be so sad if Brazil loses. Their country is crazy about the game.”
He turned his phone for me to see.
“It’s kind of like when Duke plays Carolina,” he said. “I pull for Carolina.”
“That’s good,” I responded. “You pull for the Right team!”
It was like Duke vs Carolina– only the World Cup was a huge international stage that much of the world was tuned to but not those around me, who were focused on a smaller, and more familiar, stage.
Fernando was ready to do the final job on the punch list; caulk the base of the toilet in the Master bath. What a boring task, right? But, he needed me to show him where it was located and meanwhile the game had progressed to the penalty kicks–with the tension mounting as Croatia advanced.
“My girlfriend’s going to be so upset if they lose. May not be celebrating tonight.”
He’d told me earlier he didn’t know what she’d planned for his birthday dinner.
He went around the base of the toilet with the white caulk coming out in an even line. Fernando finished and we watched the final kick.
“Oh No!” he said, witnessing the Croatian crowd take to the field, shaking his head in disbelief.
“Sorry, Fernando. I hope your girlfriend will be better by tonight so y’all can celebrate your birthday.”
He shook his head and picked up the caulk gun.
“You know, this is the first time I’ve ever watched a soccer game with a man in my bathroom,” I told him.
“Yes, and when people ask me the craziest thing I’ve done as a plumber— I’ll say, “Watch the World Cup with my customer while working on her toilet!”
He gathered his tools and cleaned up the pieces of materials that had fallen on the kitchen floor.
I walked him out to the front door.
He shook my hand and said, “Thank you for talking with me.”
“Thank you for doing such a good job. I liked hearing about how you came to this country and worked hard to make your way.”
Fernando, the plumber in my path had made my house better and had enriched my life that day.