In the beginning of Blog Entry #1, I explained that I wanted to write three or four blog entries that address meaningful experiences I have had while hammering out ornate gate and railing work. These stories proceed a future blog series that will focus on memorial metalwork. With meaningful experiences in mind, here comes Uncle Bob’s story number two.
When I first went into blacksmithing full time I was really on thin ice. Forging metal I knew quite well, but business and people I absolutely did not. Actually business and people are not my strong suits now either, but we all do what we have to do. Speaking in favor of myself, I don’t think anybody is strong in all areas??
Well anyway, in the early days I was squeaking out a living, hammering out what I could. Then my wife Pam and I received great news from mother nature, Pam was pregnant. I suspect you may have heard the old saying "Every baby comes with it’s own bread basket". Mine did. Trying to live on love and optimism as many young couples do, the economics of having a baby were not thought out well, or thought out at all! Somehow, everything was just supposed to fall into place. Oh, the optimism of youth!
Here comes the bread basket. Shortly before my first daughter (Katie) was born, I received an excellent commission. Hooray! The commission was hand forging four nice interior gates for the Minnesota Governor’s Residence. Great job! The gates were not paid for with taxpayers money, but instead with funds raised by the 1006 Society (Ten-Oh-Six Society). The address of the Governor’s Residence is 1006 Summit Avenue. The 1006 Society is (or was at that time) a group of women who do many things. One of these things is being the fund raising arm for the Governor’s Residence Council.
I met with members of the 1006 Society, The Governor’s Residence Council and the Interior Decorator in charge. This commission I was really excited about. There was one stipulation on the project. The gates were to be installed by a specific date so they could be presented as part of a future event. No problem (I thought).
Everything was going along as planned and while working on this wonderful commission, my daughter Katie was born. How cool is all this!
It was cool until about three or four days after Katie’s birth, when my sister-in-law probably saved Katie’s life. When my sister-in-law Patty saw Katie on her first visit, she said "this kid is sick, look at her skin, she's green!". After being really disappointed in my sister-in-laws words, we started to re-think Katie’s color. How could anything be wrong with our perfect daughter? Soon we were back in the hospital as Katie had spinal meningitis. This is a big deal. Spinal meningitis kills people swiftly, or if they survive, they often have brain damage. I will never forget the doctors telling Pam and I to leave the hospital floor while they held Katie down so they could perform a spinal tap. The advised us that kids scream a lot during this procedure and it is easier on the parents if they do not hear it.
Following the spinal tap and a number of other tests, Katie ended up in an incubator. She had her hands tied to the sides of the incubator so she could not pull the needle out of the vein in her forehead where medication and who knows what else was fed into her system.
My marriage to Pam was my second marriage and I came into it with some baggage. My first wife and I lost a baby shortly after birth and I will forever feel remorse for not being a more compassionate husband during that process. Speaking in my own weak defense, my first wife and I were becoming parents so young (18) that the whole process was (for me anyway) just a blur of events that I was too immature to comprehend with much depth. I did not understand the magnitude of what was happening and as such, did not handle it well. My lack of maturity left the ball in my wife’s court. Not cool. Real men are tough. Right? Wrong!
Fast forwarding to Katie in her incubator. So here I am working on this dream job with a deadline and my wife is staying in the hospital with our daughter who may or may not live? I worked on the governor’s gates for a few days as I was trying to honor my commitment and then would support my wife when not working. In all honesty, because I was living on an economic shoestring and because the Governor’s Mansion and all the trappings are from a world I know little about, I was afraid of not honoring my commitment to them. I wondered if I balked, if that would start legal proceedings based on the contract I signed?
After thinking about what was happening with Katie and watching history repeat itself with regards to my first lost child, scared to death, I called and arranged a meeting with the appropriate members of the Governor’s Residence Council and the 1006 Society. While in the board room, I could not help myself, I lost my composure, broke down and told these women that whatever repercussions needed to happen to me, they will just have to happen. I simply could not leave my wife at this time when our daughter was fighting for her life. Their wrought iron gates were not going to be installed for their event. I was thinking, OK now here come the lawyers.
What happened totally blew me away! Instead of meeting with iron fists from people who come from economic means far beyond anything I will ever see, I received an avalanche of compassion! Most or all of these women were mothers themselves and as such were totally in support of what I was doing. Instead of reprimanding me, they asked me how could they help? My daughter became one of their concerns. All of a sudden I had this army of resources behind me in support of my needs instead of insisting on some metalwork that probably few people would really care about anyway.
How cool is this. Well, everything worked out. I did not want any help from the Council or Society, only a window of time so I could be with my family when I needed to be. Katie lived through the meningitis and without any brain damage (although in her teenage years I often wondered!!). As soon as Katie's health was stable, I hammered out the gates along with many thank you notes.
I enjoy ironwork and hand forging pretty things, but things are only things. I have devoted my life to making fine metalwork, but I once heard a quote that I cannot contest, "The best things in life are not things". The best things in life are people and life itself.
I will never forget that the members of the Governor’s Residence Council and the 1006 Society value people more than things.
And because this, I will always feel a deep sense of gratitude for these people.
I realize there is a reason for written contracts. However in this case, in my book, these people were examples of humanity acting at it’s finest. People doing the right thing when it needed to be done.
Actions like this are beautiful.