Cash thawed the heart of a woman named Tam.
I met Cash recently on a Grand Island construction site. I’ve mentioned a time or a hundred that Schlueterville is supported by construction, with Hunka Burnin’ Hubby and I working shoulder-to-shoulder on projects here and there, big and small. We apply stone and stucco during summer, and do everything else when winter drives us indoors.
Indoor winter work is a full-blown blessing, and we were grateful to find ourselves in a building in downtown Grand Island that was finding new life via a frenetic mix of subcontractors.
There were men smoothing floors with teeth-rattling grinders, drywallers hemming offices, electricians stringing wire, and plumbers rattling pipes. There was dirt and din — swirling dust, curious whoops for no apparent reason, and off-key caterwauling to Van Halen on a radio set to stun. There were hard hats and paint fumes, scissor lifts and scaffolding.
Stand still at the risk of being mashed flat.
Hunka and I were in plaster-repair mode, rolling back the years on columns and walls that had seen the business end of life. Regardless of the dust and the noise and the action, we were thrilled to be warm and protected from the wicked grip of winter.
Beyond the walls of that noisy-warm building was a completely different world.
Outside was where the super men worked — strong, stout specimens shrouded in thick layers of canvas, fleece and wool. Tethered to giant mechanical lifts, super men transformed the face of the building with enormous, heavy panels.
They drove daily from Lincoln and worked sunup to sundown, in conditions that would make ordinary folks cry ice cube tears.
They worked through sleet and heavy winds and single-digit temps — faces red and frosted with each labored breath.
From my warm inside-perch, I glimpsed their world from time to time, noting hands fisted and feet shuffled against the brutal cold.
They were roughly the age of the Schlueterville sons, and my mother’s heart worried over their welfare through the worst of Nebraska’s winter.
“I can’t stand the sight of you guys working outside in these temps,” I confessed. “Are you guys staying warm enough?” The mercury hovered at 7 degrees with a strong vortex wind.
They were humble and polite, coming inside on rare occasions to defrost before the screaming heater.
“Yes, ma’am,” they said through chattering teeth. “Thanks for asking.”
Nevertheless, I gave them hand warmers of the type you can buy cheap at any hardware store. Super men accepted them with grace and continued their work.
Among them, I came to learn, was a man named Cash. His eyes peered through a fleece face mask, and he said something that stopped me cold.
“Few people notice anyone working outside in winter,” he said. “It’s nice you took the time to pay attention.”
We waved to each other from our inside/outside worlds — a fleeting acknowledgement of human compassion and tough-minded spirit.
Are you OK? Yes, thank you, we’re doing fine.
I invested a couple bucks and a bit of effort — fluff, really — but you’d have thought I’d given them so much more. Cash even surprised me with a batch of cookies one day.
I bawled big, happy tears.
The cookies were from his grandma, and as Grandma-cookies usually are, they were delicious.
I shared them with a few of the guys working inside — the polite Green Bay Packers fan, the cheerful singing Mexican man, and the electrician whose wife was facing a health scare. Like me, those cookies made them smile.
Hunka and I finished our project a few days later, and parted ways with Cash and his crew. I hope they’re staying safe and warm, in winter’s finger-freezing temps. I hope others are watching out for them, too, wherever they land.
It takes remarkably little to make someone’s day. Heck, just acknowledging someone’s existence and encouraging their efforts is more valuable than we can possibly know.
Thank you, Cash, your crew, and your grandma, too, for reminding me that we are all in life together.