Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Ties (And Welds) That Bind

Friendship is a funny thing. For example, mine with a friend named Bill. That it was improbable has not kept it from becoming my longest and closest - now for almost 50 years. Bill never crossed the threshold of a university door. Instead, he used that time to start what has become a successful fabrication and welding business that builds everything from drill stem pipe fencing to parts for Navy submarines.

My son Wes wears his hair down to the middle of his back, and with his scruffy whiskers, he is a ringer for Kirk Cobain - a name some random citizen called him while I was with him over Thanksgiving.

Bill and Wes are like our country in miniature. Different as night is from day. Different in age, temperament, and of course, politics. Bill is about as conservative as they come. Wes? All in for Bernie, of course.

Yet, somehow, Bill has become not just a mentor of sorts, but someone Wes trusts. Bill cares about my son not just because of me, but from a place of genuine desire to see him succeed in life, at whatever that may look like, and in whatever capacity.

Three years ago, Wes was finishing a difficult year in high school when I called Bill and asked if Wes could work for him part of the summer. Wes had an aptitude for working with his hands, enjoyed the creativity in the act of building, and as part of this, wanted to learn to weld - something I could not teach him.

Bill never hesitated. Somehow, this young man/child later decided to take Ag Mechanics his junior year in high school. I was a little skeptical. Vocational Agriculture and with it the mandatory membership in Future Farmers of America (FFA)? My. Grunge. Son?

Turned out to be a great decision.

After that first year, Wes applied and was accepted into Advanced Ag Mechanics, despite his hair (just kidding). As part of the requirements of that class, he and 8 other students built projects that sold at the annual school FFA dinner and live auction to raise money for their program. Wes built an Aggie maroon colored, octagon shaped picnic table with a Texas star on top. The dimensions were good, the welds were clean, and his project sold as the highest net (after cost) item at auction.

Of course I invited my friend Bill. They are pictured above, standing together, next to a project that would never been built but for Bill and his willingness to take a chance on a petulant but talented 15 year old.

Just the fact Wes is in FFA leaves me still shaking my head, but not in the way it once did. These young people are motivated, eager to work, and to create in their chosen medium. It is evidence to my cynical self that all things are possible. They are pictured in the photo to the left, this remarkable group of talented young people, cutting up the evenings festivities while sitting at Wes' picnic table.

Diverse, engaged, hopeful. Something I needed to witness. Something that teaches me that even in this most divisive of times, people who are a different as night is from day can find common interests, and not just live, but thrive together.

And most of all? Thanks, brother Bill.

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