I was born to a gun-toting Oregon hillbilly with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in his white t-shirt sleeve and a naive southern Californian girl. My father always worked in menial jobs, the lengthiest and most notable as a school janitor. For a time he demolished houses by hand. He told me that if I was willing to get my hands dirty I would never want for work.
Growing up, I was shuttled between family members. It always seemed to me that they just all loved me and couldn't get enough, but the truth is it was stormy seas between mother and father. Messed up stuff. Buried deep. Not suitable for print.
I was the golden boy. The firstborn son and only male on my maternal line. My maternal grandmother feeds me well, takes me on bike rides, and makes sure I read my bible.
I grew up below the poverty level. But I always felt rich. Sleeping bags, tents, trailers. Running around in the back woods in rubber boots, unsupervised, catching lizards, snakes and newts with my bare hands. Exploring old abandoned mining and milling buildings.
There are two memories I have of Dad leaving. Mom gathering my sister and I to the kitchen table and telling us that he wasn't coming back. Deep inside I realized that I would have to take care of myself. I detached mentally.
The other is a bit hazy. I think Dad came back and then something happened. Mom ran and got the gun, screaming, and forced him out the front door. To cope I hollowed out part of my own mind. I filled it with a fantasy world. Dungeons and Dragons. Lots of it. About age 13 now. Happy as a clam, long summer days.
Now I remember, he fell off the wagon again. One day it was just he and I in the house and he came home zombie-drunk. Mom had laid out a sheet on the bed and a bucket nearby. He missed the bed and the bucket and was wallowing around in his own sick. Standing at the door to the bedroom I made a decision, deep inside my little boy heart to never drink. I saw how it tore our family apart. Good man, achilles heel. I have never had even a sip of alcohol my entire life.
I converted to Mormonism at age 15. Those sister missionaries literally saved me from all the things that were happening around me, and also the things that I might have started up. I glommed on to a church family. They took me in. Informally of course, I was just over there all the time. They were like the Partridge family.
Summer of my junior year in high school my mother informed me that I had a full time job a the mill where she worked. My biceps were bulging. I learned hard manual labor. It was then that I decided to get educated. My mother shouldered a heroic burden, sometimes working 80-hour weeks of back-breaking labor to make ends meet. When the bank came to repossess her car she cried bitter hot tears. How was she going to even get to work now?
From that time on I was virtually emancipated. I paid $84 a month rent for one room in a trailer. I worked at McDonald's for $3.35 an hour in the evenings. I started at the bottom, no literally the bottom, scraping gum off the bottoms of the booths, crawling on my belly to get at it. I flipped burgers then worked my way up to the register. I was also briefly a "fry boy" at Taco Bell. My shoes were worn through and when I scrubbed down the oil stains on the drive-through the water would drench my socks. I bought a new pair of shoes with my first paycheck.
The summer of my senior year I went to southern California on a bus to stay with my grandparents. I built a redwood deck with my grandfather. I was too stupid to enjoy my time with him. I had headphones in the whole time. I had six-pack abs from swimming, long sun-bleached hair and a hot girlfriend. I worked as a security guard in Burbank (or was it Van Nuys?).
For the next few years I lived with room mates in Medford, Oregon. More roleplaying than you could shake a stick at. I worked in a video rental place. This was just before computers and we filled out all the forms by hand. Can you imagine that? It was a magic time, a dark time.
I was the manager of a map warehouse. I developed new methods of packing. The owner of the company gave me my first lessons in how to run a business. He opened my eyes. I rode my bike everywhere. My legs were like think branches, all muscle. Girls broke my heart. I saved up my money, enough for a few suits and my stay at the missionary training center.
I went on an LDS mission to South America. I spent two years in Chile. It was an adventure beyond reckoning. I suffered diseases, fleas, and lived in rooms as small as six by ten feet with a rope nailed in the wall on which to hang my clothes. I learned how to speak Spanish. I learned how to put in sixteen hour days with a smile on my face.
My family didn't want me to go on a mission. A local dentist paid my way. When I got home, my sweetheart broke up with me. Oh, well time to move on.
Once home I plowed into church work and I also worked as a bag boy at a local grocery store. I didn't stay there long. I got a job at a local gift shop. I learned an important skill there: quote a price with a straight face. Everything there seemed so expensive to me, but the owner (bless her) taught me and opened my eyes; to give professional service like a high class butler.
I met my wife at church. She was wearing a green dress. We were engaged less than three weeks later and married in six months. She is a hard worker, Russian blood, daughter of hardy Mormon pioneers. Forgiving. We are firstborns of firstborns; high strung and outspoken, but with so much love that it cushions the impact. We have been married seventeen glorious years.
I was in college for six years getting my degree in Spanish. Tamie worked and I pretended to work. It took six years rather than four because I started a game shop and that took a lot of my time. That and Starcraft. We lived in little apartments and barely scraped by. I wish I hadn't taken out all of those student loans, I'm still paying for that. Not a big fan of college. My kids can pay their own way. I will pay for business startups, though.
The year I graduated we were kicked out of our house, my firstborn (a daughter) was born, and I got a job as an elementary school teacher in East Palo Alto (NOT Palo Alto), which might be considered the inner city. Up at 4:30am. I messed up my back with the commute. My eldest son is born. He's just happy to be around. Somehow we made do in that tiny little condo, paying an exorbitant $1200 a month for rent. And that was a good price!
My father dies of terminal cancer. We had been in touch since he came back when I was nineteen. It takes a lot of time to heal that. I can't say more than that. It's not simple. I start Blue Table Painting. Every month is a struggle.
We move to Utah and buy a moderately priced home. With the advent of children three and four, my life seems complete. Every month feels like nine rounds of boxing, but I am growing strong inside. Each time it gets a little easier to handle the stress. The company grows to about a dozen employees.
Blue Table Painting started in my garage. I literally built it out of nothing, just the paints and brushes I had accumulated as a hobbyist. I acknowledge the good hand of God in all these blessings. He has shown mercy to me, a sinner. I've had a lot of good business mentors and other people who have helped us along the way.
Life seems to have progressed in reasonable increments, each challenge building on the last. I never thought life would get this good. I wonder what the next forty years will bring.
And now for this week's episode...
Posted by Blue Table Painting at 7:01 PM