Saturday, June 23, 2012
Another of the Five
John Spinneweber had no peers, was unique, a man of many talents in one category. John was a carpenter of rare abilities, builder, cabinet maker, master of all woods with a passion for cherry. I was new to my town, asked around, and was given his phone number, as I wanted a closet, planning to convert one of several extra bedrooms into a complete dressing area. He arrived one afternoon to look at the space and to discuss how to do it. Then he left. Just like that, leaving me with only his interest and energy. John was tall and lanky of some guessable age just a bit north of my own. He was balding, with a Clint Eastwood smile and similar mannerisms. About two weeks later he returned and asked to see the rest of the house. We had purchased this intact wonder with no idea of the Edwardian House and how to preserve it. Our expertise was the endless exposure of forty years of the eastern seaboard colonial house. This purchase was missing nothing. Complete with every single original chandelier, wall sconce, and magnificent wainscoting, curved walls, fireplaces, mind bending stabbed glass ala Tiffany,crystal etched door glass, windows with transoms, Brass everywhere, and English oak quarter sawn panels everywhere, we were living in an architectural wonder in nowhere land, a town open only to the native born, and their numbers were dwindling.This would be my home for ten years with little to amuse me but this brick pile. John was an answer to a call. But while he circled slot he wouldn't land. After the sixth visit, I asked if he actually wanted this job. He grinned and said he did, that he came so often to determine if we could work together. John knew what I did not: this was going to be a long term project, three years of hourly rate, time and materials, the most expensive way to contract for anything. we were babes in this woods. To his credit, John did not lick his chops.He built the required room and near the completion he announced he had figured out how to install an air conditioning system to cool our six thousand square feet. Given that we were well into the heat of the summer, our interest was certainly piqued. He went away, leaving us to think about it, and in short order we booked him for air. Gutting the master bath and the kitchen came next, all the while living in the mess, plaster in my teeth, coating my hair, and covering everything we owned. We were so deep in we were never going to get out. Money pit hardly defined it. Someone else resided the place, and John often sat within the sooty walls all day doing who knows what, but at lunch and breaks we became fast friends. He was as lonely as i was, but he was attracted only to my mind, so we talked for hours...on my clock...about politics and religion and his Life. John was a staunch Catholic,had lost his son, the light of his life, to a congenital heart condition when a very young man, and a daughter who was a Carmelite nun,complete with wimple, veil and robes. She came to the house to see her father's work, and to meet me. I knew enough to feel honored. I asked John what she wore when she was on vacation from her convent and at home with him. He looked puzzled, then said, "well,that!" what? Since she had given herself to God, he said, she was never again seen without her robes. What do you call her, John? "sister"' he said. No, what's her name? "sister" he repeated. John, when she was a baby what did you name her? "oh! Cathy"! John was generous, kind, intelligent and great company for me, and as interested in my house as I was. It was truly magnificent, and his skills guaranteed we would improve it with great care. He felt privileged to be permitted to do the work. In the three years it took, I was closer to him than most others in my life We had this incredible work in common. In our time together his wife died,ending a marriage more of duty than love. But he was frantic to find a new wife, never intending to leave his substantial money to the Catholic church. He chose the young crossing guard a block from my house because she had two sons. It was a loud shout about his losses. He wanted her sons to have His legacy and his money. John had never seen the ocean, never flew in an airplane, and the delight of his life was to dine at a major hotel in downtown Pittsburgh as the guest of one of the wealthy families in town, who then got the hotel manager to show him the basement, for John wanted to see the inner workings of the place. I miss him more than I care to admit. Generous and accommodating, he valued me in all my aspects, never once compromising me, careful to never cross the line, always preserving my honor. John was the perfect gentleman, completely under control of his religious beliefs, always aware of his personal responsibility to me and to himself. I mourned his losses with him, cheered his choice of bride and witnessed his new happiness, glad for him. We expanded each other. Taught each other, respected each other. Some time after we sold the house and moved away, John fell from a ladder and struck his head. He never regained consciousness. He would have been mortified. Embarrassed beyond belief to have made such a mistake as to misstep. I chuckle and shake my head, knowing. John was easy to love. He smiles that Eastwood smile in my head and I know that wherever he is, the place is brighter for his presence. He was a gift to me, and I learned to see parts of the world differently because of my time with him. He ranks high on my list of five, contributing to my growth and teaching me why wisdom and old fashioned propriety matters. I am a far better person for his friendship and his grace.