In the early 1990’s, Don and I were living in Augusta, Georgia. I was out of the service, but my husband was still stationed at Ft. Gordon. He moved to Ft. Gordon after serving in Desert Storm. We decided to visit family (mine) in Bear Lake, Michigan one summer. It was that year I received my first lesson about true reputations and what it means to have a “good name”.
Bear Lake, Michigan is a small town, as rural towns often are. It’s still a place where kids grow up on farms, working the land alongside older siblings and parents. A place where the opening day of deer season was often an excused day from school. A place where only white-out conditions would close a school down for a snow day. Also a place where the “summer” population was probably twice that of the “winter” population.
I left Bear Lake at 18, heading off to a military career, excited about life and filled with promise. I also left not really appreciating where I was from and not understanding “small-town values” as well as I should have. I soon found all of this out over a little shopping/exploring excursion.
I only manage to return to Bear Lake every so many years, sometimes 6-7 years pass before I can visit. Things change. People move in, others move out. New businesses spring up, others sadly disappear. Main street improvements changed the total look of this small town. One of my teachers (who was also the boys varsity basketball coach when I was a kid) is now the school superintendent. Where does all this superficial blather lead?
Well, about change, I suppose. Also things that don’t change. A side lesson to this whole event is that I learned change is often cosmetic and superficial, things that don’t change are not easily seen with your eyes, and are best viewed through the soul. Character is something you feel in your soul.
I grew up on Alkire Road, and yes, it’s a dirt/gravel affair off U.S. 31. The next road to the South is Norconk Road, also dirt/gravel. Driving home to the farm, passing Norconk, I noticed a store/studio that hadn’t been on the corner the last time I was there. If I remember correctly, the owner was Mr. Kober (who, by the way, is quite famous in the wood carving world for his supurb work carving “trophy” fish and fishing lures). I had mentioned to Don that I would like to go poking around in the store sometime, to see what I could see.
Within a few days we managed to visit this little store and Mr. Kober. I could have stayed in this place for days looking at all the wonderfully carved fishing lures, duck decoys, trophy fish and animals. The rustic look and feel of the studio, well, I was at home with that. Mr. Kober was a congenial man, humor crinkling in his eyes, warmth in his manners. The kind of man that learns much from quiet observation. I eventually found a little carved critter (a beaver) that I wished to purchase.
We quickly realized that living in a much larger city with modern conveniences had made us lazy people. I didn’t have cash on me, I had a debit card and a checkbook. The problem being, they were from my bank in August, Georgia. We had grown accustomed to not carrying cash and it really didn’t occur to us beforehand to go get some.
So there it was, I really wanted this carving as a gift for someone. A beautiful, little, wood-carved beaver. So I approached Mr. Kober with my dilemma, asking if he could hold it for me so I could go get some cash, because he couldn’t take an out-of-state check.
Mr. Kober then asked me, “Aren’t you Bud Ware’s daughter?” To which I replied, “Yes”, of course. I’m always taken aback by folks back home who know who I am, and I really don’t know who they are, especially when I am away for years at a time. This is something else that occurs in very small towns a lot. Everyone knows who you are. He then proceeds to explain to me, that since I am Bud Ware’s daughter, it suits him just fine to wrap up my intended gift, give it to me without payment, and mail him a money order from Georgia after we returned there from our visit. He didn’t want us to be inconvenienced with having to leave to get cash.
We’re stunned. Don asked me if everyone knows me and shakes his head. I tried to explain that I didn’t feel right about this kind of transaction. I just couldn’t imagine walking out and not paying for something. Mr. Kober proceeds to explain to me that since I am Bud’s girl, I will pay, and keep my promise. He trusts me. Besides, if I didn’t pay, one phone call to my father would rectify that, right? Yeah, he was very right about that, Dad would have got on me for sure.
So, I leave the store with my prize. The first thing we did after arriving back in Augusta, Georgia was to purchase a money order and a thank you card, which was promptly sent back to Mr. Kober. I remember the conversation my husband and I had about this little event. How surprised we were that he trusted me to pay. It occured to us at about the same time, it wasn’t me he trusted at all. He trusted my dad. He trusted that my dad had raised his kids with values and manners. He trusted the man who’s handshake was a contract and who’s word was good as gold. He trusted the man that had developed a good reputation and name, based on how he lived his life over decades of hard work, good times and bad times, raising a family and loving his wife. Any critical or bad things aside, anyone who knows my dad (and trust me, that’s a whole lot of people) that had to describe him in one word, would come up with “honest”. I finally understood what it means “to have a good name”.
I also recall with more than a little amusement, the conversation I had with my dad years later, as I recounted this story to him. He listened with patience. After I told him everything, he just looked at me and smiles and says, “Why sure, what did you expect?” He wasn’t surprised one bit. So I sat there looking at my dad in wonder, and seeing the man my father is for the very first time. A guy who has the self-assurance that all is well in his world because he lives well. He has no worries about what others think of him because he doesn’t live his life that way. His solution was to work hard, sprinkle the golden rule in the mix, work hard some more, do what you say you’re going to do, and the rest works itself out. A great lesson, and not a bad thing to strive for at all, the endeavor of earning a good name.
(Maria Appleby, 1-12-10, all rights reserved)
**NOTE – this was my rough draft, not edited for punctuation and grammar**
**NOTE – edited version published in the “Villa Grove News” Vol 103 – Num 44 on 2-11-2010**