Felix was a tall, rangy 62-year-old when I met him in 1973. Over the course of two or three months I learned quite a bit about him.
Felix had fought — often hand-to-hand — in the European theater of World War II. After the war, he worked for the Tennessee Valley Authority, helping to build miles of high-voltage electric lines through the rugged Blue Ridge Mountains of Tennessee. Felix was raised in those mountains and had many colorful and downright funny anecdotes regarding the characters that prowled about them, often plying the illicit liquor trade.
We met on the job in Akron, Ohio. Felix was an electric lineman who would take an apprentice along to make the final service connections at new home sites or homes that had upgraded to heavier service wires. I was the apprentice — and not a particularly good one at that.
On the job training
Our first morning together, he drove to the worksite in relative silence. When we arrived he drawled, “You go up in the bucket truck and take care of the pole. I’ll take a ladder to the house and button up that end.” I nodded and, because he was obviously a lot older than me, I immediately scooted to the back of the truck, dragged the ladder out, and headed toward the house. “Hey!” he snapped. “I told you to use the truck. I’ll take the ladder.” I tried to explain that I was just being helpful, but Felix clearly explained — in very few words — that he did not desire my assistance.
As Felix walked toward the house, I surveyed the aerial lift device (“bucket truck” to those in the trade), and then looked at my climbing spikes. Frankly speaking, my first year-and-a half with the Ohio Edison Company had been miserable. Deathly afraid of heights and lacking natural mechanical skills, I was lampooned by coworkers and obviously frustrating my bosses. I grabbed my climbers and began strapping them on.
This time Felix’s “Hey” had a good deal more bite as he hustled over to confront me. “I told you to use the truck. You never want to climb a pole if you have a truck right there.” I’m not quoting him verbatim. Felix had sprinkled a bit more color into his words, tempered only by the soothing lilt of his Tennessee drawl.
We were face to face as I answered, “Felix, I’m having all kinds of trouble learning this job. I still can’t climb well, no one wants me on his crew, and I make mistakes all the time. I’m afraid I won’t have this job much longer unless I turn things around.” Felix stared at me for what felt like a long time. “OK,” he said quietly. We went to work.
By “we went to work,” I mean we “really” went to work. Felix liked to get things done. However, he calmly and methodically coached me all the while, suggesting better ways to do things, accepting my mistakes with words of encouragement, and seasoning everything with stories — mostly regarding moonshiners in the hills of his youth. I became a lineman during my time with Felix, and a pretty good one at that.
Through hindsight and the lens of my Catholic faith, I have come to appreciate an angel named Felix who God had placed in my path when I needed him most. Good stewards, who were the angels in your lives?
Curt Hanson, Director of Stewardship and Development, Diocese of Saint Cloud