In the 1940’s and 50’s when I was a kid in Charleston, my grandmother Collier lived in a house on the southeast corner of the intersection between Main Street and Cannery Road. (Cannery Road led to a cannery in those days.) Her neighbors to the west were Mr. and Mrs. Joe Burt. They were good friends to my grandmother and to my mother. Joe Burt was kind to me, allowing me to fish in his several posted farm ponds, and since fishing was a large part of what I did growing up, I am deeply grateful to him.
On a typical Sunday afternoon my favorite uncle, Paul Wakefield, would drive down from Ft. Smith and he and I would go fishing at one or another of Joe Burt’s ponds. I never told Mr. Burt how much I appreciated his generosity. I’ll put that on my list of things to do when I meet him in heaven.
When I was growing up my dad made a living by painting houses, hanging wallpaper, and sanding floors. Around 1952 Mrs. Burt hired him to wallpaper her living room and I was his helper. I spread paste on the wallpaper and my dad hung it. On the day that we arrived at the Burt’s house to begin work, we walked from the foyer into the living room and my dad closed the living room door. What he saw shocked him. He saw a mistake he had made years before. He had, in the 1940’s, wallpapered their living room and had failed to hang the strip of paper that was immediately behind that door.
When the door was closed the error was glaring, but when the door was open it covered the missing strip of wallpaper. My dad was embarrassed and asked Mrs. Burt why she had not called him back, years ago, to properly complete the job. She laughed and said, "We never close that door, so no one ever noticed the mistake."
Mrs. Joe Burt was a kind and generous person. She was reluctant to ‘make a fuss’ when it was not absolutely necessary. She would rather overlook my dad’s error than call him back. She clearly did not hold it against him since she hired him to wallpaper her living room again. Needless to say, that last time we wallpapered the entire room – even the part behind the door.
In olden time the post office was on Main Street next to Hug Chevrolet. I personally made a comical error in the post office. Around 1954 my dad was hired to paint the ceiling of the post office. It was about fourteen feet high and consisted of tin sheets. An ornate design was pressed into each sheet, forming squares about eighteen inches on a side. I think that my brother and I did most of the painting, but for some reason he moved to another job and I was left to finish the work alone.
I painted the last of the ceiling - the last that is, except for one square. I put away my paint brush, loaded my long step ladder into the family station wagon, and drove home. The one square that I failed to paint was almost in the middle of the giant room. The ceiling was a sea of bright white with one square of aged yellow screaming out in the center. You almost didn’t have to look up to see my error – it would have been visible through the giant windows in the front of the post office. This was not a Mrs. Burt type error – no one would overlook this. My dad got a phone call and I hastened back to paint that last square. I was embarrassed but thought that no harm had been done. The post office folks probably laughed at me behind my back – deservedly so – but no one raised their voice or seemed upset.
Around 1954, I made an error when my brother, my dad, and I were sanding the floors of a house on highway 22 just west of Caulksville. I don’t remember the name of the family that owned the house, but, when it came to tolerating errors, they were at the opposite end of the spectrum from Mrs. Burt. The lady at that house was unforgiving in the extreme.
In those days you sanded a floor, and then coated it with three layers of varnish. After the second coat of varnish, the floor would be very shiny and it was difficult, when applying that third coat, to see whether you might be missing a spot. At the Caulksville house I missed a spot. It was located in their dining room. It was about half an inch wide and a foot long. It could not be seen when you were in the dining room, but if you backed into the hallway and looked into the dining room, and if the light was just right, you could see it. I had indeed made a mistake.
The woman of the house had a fit. They refused to pay my dad for the work and declared that they were going to have the room re-sanded by someone else. My dad didn’t chastise me for my error. I didn’t think my mistake was egregious, like the lady of the house did, but I deeply regretted that my dad didn’t get paid.
My dad’s mistake at Mrs. Burt’s house was glaring - if you closed the door - but to her it was tolerable, not worth making a fuss over. My mistake in Caulksville was almost undetectable but, to the lady of the house, it was tragic, much too awful to be tolerated. Folks are different.
Recently my wife and I hired a man to build a covering over our front porch. He was a member of the Dunkard Brethren Church and his work was meticulous. We were delighted with everything he did. I was talking to him one day about errors I had made, over the years, when building things. He said, "If a thing is built by a human, it will contain errors. Your porch has some." He and I both laughed. If there are errors in our porch we haven’t seen them.
Our Dunkard Brethren friend and Mrs. Joe Burt would have liked each other.