I was a twenty-five year old know-it-all at the time.
George was my boss. A big guy. He smoked like a locomotive. One cigarette after another. Winstons, Kools, Camels, Chesterfields, it didn’t matter, as long as he could keep one burning.
He carried a nickle-plated Zippo lighter.
He cursed like an old sailor. He taught me words I never imagined I would use.
George flew B-17 bombers during the Big War. He still had the big green sunglasses. Three years in England.
He started working in the oilfield after the war. I think the only pair of shoes he had were steel-toe lace up boots. Never saw him wearing anything else. And gray coveralls
He was as rough and tough as they come.
“Be here before seven every morning.” was one of the first things he told me. And, I never got to work before he did. George was always at work. I stayed late, because George was still working.
And, he always stayed later.
Pat was George’s boss. He said “Stay close to George. He’ll teach you what you need to know and then some.”
There was so much to learn.
Come to find out, George grew up a rich kid.
No, not just well off, but seriously rich. Like a mansion in the Garden District of New Orleans. He showed me the house one day, bigger than a small castle.
George was the kind of rich we only dream about. Rich like a chauffeur who took him to school every morning in a big long car. Rich like a real live butler, who worked downstairs and lived in a little cottage out back. And, rich like a private school before private schools were popular.
Yes, they had several maids around the house.
That kind of rich.
George’s Dad owned a shipyard. He built ships and made boatloads of money. He lost it all in 1929. He was one of those men who killed himself after the crash. George had to hitchhike home that day. The chauffeur had already left.
George spent most of his adult life working as an offshore crane operator. He worked for “the man”, making regular hours and the overtime.
I knew it all, but I didn’t know very much.
George had a wife, but he couldn’t keep her. Had a son too. He had just returned from Viet Nam when I met him. Today they’d say he had PTSD. George just shook his head and said “Drugs. They’re are gonna kill him.” And, they did.
For two years, George taught me something new each day. He’d get mad enough to push a cloud when I didn’t learn fast enough. He taught me to not make mistakes. He made me responsible for things I didn’t even care about.
Working with George taught me a whole lot about life. Pat was right, George had a lot to teach and I had a lot to learn.
I didn’t know much at all.
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