Fortunate Hands

Ted was a retired carpenter. Widowed for more than 6 years, he honored the memory of the only woman he ever loved by going to church each Sunday and sitting in the same pew they always occupied as a couple.

He was sure she could hear him when he was there. He had many friends, but there would never be another woman for Ted. He had prepared well for retirement, and lived comfortably and quietly. His only son had given him two grandchildren--Henry and Ellie--and little Ellie was practically the exact image of her grandmother. She was an absolute delight.

Two days before Thanksgiving in 2009, Ted was preparing the house for his son’s family to come over for the holiday dinner. He was a capable cook, and truly put out a lovely spread every year for them as well as for a few friends who always seemed to wind up alone on special days.

The driveway of the house was directly opposite the stop sign, so if a driver were to go straight after the stop, he’d pull right up to the house. Ted had asked the city for years to authorize a guardrail with reflectors in his front yard, but it had yet to respond. He had built a set of interior shutters for the front bay window that he closed at night to avoid the constant glare from headlights.

As he was about to close the shutters that evening, he noticed a car coming towards the house at a furious speed. He dove frantically to the left as the 1999 Ford Taurus crashed through the front wall and into his living room with a horrendous sound.

Uninjured, Ted jumped to his feet, ran to the car, and discovered that the girl inside was conscious, but looked to be in shock. He called 911. Within minutes, the ambulance arrived, and the girl was on her way to the hospital. The crew indicated she would be all right, but the car was totaled.

The police took pictures and sent a tow truck, and as quickly as the accident had happened, the car was just as quickly out of sight.

Ted sat on the couch waiting for the insurance man to arrive to evaluate the damage. He had coffee waiting when Alex showed up, and he walked through the “new” front door with a smile. Not surprisingly, he found Ted smiling too.

“Let me take a few pictures, Ted, and we’ll get you all squared away. Can you stay at a hotel for the night?” Ted nodded.

Alex was only 2 years old when Ted first bought insurance from Alex’s father. He was just as honest and supportive as his old man.

“I have some plastic sheets in the garage I’ll set up to keep the critters out; if you come back tomorrow, we can settle the damages,” said Ted.

Alex smiled, took his coffee “to go,” and headed home.

Overnight Project

Ted decided he would not sleep; instead, he went to the basement and retrieved his power vacuum. With leather gloves, he filled three garbage cans with debris, and sawed and stacked all the wood pieces. He bound them tightly and laid them by the curb.

From the garage he brought out two sets of Halogen work lights that he pointed at the house. The foundation had not been damaged, and all the electrical lines were almost perfectly intact. He used electrical tape to reinforce anything looking precarious.

He had rehabilitated hundreds of houses in his career, so his assessment of the damage was professional. Scrap wood and two-by-fours were plentiful in the garage, so within a few hours, Ted had framed out the entire front of the house, and not once when his hammer rang out, did the neighbors complain. He’d helped so many of them over the years with their own projects they knew better than to question his need to get the job completed.

He was a man of his word and a man of action. The neighbors also knew he’d want to do most of it alone. It was just his self-made way.

Scheduling Service

As the sun rose, Ted completed the drywall and taping on the interior. He insulated the walls and completed the exterior with tongue-and-groove wood panels, opting for three smaller windows instead of one large bay. He built the standard-sized window frames just above the level where headlights would typically shine in to avoid the previous problem.

At 9:00 a.m., Ted phoned a window-replacement company, adding that if it delivered the windows that day, he would pay cash on the spot. He asked Jack, a painter friend, to pick up an olive-green and trim color to complement the pale brick tone of the house.

At 11:00 a.m., the window company arrived and cleanly slipped the three units into Ted’s frames. Ted paid in cash then took out the trim pieces he had precut the previous evening. Since it was daytime, he was able to fire up the compressor for the nail gun and knocked out the trim in minutes--inside and out.

As he was finishing up, the load of topsoil he had ordered arrived; the tire ruts were filled in and groomed, and the entire front yard was seeded and covered with straw.

Jack arrived with the paint and promptly put the first coat on the paneling and window frames. As it dried, he went into the house and found a fresh pot of coffee waiting. He shook his head. “I’ll never know why this guy retired,” he said as he coated the interior walls, chuckling at the expert taping job his friend had done on the drywall.

Friendly Banter

The gardeners left and Ted yelled, “Jack? Can you watch the house for a minute? I’ll be right back.”

An hour later, Ted pulled in the driveway with his pickup hauling four handsome shrubs. He went straight to the garage, measured, and dug four holes in front of the house beneath the new windows. He filled each with water, set a shrub in, closed up the holes loosely with peat moss, and added all the remaining construction debris to the pile of bags and cans on the front lawn.

Fortuitously, it was garbage day, and at 2:30 p.m., the truck hauled the debris away, and Ted returned the empty cans to the garage.

As Jack gave the wood a final coat, he had to work around the new shrubbery. It was a “typical fight” among contractors. Ted tried to pay Jack for the work, but Jack refused.

“At least let me reimburse you for the paint,” Ted countered. Jack relented and said, “OK, that’s 20 bucks.” Ted finally said, “Oh, too bad--all I have is a fifty. Keep the change.” Jack smiled, hugged his old buddy, and was on his way.

After hosing down the driveway as well as the front sidewalk, Ted walked a magnetic detector over the lawn to catch any stray nail or screw. He went in the house, vacuumed the carpet one last time, and admired the interior handiwork Jack had done. The guy was an artist. He re-hung the family photos, and took a shower, realizing he’d not eaten or changed clothes since the previous day.

No Charge

Alex was at the dining room table when Ted emerged from the bathroom. Like Jack, he was practically “family.” Going through the stack of receipts Ted had accumulated in the last 24 hours, Alex said, “There’s a lot of material out there that isn’t accounted for here. Plus a carpenter’s time, a painter’s time, a landscaper … those all come at a premium.”

Ted towel-dried what remained of his hair and smiled. He asked that Alex tally a total that would be more reasonable than risky, and merely insure his monthly insurance bill did not go up. Alex completed the check and handed it to Ted with a complimentary 2010 calendar. “No charge for the calendar,” he said with a smile.

No-Fuss Holiday

After Alex left, Ted headed to the corner diner for a big breakfast, then drove his truck through the car wash to clean all the dirt from the shrubs, and finally stopped at the grocery store to pick up his turkey and review the cooking instructions with the butcher, just to be sure. On the way back, he deposited the check in the ATM.

Back home he stocked the cupboards with all he needed for his family and friends’ arrival, and finished setting up the dining room as he had started to do a day or so ago. When complete, he turned on the television and settled back in his chair. There was plenty of football to enjoy during his favorite holiday. Just as he began to drift off for a little nap, the phone rang. It was little Ellie. “Grandpa, we’re coming to your house tomorrow,” she said.

“You are? Oh, I am so looking forward to seeing you, Ellie.”

The little girl giggled. “What have you been doing, Grandpa? Do you need help setting the table?”

He smiled and nodded to himself. “You bet I do, honey. Will you help me tomorrow when you get here?”

She giggled again, “Of course, Grandpa. Mommy says men never know what to do without help from ladies.”

He said goodbye and exhaled. Reaching to the side of the recliner, he pulled the lever and sat up. He had to “un-set” the table so it could be “re-set” tomorrow with the loving hands of his only granddaughter. Before he stood, he looked up at the ceiling and smiled, “Thank you, Lord, for giving me this beautiful family, these wonderful friends, and the talents that allow me to perform these tasks. I am a blessed man. Say good night to the wife for me, will you?”

Ted is a real person, and this is a true story.

This humble man completed this work just as detailed above on that fateful holiday. I am proud to call him a friend. He never complains about the shortcomings that befall every person on this earth. He rolls with the punches and gets back up. He is a man of honor, dignity and pride. He never took assistance from the government or asked for a loan from a friend. He went to work as a young man and learned a trade. When jobs were lean, he went door to door as a fix-it man, and always found a way to live by his own means.

As I often say, at a time when pride really mattered.

Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at