Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The House Built by Schmidt

The House Built by Schmidt
            As a writer, there are certain times when the bug bites and you just need to get your thoughts down on paper. Living on Orchard Avenue in Parma, Ohio for the last seven and one half years has stirred my pen to action again. If you live in Parma Ohio, you can count yourselves among the lucky. There is a true sense of community here. The neighbors truly care for one another and this is especially true on Orchard. I wish I had the time to delineate all of the acts of kindness shown to my wife Lisa and me, but I will instead paint a picture of two of the most outstanding friends and neighbors a person could be lucky enough to have. I am speaking of Paul and Joann Schmidt. The hope I have for writing this is twofold, first I want them to know how I feel and second I want you to understand what it means to be a neighbor on Orchard.
             Let me first describe Paul Schmidt and explain why I think he needs to have his story told publicly. Paul who I am sure will say that I did not need to bother writing this, which is exactly why I must. The friend, mentor, coffee drinking partner, and father figure I know, as Paul is not a large man in stature. He would not stack up with anyone on Forbes 100 list or have his home grace the pages of any magazines. The measure of this man cannot be quantified by any of those typical standards. Paul would get the cover of Kindness, drop what I'm doing to help you, offer you moral support and make jokes about you and your wife love life magazine if there was such a publication. Every neighborhood needs some glue to help hold it together and measured by this standard Paul would hold up under any light.
            I met Paul in the spring of 2003. We had moved here in March 2003. I was sitting on the front porch just trying to see how the new surroundings would play out. I remember a slight figure walking down the street and wondered why does this guy keep looking over at me. He walked up on the grass sat down next to me on the steps and said, "So you’re a plumber huh?" He saw my Roto-Rooter Van sitting there in the driveway. I explained that I had just started the job and was in training. He told me that he was retired from the gas company and knew what a struggle I was facing. The his true nature shined through as he told me well "You are going to do just fine if you got that pretty woman in there to marry you this would be a breeze." He had no way of knowing if I would succeed or not but always chose the rosiest outcome. That is Paul.
            We shared our first cup of coffee together that evening and have consumed hundreds of gallons since. Coffee and smokes are vices we share. As Paul is quick to reassure me, "Well at least we are not out chasing women." As the patriarch of a large family not all of whom are his children but came as a bonus when he married Joann you would never know that he was not their father. The children are all grown and some are grandparents themselves by now. You would think that with all of his current obligations, he would not have room in his life for my Wife Lisa and Me but people are his passion and while caring for others he knows no bounds. Whether he is out in subzero weather changing a tire or calling me to make an emergency run for a hot water tank that just blew there are no limits to the aid he is willing to render for his fellow man or woman.
            Paul has shared little with me about his childhood except that he hates eating chicken because of it. I know that he did serve in the army and that is all I know. I have heard of his time spent working for East Ohio Gas first as a meter reader and then moving up to play a key role in their service department. Paul worked many 16-hour days to keep customers in heat in the winter months and as a result had to take early retirement after a back injury and 30 years of service sidelined him. Paul speaks of is working years with fondness and sometimes I suspect he would not mind picking up his pipe wrench and taking a few service calls again.
            In the years that I have known Paul, he has never once failed to come through on a commitment he made. Paul Schmidt who gave his youth to his country, his working years to his fellow citizens and his heart to his beloved Joann and her four children deserves to know what he means to me. If I had a key to the city, I would give it to him but I gave him the next best thing a key to my house. For several years, Paul has taken it upon himself to let our dogs out if we were not going to be home for a long period. This is something that I cannot thank him enough for doing. It was especially hard after last February 24 when we lost our oldest boxer George. Paul was very upset and could have turned in his key. That is not his style Paul took to the new boxer puppy Eddie (pictured above) and never missed a beat. Thank You. George (pictured below).
            When I was working as a plumber, I would have the occasion to do some private work and I called Paul to come with me. He was always willing to help and even though it was a business relationship, I cannot think of anyone else I would have rather had there with me. At our pinnacle, we completely removed and replaced all of the plumbing in a century home on the city's eastside. Most people would shy away from this job but not Paul. He was in for the long haul. We could have both thrown in the towel when we returned one day to find the copper we had installed ripped out again. Then we missed a week due to my emergency gall bladder surgery. In the end, we installed CPVC plastic water lines and PVC drains. The basement, three kitchens and bathrooms were tough but he hung in there in the winter with the first two-thirds of the job being done with no heat. Paul and I still make some guest appearances for friends, with plumbing tools in hand.
            The last year has been by far the most rewarding for me. Paul who never had a son of his own has been with me every step of the way. I have been attending Bryant and Stratton College in Parma, working towards an Associate's Degree in IT Security. Paul has made sure that his visits are timely and never infringe on my study time. Coffee is still the bonding agent of choice. We all discuss the classes I'm taking and Paul enjoys hearing about all of the techie things out there. Or at least he is a good actor.
            Joann his wife is one of the kindest and warmest people I know. She is the kind of person you would entrust with your most private secrets knowing they would be safe. She has not always had the life she envisioned but is quite content with her choice of partner. She makes it a process to always keep her house neat and clean and her family well fed. In her case, the word family is an elastic group of people. Lisa and I know too well the hospitality she shares with those who are in her family. Joann makes you feel as though you are part of something really special.
            The winter of 2009 turned out to be a rough one for the Schmidt's. A routine visit to the doctor turned out to be a health scare that rocked this loving family to the bedrock. The various tests done revealed a mass in the abdominal region, which we all took for cancer. Paul was quite shook-up. The testing seemed to go on for months concluding with a visit to The Cleveland Clinic under the care of a specialist. The ultimate results of all of these test revealed that she had a liquid filled sack on her stomach but was no real concern. I do see so many news stories these days that just make you wonder if God really cares. Well nearly two years later I can report that God surely cares for Joann and she is alive and well. Thank you God for showing Joann your mercy and sparing this neighborhood treasure.
            Joann Schmidt is responsible for several children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. I say responsible because there is hardly a coffee drinking event when she and Paul are at my house that her phone does not ring. It is usually someone updating her on the status of their day or a grandchild with a question about a cooking procedure, or a pet in trouble, or an article of clothing in need of repair, or a baby sitter or …you get the idea. Joann is the conductor of an orchestra, which plays by the rules and offers the world much more that it takes. Oh did I mention her taco salad? It is the stuff of legends!
            I am sure that if you think about it you all either know someone or are already someone like Paul and Joann. These people are whom our country is so richly blessed. They are the glue in the neighborhoods large and small that make life better for the rest of us. I would like to consider myself a GIT (glue in training). The funny thing is that the training is not very hard to get down. The keys I have learned from Paul and Joann involve daily care for one's family, one's self, and treating your neighbor as you would like to be treated. The goal here is usually to decorate the end of a piece of writing with some snappy rhetorical flourish to make it stick in the reads mind. I think that in this case I will let the basic principals shown by Paul and Joann stand on their own. The common good and genuine caring they have shown me will act as the cake and the icing. If ever there was a time in our lives when caring for others without looking for anything in return now is that time. The world is only as good as the small acts of kindness shown to our fellow men and women on a daily basis. At the risk of sounding cheesy, ask yourself when the last time is that you called your neighbor just to say hi and made sure they were O.K. and really cared about the answer. Take time to know them and good things will happen in your life.

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