External Photo Clues:
As a school assignment, we were asked to write about someone in our life that influenced us greatly. My teacher, Mrs. Fletcher, said that it needed to be someone other than our immediate family. Most of my classmates struggled to come up with someone, because people in rural Oklahoma seldom had meaningful contact with people outside their immediate family. I was one of the fortunate ones. I had known a man of unbelievable depth and character that came to teach me things that would make a far greater human being. The man in the photo above was, and still is, the most influential man I ever met.
It was a hot August day when Maxwell Phineas Qualls, MP for short, came walking up the dirt road that was our driveway. He was accompanied by his dog Scraps. I was on the front porch peeling potatoes for my mother. It was too hot in the house to do such demeaning duty there so I had moved out front to the shady porch. Both were noticeably hot and thirsty as they approached.
“Can I get a drink for me and my dog?” asked MP, “I’m spittin’ dirt clods I’m so dry and dusty and my dog’s tongue is so dry I can strop my razor on it.”
I didn’t have much humor offered so freely to me so I chuckled and said, “Sure, follow me.”
We circled the house to the well house in back and I turned on the hose my father used to water the garden. Our water was the best and coldest around so I felt proud to hand him the hose. He held the stream of water out so his dog could drink first, which really surprised me. “A man who doesn’t think first about those in his care is a small man given to folly,” said MP.
I really didn’t fully appreciate his insight but I did like the fact that he cared so for his dog.
I had always wanted a dog but had never had one. My parents didn’t see the need for one more animal to feed and certainly didn’t feel my need for companionship warranted the trouble.
“What kind of dog is he?” I asked not noticing that MP was taking his drink from the hose.
He swallowed and replied, “He’s a Mongolian Tailsniffer, a purebred, and maybe the only one of his breed in all of North America.”
I was taken back that I was in such unique company so I hesitated before asking, “Can I touch him?”
“Sure you can, why you can even pet him if you would like,” replied MP. “He would appreciate your attention. He has only had me as company for the last two days.”
As I petted Scraps I suddenly remembered that my Mom would soon be asking about her potatoes so I asked if MP and Scraps would come to the front porch and talk with me while I finished my chore. He consented to come after he drank some more and washed up, which he did.
“I hate peeling potatoes,” I mumbled as MP and Scraps strolled up, “and I can’t peel them very well. Mom will gripe at me for cutting too much potato off with the skin.”
“Is your knife sharp?” asked MP.
“As far as I know it is.” I snapped back.
“Let me see it, and a potato too,” answered MP.
I watched as he skillfully separated the skin from the potato in no time. The peel came off in one continuous ribbon and I marveled at his skill. Even my Mom couldn’t do that. “How did you do that?” I asked.
“It’s simple my boy, I just found delight in doing a job good,” answered MP.
“Don’t you mean doing a good job?” I asked.
“No son, I meant what I said,” shot back MP.
“I guess I don’t see the difference,” I stated with curiosity in my voice.
“Well a good job is defined by someone else’s criteria…” stated MP.
“What is criterier?” I asked.
“Criteria are the rules that define a task, the rules that tell you if it is correct. It is like the correct answer to a test question at school.” answered MP, “A good job is when someone else thinks what you have done meets the criteria. Doing a job good is when it has been done to your criteria, to your satisfaction. If you learn to set your criteria above what is simply expected you will learn to be someone outstanding.”
As I thought on what MP was saying I failed to notice that while he was talking he had neatly finished peeling the whole bowl of potatoes.
Mother stepped out onto the porch and was startled to see MP and Scraps. She was even more surprised to see the bowl of neatly peeled potatoes.
“Who’s your friend?” she asked.
“Mom, this is MP Qualls and his dog Scraps and they stopped to get a drink of waterm” I exclaimed. “Can he stay for supper?”
My Mom eyed over MP as he stood with his hat in his hand, slightly bowing at the waist in respect for her authority.
“Did he help you peel these potatoes?” my Mom asked, “and I know the answer because the potatoes are way too large for you to have peeled them.”
“Yes Ma’am I did, but I did wash up before I handled them,” answered MP.
“I wasn’t worried about that since several days on the road wouldn’t have soiled your hands as thoroughly as 10 minutes of my son’s life,” shot back my Mom.
Both adults laughed out loud while I stood trying to figure out what was so funny.
“Mr. Qualls, would you join us for supper?” asked my mother.
“I would be delighted,” answered MP.
“You and your dog can spend the night on the screened back porch if you would like,” returned my mother.
He did stay the night and many more nights in that my dad found plenty of work for him to do around our farm. I think my mom and dad enjoyed MP’s company almost as much as I did. When it was so hot in the house that we had to spend the evening outside we would set on the shaded front porch and talk. I mostly listened, but my folks and MP had a seemingly endless supply of stories to tell.
Maxwell Phineas Qualls was a man of great depth. In the next eight months I learned of the many exotic places he had been and great adventures he had experienced and it built in me a desire to go beyond the comfort of my home. He taught me from the wisdom of a life lived outside social and economic norms and built within me a love for clear thought. Lastly he showed me the purity of hard but honest labor and developed within me a drive that was unshakeable.
He walked out of my life on a cool morning the following May as mysteriously as he had walked in. No fanfare, no explanation, just a quiet pat of shoes against a hard packed dirt road. I was not the same, nor would I ever be. I was now firmly on the road to be the man I ended up as. Better, much better for his stay, but I had a clear tie to him for he left me Scraps to help remember him by, and this picture that I took on a sunny day in early December.
About The Author:
Don Hushbeck is Techncal Director for D&L Oil Tools where he designs equipment for the oil and gas industry. He enjoys writing as an additional release for his creativity.
About The Imaginary Family Project:
The 2011 Imaginary Family Project is a year-long collective art endeavor coordinated by occasional amateur artist Quentin Bomgardner and co-sponsored by The Red Dirt Chronicles. This project is based around “lost” vintage photographs, which have been acquired at flea markets, garage sales, estate sales, and eBay – heirloom collections, with no heir. Every week a different author will “find” one photograph by creating an imagined history around one of its subjects. At the end of the year, the collection will be compiled and presented as a group.