The Shop

I am officially no longer the plumbing princess of the Northern Suburbs.
I didn’t bestow that title on myself, it was actually a (clearly misguided) guidance counselor in our youth that called Dr Sissy and myself that, once upon a time.
I digress.
This morning, after 20 years of business ownership, my parents signed the papers selling their plumbing and HVAC company to a new owner and officially started the retired portion of their life together. I am so proud of them, and SO EXCITED for them – they have worked so hard and deserve this next phase so richly.
(Here comes Keri’s big ol’ but)
But, it is bittersweet. I was at “the shop” (how we have always referred to the building the business is in) two days ago helping pull personal files off of computers and phones, and the new manager came in with his wife and 2 year old daughter. She was an adorable ball of energy running all over checking everything out. Then mom and daughter drove off in their car and the new manager drove off in one of the company vans. I was overwhelmed with memories. That was us. They were the new us.
You see, for 19 years before buying the business, my dad worked his way up to from entry level to Master Plumber with full HVAC certification and foreman/manager/VP. My mom would bring my sister and I to the old location of “the shop,” and it was us who would run around checking everything out, bugging the guys for gum and sitting with my dad while he ate his lunch out of a cooler and drank coffee from his old metal thermos. It had always been us growing up in those spaces. I stood there, watching them all drive out from behind the fence, and I breathed in the familiar smell of oil and earth and sheet metal that equals the shop in my mind. I remembered everything.
I remember standing in our bedroom window, waving goodbye to dad every morning when we were little as he drove off to work in the company van each day, and being so excited when he came home at night. Sometimes it was so late we wouldn’t see him before we went to bed, other times he would be home very early in the afternoon and he would challenge us to long jump contests in the back yard. When we got older I would learn that those early days actually meant that there wasn’t enough work for everyone that day, but my parents never let it show back then.
I’d hear the van start in the middle of a cold snowy night, and peer outside my window to see my dad putting chains on the tires to go fix a furnace or frozen pipe. In the morning he would be home again and up at 5 to go open the shop and get the guys out for the day.
There were company picnics that we got to attend as children, as well as Christmas parties that meant Tamera the cool babysitter would come and stay with us while my dad (who ran in just in time to change out of his work shirt and steel-toes) and mom went off to celebrate.
As we grew older there was the year that we took the sides off the old dump truck and used it to carry the first prize homecoming float around the track surrounding the field during halftime. What was our float you ask? Why, a giant toilet with a replica of our opponents’ mascot swirling down the bowl, of course. (If you put the plumber’s daughters in charge, you get a chicken wire toilet covered in white napkins. Duh.)
It was in that same dump truck, borrowed from the shop, that my dad would tell me that him and mom were buying the business at the end of our senior year in HS. We were transporting a garage sale sofa that I wanted for my freshman college apartment and had my dear friend Matt in the truck with us. I screamed so loud in excitement, I probably caused the poor kid hearing loss or emotional trauma or something.
In between educational endeavors, (re: after dropping out of college the first time, or culinary school, or something,) I joined my mom in the office answering phones and entering invoices into the system. Actually, I joined my mom in the office and proceeded to fall asleep on the keyboard and enter pages of “hhhhhhhhhhh” where my nose rested on the key board every day, and soon we would discover that it was M.S. robbing me of my energy, making me dizzy and weak. I would drag myself from the doctor’s office where I had my steroid treatments back to the shop where I would eat a ginormous bag of some sort of fast food (look out, steroid Keri will rip your arm off for a Big Mac. Two would be better.) Then I would fall asleep in a heap on the floor of my dad’s office, exhausted and angry and not wanting to go back to my apartment in the city alone.
As the fog of M.S. started to lift and I found my strength again, I knew a bad day could always be cured with a drop in at the family business. It was a touchstone, a safety net, a resource, a homebase from which I could reach out into the world.
When Potter was a brand new member of my newly formed “just married” little family, he would spend days there because I was still (finally) finishing my degree and he was too barky to stay in our first little condo alone. Later when we moved back to the old hometown it would be Jr who would spend days at the shop, teetering around his playpen and hanging out with my mom and her sister as they ran the day-to-day in the office. (Aunt Carol is a MUCH less snoozy 2nd chair than I ever was!)
My dad and his guys have gone from seeing our friends running around playing barbies or ball in the basement while the family water heater was being fixed, to fixing the water heaters of those former kids while their own children run around like crazy.
It feels engrained in my soul. It is the heart of our family, and that heart has shown in the way that they have done business all of these years.
You can take the plumber’s daughter out of the shop, but I don’t think you can ever take the shop out of the plumber’s daughter. I am very proud of that part of myself – as I am very proud of it in both of my parents.
Congratulations, Maude and Daddy. You raised two (pretty damn awesome,) kids, as well as a business to be proud of. Dr Sissy and I have been proud to be the owners’ daughters and share the story of our “family business” with those we know.
We love you – and we can’t wait to see what you do next.

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