David Lewis, “Big Dave,” has been involved in carpentry and construction a long, long time. Over the past 30 years, he’s been everything from a general handyman tackling odd jobs to a supervising crew chief erecting steel. Currently, he’s foreman to the eclectic crew of men renovating several buildings for Quail Ridge Properties in downtown Baldwyn.
Now, Baldwyn is a small town, and certainly through the years any firmly-planted Baldwyn native, like Dave, will occasionally cross paths with peers of similar status, like me. But it seems that Big Dave and I have intersected more often than can be chalked up to mere coincidence or proximity.
A few months ago, the very capable Mr. Lewis came to work at Quail Ridge, saying he wanted to get in one good week’s work before he re-located to Texas. A few months later, he still mentions Texas but with less, and hopefully decreasing, interest.
On a Saturday night a few weeks ago, I was eating at Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen in Tupelo, scanning their cool, new eatery for design ideas that might be useable in Baldwyn’s historic district, when I received a text message. From the content, I assumed it must be Big Dave.
“What about this on the beam? I was just thinking a little Italian gothic. Hope I didn’t bother y’all.”
Following the message came a camera-phone picture of a hand-drawn sketch, a beam design that Dave thought would work well in the gutted opening of the storefront that was formerly M. Gorden’s Department Store.
It was no bother. In fact, David provided a welcome, totally-different look than anything I had contemplated. Now, when Baldwyn-ites stroll by 101 East Main in decades to come and appreciate the deep wooden beam with decorative quarter-arches at each end, they can thank Big Dave.
As we stood on the south side of Main the other day and admired his handiwork, Dave hedged his bet and told me that I should know, despite his considerable capabilities, he seemed to have the unlucky knack for doing the worst possible thing at the worst possible time. I nodded as though he was giving me new information.
When he was a boy, David Lewis lived across the street from my future bride, the lovely Rothann McGee, and my first knowledge of Dave was a tale she told. David, by age 11, had developed the enviable skill, among kids, of being able to spit without letting the liquid completely separate from his lips. In other words, he could spit at you but suck it back in. This faked out many a 6th-grader and always entertained whatever gang looked on. One fateful day, David’s mechanism failed, and he made the cataclysmic mistake of spitting on Rothann. “In my face,” she says. Unluckily for Dave, the younger-version Rothann – best described as a tom-boy, or perhaps as a viciously-vengeful, pony-tail-wearing hellion if you were really shooting for accuracy – knee-jerked at her neighbor’s misstep and hit Big Dave (who really wasn’t that big then) with a baseball bat. The million times I’ve heard this tale recounted, I’ve always thought, “I bet he really doesn’t think it is as funny as she does.”
Fifteen years ago, when Quail Ridge Engineering was new and had just started attempting steel fabrication, a customer of ours, a Chicago-based engineering firm, dropped a big-time problem in our lap – our lap being the parking lot behind B-Quick across from the old Baldwyn Co-Op. They had botched the design of a power plant conveyor, and they called on us – small, flexible, willing company that we were – to fix their mess. We had to call in several favors to get the job done.
Bimbo Griffin’s Bidacaga Enterprises, for whom Big Dave worked at the time, agreed to unload and disassemble the defective unit. QRE could then fix the pieces, and finally Bidacaga would reassemble it. The whole process would be observed by our customer’s engineering manager, who stood around stunned in culture shock most of the time. As error after error materialized, the procedure became extremely frustrating, so much so, that eventually Big Dave summed it up, loudly.
“I’d like to know what stupid Pollock designed this piece of crap!”
Our customer’s engineering manager – George Blazejowski – answered, “Well … I did.”
Logically, this should not have been funny to me. But frankly, I can’t help but smile at how cruel fate could bring such an odd mixture of factors together in a Baldwyn parking lot, and how Big Dave, true to his assessment, could say the absolute worst possible thing at the absolute worst possible time.
Nonetheless, I told Dave this week that I thought his impressive run of late warranted a story. Was there was anything in particular he would like to contribute to the effort, I asked? He thought about it, and texted me this:
“Not really … wait, maybe my attention to excellence and perfection, my uncanny ability to somehow always overachieve, my undying commitment to quality, my great sense of humor and last but not least my supreme great looks.”
I’m going to let that go as-is. You’re welcome, Big Dave.