Ronnie had a job sweeping floors in the warehouse at Southern States. He wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. He wasn’t ever going to be President of the company. He probably wasn’t ever going to be a supervisor on the loading dock. I’m not being ugly when I say that. He was just different.
But he was respected for his sweeping. He worked at perfecting his craft. Over the years he developed a rhythm to his work. He saw in his mind a way of sweeping that refined the push and pull of his broom into an art. For him, it wasn’t just about a clean floor, it was about the best clean floor in the universe. It wasn’t good enough to push dirt and trash back and forth just to appear busy. He had too much pride for that.
He worked out a system with the small hand broom to get the corners and around the pallets and in the crevices between the equipment. He used the stiff bristled push broom to gather up all the heavy stuff into a pile where he could scoop it up and put it in a barrel. Then he went back with the sweeping compound and the extra wide dust mop. He liked the way the dust mop glided across the floor. It made a low swoosh sound when he twisted the handle and rounded the corners.
One of my part time jobs in college was to keep the gym floor clean. Every night, behind that long dust mop, I thought about Ronnie. Wondering if I was dong it right.
“How’s it going Ronnie?” The guys always talked to him. He knew them all by name. He was good with names. When they spoke to him it made him feel important. Like he was part of something.
One day a couple of new hires on forklifts made fun of Ronnie. They tried to run over his broom when he was working on the main aisle. Mr. Jack saw what was happening and educated two jerk-wads on how things were done in the warehouse. They never taunted Ronnie again.
“Hey Mr. Jack. You having a good day?”
“Yes sir. Sure am. Ronnie, that’s gotta be the cleanest #$%!! floor I’ve ever seen. This place hasn’t looked this good in the 20 years I’ve been here.”
“Thanks, Mr. Jack. I’m doing my best.”
My Dad used to talk about Ronnie. He didn’t work in the warehouse, but he went through there enough that he and Ronnie became friends. Dad always had a new joke to tell him. Or, he would slip a $10 bill in Ronnie’s shirt pocket and thank him for his work. You would’a thought he just received the Presidential Medal of Honor.
I don’t remember if we were sitting at the supper table or fixing fences or changing oil in the truck when Dad told me about Ronnie. Dad always had a purpose to a story, especially the ones about the things in folks that he admired. Telling me about something he saw or something some other fella had done was his way of telling me to “go and do likewise.” Life lessons from real people.
“I know that boy has had a rough life, but he’s going to be okay. You know how I know that?”
“No sir.” I was sure he was going to tell me.
“He does his best every day. Some folks are too good for sweeping floors, I guess. And if they had a job sweeping floors, they’d think little of it. They’d be angry about having to do such a menial job. They’d think that they were meant for better things.”
“But not Ronnie. No sir. His job matters to him, even if it is sweeping floors. In fact, the only thing that matters is the job you’re doing right now and whether or not you’re going to do your best at it.”
“Yes sir.” My answers were short and respectful when he got into one of these stories.
“You want to know something else? I’d take ten of Ronnie any day. Guys who care about the job they do. It might be just sweeping floors, but he’s the best I’ve ever seen at what he does. That boy can make a floor clean enough to eat off it. A man who doesn’t admire that hasn’t got a clue.”
I have thought about Ronnie a thousand times over the years. Times when I knew I wasn’t doing my best. It’s hard to give your best every day, year in and year out. You watch other people who go at life and work and marriage and faith half-baked and who seem to get by, and it wears on you. But then I think about Ronnie. I see this kid with a broom and the cleanest floor in the universe. I try a little harder. Sometimes it causes me to stop and regroup and catch a second wind.
Sloppy and careless does not cut it. We all know it. You ever notice the tile work in a public restroom? I’m not kidding. Take a look next time you’re in one. Wall. Floor. It doesn’t matter. What else are you going to do with your time as you stand or sit for a while?
You’ll see some good work, but more times than not you’ll see crooked lines. Corners that don’t meet right. Cuts that are off center. Grout that never got cleaned up. Patterns that don’t match. You’ll see a real mess that Ronnie would never have tolerated in himself.
Dad always said that it doesn’t take that much more effort to do your best. When you care about what you do, your effort gives back more than it takes out of you.
He said the same thing to me a different way so many times that I’ve repeated it to my kids. “If you don’t do anything with your life but spit in the crack, at least learn to hit the crack every time.” He grew up in a house where Brown Mule tobacco and Tube Rose Snuff and spittoons were common. The house had wood floors with cracks between the planks. If a spittoon wasn’t close enough, you had to be accurate and hit the crack in the floor.
I’ve always wondered how long Ronnie kept his job in that warehouse. Did he ever really get recognized for his work. “Employee of the Year”. What would he think if he knew he lived on as an inspiration to others? That his story was worth repeating. His example worth imitating.
It’s probably too little too late. And he’ll probably never read it, but thanks Ronnie for always doing your best. You’ve gotten me over the hump more than a few times.