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Painter’s lesson learned

With my wife Geanell working in a garment factory and me receiving a GI Bill check monthly and working odd jobs, we were able to get through college without going in debt. It did not happen, however, without facing some bumps in the road. 

I was fortunate to have a summer job close at hand when I completed the first half of my freshman year at Jacksonville State College. I needed a job to help support a family of three, and my father-in-law Bascom Bradford and his partner Conrad Graben had room for a third hand on their house painting crew.  

I got the job not from experience but because I was part of their family. My prior work background consisted of pumping gas at a 24-7 gas station, working as an intern in a machine shop and serving four years in the U.S. Air Force. 

Our first job as a threesome was painting a large frame house owned and occupied by two very particular old maids. We spent the first hour on the job listening to their instructions. Then, they unexpectedly climbed into their Buick town car and left for the day. 

The job I was assigned was to wipe down and paint the woodwork that separated the roof of the house from the roof of a wraparound front porch. I mounted the porch roof with a wiping cloth, can of turpentine, paintbrush and a half-gallon of white paint.  

Had I played it safe, I would have left the paint and brush on the ground. Instead, I was an accident waiting to happen. 

The woodwork was only partially visible from a kneeling position. After cleaning what I could see, I bent over to see where the woodwork came together in a corner.  

It was too late to act cautiously. The wasps saw me the same time I saw them.  

When they started moving, I did too. As I rose to my feet, I kicked over the paint bucket. It spilled white paint on the black roof, and I fell to the ground and landed in a snowball bush next to the front steps. 

The aftermath was worse than the fall. I got wasp stings on the back of my neck and forearm and had a wasp nest to get down and a big mess to clean up. 

My painting improved that summer, and I remained alert to the presence of wasp nests.