When my grandfather lost his job at forty, he re-mortgaged his house, took out a small business loan, and borrowed money from friends to open up a woodworking business in a small former factory building and now, thirty five years later, 'Woodard's Furniture Company' is a successful and thriving family business producing both finished and unfinished high quality oak, solid cherry, maple, birch, pine and parawood county furniture as well as upholstered furniture. The showroom also features housewares and high quality paints and stains for those customers who choose to finish their own furniture.
A few years later, in the same building, my Aunt Connie began a fabric business to provide curtains, area rugs, tablecloths, and bench cushions, both from product lines as well as locally custom-made.. My parents weren't interested in joining the family business but I was hanging around the place from the time I could walk, either with my grandfather or with his business partner, my Uncle Roger. When I was old enough to work, I was sweeping the floors for money, eventually working my way up to carrying and delivering furniture, driving one of the delivery vans, and even doing some office work under the watchful eye of Ms. Qunty Anderson, the only office worker in the business. She was part secretary, part bookkeeper, part drill sergeant, and part warden.
I was fascinated by Quinty from the start, mostly because of her name. I had never heard of such a name before and when my grandfather said "Willy, say hello to Quinty Anderson" I was spellbound and enthralled. Quinty was in her mid-twenties when I first met her but she looked about forty even then because of the conservative way she dressed and presented herself – her hair pulled up in a bun, very little make up, and a serious disposition. Apparently, Uncle Roger hired her as a favor to a high school friend who worried that his sister Quinty might not fare well out in the real world. Hidden away in my grandfather's business office, Quinty didn't have to worry about social pretenses or fitting in with others. She was a hard and diligent worker, serious in her business and proud of the company, but she wasn't one to go out on in the showroom to meet customers and engage in idle chit-chat.
I got to know her more than most because I designed the company's new website that got Woodard's into the modern digital and internet age so we could expand our business reach beyond Blue County. I was the one who came up with the 'Woody's' logo (a beaver) to help in our advertising and marketing plan. I sat at the desk next to Quinty, me working on the website, her tending to her daily routine. She wasn't much of a talker beyond office business although I noticed her face lit up whenever Uncle Roger came into the office. Grandpa was the guy who was in the office pushing paperwork these days, aging out of the physical furniture making tasks, while Roger was more interested in the craft of furniture making and he spent most of his time out in the factory.
I had taken some courses at Blue County Community College and I was getting to the point that I needed to decide what I was going to do with my life. Join Grandpa, Uncle Roger and Aunt Connie in the family business or go on to a four year college and forge my own destiny away from furniture and fabric making.
Quinty told me that I should follow my heart and do what was true for me but what did I know? I was a twenty-year old kid still living at home, wondering if woodworking was the future for me. I had come to rely on Quinty's mentoring and counselling. She wasn't like my parents nagging me or Uncle Roger waiting for me to commit – she was neutral and even nurturing in her outlook and guidance.
"The only person you owe is yourself," Quinty informed me. "Not your grandfather or your Uncle or your Aunt. You only get one life to live and this is it so don't waste it."
Sometimes I wondered about Quinty but I knew it wasn't my place to ask. She didn't talk about her life outside of Woodard's. I'd see her get off the bus across from the factory every morning, wearing the same drab and colorless clothes. She really was a throwback to a bygone era in her attitude and presentation, not one for I-phones and the rest of the modern technology. She told me she self-taught herself the computer programs we used at Woodard's and it was just in the last few years that she finally got rid of the IBM Selectric II electric typewriter that had been at her desk forever. She brought her lunch everyday (usually a sandwich) and always ate it at her desk. She avoided work gatherings and other social events.
I never saw Quinty get upset or lose her cool. I never heard her insult anybody or complain. She never talked politics or pop culture. Once in a while she might throw out a quote from some book she read thirty years earlier and a few times I heard her humming what sounded like Beatles' tunes to herself but that was about it.
I figured Quinty would be one of those women who worked in one place for fifty years without fanfare or recognition, invisible to those who didn't know her. She would die alone and that struck me as sad. One time, I tried to get her to go out to lunch with Dick Rayburn who was the middle aged copy machine repair guy who talked a mile a minute. I thought it might be nice for her to socialize with someone outside of the office but it was one of the few times I saw her express her displeasure.
"I'm cross with you," Quinty let me know after Dick left. "Mind your own business and don't involve me in your juvenile schoolboy antics."
It was the first time I'd been chagrined by Quinty and I never razzed her again. Two weeks later, we had a new office copier serviced by a different company that didn't employ Dick Rayburn. I never 'crossed' Quinty again after that experience!
All of us were concerned about Grandpa. He was seventy-five years old now and he had been in the process of transitioning into retirement when my grandmother died about five years ago. Now he was back to working practically full time and we worried that he might be overdoing it which could be a threat to his health. We knew Uncle Roger was patiently waiting to take full control of the business but how do you push your own father out the door?
"Nobody has a right to tell anybody what to do," was Quinty's attitude. "Your grandfather will leave when he decides its time."
"That could be on a stretcher," I said.
"So be it," Quinty shrugged.
Quinty and I were working in the office one afternoon when there was a commotion out on the factory floor. Our offices were between the working factory in the rear of the building and the showroom section in the front. Worker Kevin Sadler came running into the office with a panicked look on his face. "Roger collapsed!" He announced. "We called 911."
"Find your grandfather," Quinty calmly instructed me. "Be quick."
I found Grandfather in the showroom with Aunt Connie. "Something's wrong with Roger," I said above the wails of the sirens and the three of us hurried to the factory floor.
The workers standing around Roger parted to allow us access. My Uncle was sprawled on the floor next to the work bench he had been working at, his eyes open, staring at the ceiling. Gertie Randolph was administering chest compressions.
"What happened?" A stunned Aunt Connie wanted to know, dropping to her knees next to her brother, taking his hand in hers.
"He just went down like a stack of potatoes," Kevin reported.
The paramedics arrived and took over but I could tell by their reactions that the situation was grave. Out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of Quinty standing far away with her arms folded across her chest observing the drama with a stricken look on her face. The EMTs wasted little time getting Uncle Roger on the stretcher and whisking him to the ambulance. Aunt Connie and my grandfather left with them. I tried to get the crew to focus on the rest of the day although everybody was clearly upset.
When I returned to the office, Quinty tried to hide the tissue she had been using to wipe her eyes and nose. She quickly began banging on her computer keyboard. "You should be at the hospital," she said.
"I thought somebody should stay here," I said.
"Your family needs you."
"They'll be plenty of family there," I reasoned. "I want to man the fort here for them."
I'm not sure how much time passed. I checked in with the furniture makers and the showroom staff a few times to make sure people were okay. I let a few people go home early even though I didn't have any real authority to approve any management decision. I figured Grandpa and Uncle Roger would want me to do what was best and right. I couldn't really focus on computer work and I found myself pacing back and forth in the office. Quinty hadn't uttered a word since telling me my family needed me.
My cell went off and I answered, seeing from the screen ID that it was my mother.
"How's Roger?" I asked.
"I'm not sure how to tell you this, Willy, so I'm just going to come out and say it," My mother said in a quiet voice. "He didn't make it."
My heart dropped and I found myself grasping for breath as my head began to spun. "Holy shit," I muttered.
"Why don't you wrap things up there?" My mother suggested. "The funeral home people are coming to get Roger. Connie took your grandfather home."
"Shook up," My mother reported. "This was unexpected to say the least. I think we're all still trying to process it."
"Yeah," I sighed. "Sorry, Mom."
"I'll see you at home, Honey." The line went dead and it took me a moment to gather my bearings.
I glanced at Quinty who was staring at me with a frightened look on her face.
"Roger died," I announced bluntly.
Quinty burst into tears, a natural reaction to the news that a boss had died, but then she became almost hysterical in her sobbing and when she started to wail, I hurriedly closed the door to the hallway and stared at her with stunned confused.
"Are you okay?" I asked.
She buried her face in her hands and cried uncontrollably for I don't know how long. I was actually getting kind of scared because I had never seen someone lose it quite like that before. I didn't know what to do – should I leave the office and give her privacy? Try to comfort her? Go get help? I foolishly stood gawking at her like a jerk as she whimpered trying to pull herself together.
"Maybe you should go home," I finally said.
"No, I'll finish my shift," she said sternly.
"I've got to go tell the others," I said. "You going to be okay alone?"
"Yes," she said, almost angrily. "I always am." She looked at me with annoyance. "Try to use a little bit more compassion and sensitivity when you tell them," she advised.
She returned her attention to the computer screen but I could see that she was shaking and I had a feeling there was something else going on with Quinty besides a dead boss.