Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Vernard


I worked at DFW Airport in Texas between May, 1986 and August 1989.

One of the most memorable people out of the many that I worked with there was a man named Vernard.

Vernard was a black man, about 6' 5" or 6' 6" tall (1.98m), about 240lbs (109kg), broad-shouldered, long arms and legs, and slim hips. He was built like an oversized swimmer.

Vernard was about as outgoing as a human could be. Not scared or intimidated by ANYONE. He was nice looking, and he was one of those people with a mouth full of perfect white teeth, and when he grinned, you saw every single one of them. Booming voice too. He could yell so loud when we were out working that you could hear him over the constant roar of jet engines and our ear protection. That was kind of a handy ability actually.

He was also a Christian. This is where an outgoing, outspoken, large, loud person could tend to rub his co-workers the wrong way. He tried to talk to everyone about Jesus. Period. He got cussed at more than any person I have ever witnessed being cussed at in my entire life. Hands down.

It never upset him.

He was large and loud but somehow came across as caring and serious about to people, so though they might cuss him and tell him to get away from them, it didn't bother him, and if they turned him away, he still treated everyone with respect. He was a very kind person; I can't think of a better word to describe him.

So overall, Vernard was well liked, except for among the most curmudgeonly among the old timers there. But they pretty much didn't like anybody.

He was a very hard worker too. It's hard to imagine someone that big being hyperactive, but if Vernard wasn't hyperactive, then I don't know the meaning of the word I guess.

Vernard, me, and another Christian man named Bill would sit and talk during our breaks between the flights we handled. We read the Bible together, talked about it, argued about it. In short Vernard, Bill, and I became good friends and I learned quite a bit about the Bible from sitting and talking with these two during our hours of reading and talking.

But in the minds of the Delta employees who worked the ramp, Vernard was seen as being a bit strange. For one big reason.

Vernard NEVER wore a jacket or coat.

Now the weather on the DFW Airport was really fast moving. For example, one winter day started out cool, about 55 degrees in the mid morning. The weather was predicted to drop during the day by 40 degrees F. We had a flight come in out on an auxiliary "pad" because all the gates were filled, and we had equipment, stairs, and buses to unload passengers and cargo. We went out, and it would be at least 45 minutes before we could hope to get back to our break area for a short break before loading the planes back up. In that 45 minute period, we SAW the front coming south across the open expanses of the airport, and the temperature dropped over 30 degrees F and we were working in 15-20 degree F weather for a while. Crazy.

That kind of weather change happened all the time.

What did Vernard do? Pretty much nothing.

He wore Delta's short sleeved uniform work shirt year 'round.

If it was below say 20 degrees F, he would sometimes have on a long john shirt under his short sleeved work shirt. But with Vernard's impressive arm reach, these long john shirts only reached a couple of inches past his elbow.

Consequently, everyone on the whole ramp waited for Vernard to get deathly ill.

Didn't happen. In fact, in the time I worked at DFW and saw Vernard out driving around on a Tug, the little baggage pulling tractor thingys, Vernard didn't call in sick once.

People would ask him, standing there in their thermal coveralls over their uniform and coats, "How can you NOT wear a coat in this weather?!"

Vernard would always yell over the sound of the planes, "THE LORD KEEPS ME WARM!"

Talking with him privately, he knew that people waited for him to get sick, and he knew if he called in sick, he would not only get in trouble from his supervisor, that the curmudgeons and the people who despised him for his outspoken Christianity would never, ever let him live it down.

Vernard knew he could not afford to drive around in short sleeve shirts in winter weather way below freezing, with wind chill from the wind and the speed of the open Tug he was on, and then call in sick.

But he told me, that he used to get sick just like everyone else. He missed several days per year due to sickness. It just came to him one day, that the hard, physical work we did there caused him to sweat in his coat, despite her cold outside temperatures, and he would end up sick a couple of times each winter. He decided to try going without a coat or even a jacket, and from then on, he never got sick in winter again.

He said he felt the cold, but he just put it out of his mind and did his work. And I remember seeing goose bumps on his arms, so I know he felt the cold, but by golly, the man never got sick in the time I knew him. Which is amazing in itself.

Those who expected him to die of pneumonia were proven wrong, day after freezing winter day. Year after year.

Vernard was a healthy eater too. He ate quality food, lots of fruit, no candy or chips, and he bought expensive, high quality time released vitamins for himself, his wife, and kids.

So, he did all the right things for his health, but his short sleeved outdoors work in what could often be brutal Dallas winters had everyone flummoxed.

I lost contact with Vernard after I moved to Atlanta, but I think about him and wonder where he is now, and how he's doing. He's probably long retired from Delta, but I'm sure he hasn't slowed down any. He was just to energetic for that.

4 comments:

Hammer said...

Sounds like a neat person. It's all mind over matter I guess.

Sweating inside a coat will make you sick that's a very good point.

I used to get very uncomfortable around people who wanted to witness to me. I've got my own beliefs but still want to be respectful. some people won't take no for an answer whether it's moonie scientologist or pentecost.

Travis said...

Very interesting person. I can see his point about not wearing a coat while doing active labor like that.

Sharon Lynne said...

What a nice tribute to your friend. I think we learn a little bit from all the friends that are placed into our lives...even if it is only for a season.

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