Christine Frisco talks with Bob Meads
Bob Meads, Sr. is waiting for me at the back of his plumbing warehouse,
with a portable phone in his lap. This is grand central for Meads Brothers,
I realize, as he quietly fields calls during my visit. The Plumbing Czar,
with his rugged build, full head of white hair and beard, looks like a milder
version of Ernest Hemingway. He is sitting comfortably in a dark blue armchair,
his mid-calf black boots placed firmly on the concrete floor. Everything
is in order: the concrete floor swept clean and the inventory of plumbing
parts stacked neatly on the towering shelves.
Bob has done it allcarpentry, masonry, electrical work, heating, and,
of course, plumbingin almost every house in town. The father of 4;
the son of a fisherman, the soldier in the Korean War admits, Ive
had an exciting life, nodding, Im almost 70 years old,
I guess Ill die here. But not my ashes, my ashes go to Maine.
Why? I ask Because the people are so nice there, although
in a hundred years it will probably be like Provincetown.
We talk about the beginnings of the business: My brother, Francis,
and I started it in 1972 with only $400 between us, and not an ounce of
brains to be afraid! We worked 7 days a week, 16 hours a day, the two of
us, until Franciss daughter died 7 years ago and he sold out. Her
death broke his heart. My son, Robert, and I have been running it alone
since then. Robert is the second best plumber in this town and hes
sassy. He doesnt believe me when I tell him that, in 45 years, Francis
and I never raised our voices to each other.
Bob, Francis and 25 friends built the warehouse nights after work, staying
up until 2 a.m. Later, when they could, they gave each of the 25 a free
heating system or bathroom as a thank-you.
His daughter recently thanked him for passing on his work ethic. His grandson,
when he was a sophomore in high school, made the mistake of asking Bob,
what he would give him as a graduation present. I told him I already
had it, and presented him with a 12 year-old, well-used shovel. I told him,
if he didnt get smart at school, he was gonna have to use it!
He laughs and adds, I always say, if you work with your hands, you
make a living, but if you work with your head, you make money.
Although Francis, still married, lives in town, they dont see each
other much except for occasional visits, but its not like the old
days. Bob does seem to miss the old days.
His wife died 12 years ago. She came from Alaska and a different culture.
Its the only sad thing in my life, that she was unhappy,
Bob reflects. I asked her one time why her mother didnt like
me and she said it was because I was a Catholic (my wife was Russian Orthodox).
I told her there were 27 reasons not to like me, but being Catholic wasnt
one of them! And with that we were laughing again.
My father had 3 sons and he taught us to drink and to work hard, but
he never taught us how to take care of our wives. Now that Ive mingled
with others, I realize they just want the same things we do, he says
a bit sadly. I feel blessed. I have lots of memories. I have four
children who never went to jail, and only complain once in a while. I just
wish my wife was still around to see it all.
He smiles. I had an 86-year-old lady kiss me the other day because
I didnt charge her for a $72 job. I think of money as manure that
I spread around to allow the flowers to grow.
He reminisces about when the National Seashore took over some of the beaches
and dunes. We used to go to Wood End every Sunday, and they were taking
it away from us. I was so angry, I even threatened the guy in charge, Mr.
Olsen. I told him I came back from Korea only to find he is my enemy, and
if I had a gun I would blow his head off! Oh, how we fought them!
He chuckles and shakes his head, But now its a good thing after
all. That land might have been developed, but now its protected.
As I rise to leave, he tells me he took all the photos behind me and developed
them himself in his own dark room. Most are of men with big striped bass,
smiling broadly next to their bounty. One is of his Labrador dog. (We
raised labs here too.), another the kitchen of his Maine cabin with
his family at the dinner table. He takes me into another room and points
to a framed close-up photo of a sunflower. I won 3rd prize for this
one, he says proudly.
Bob is stepping down as owner of Meads Brothers, selling the business to
his son. What will you do then? Oh, Ill stay on.
Somebody has to answer the phone!