His name was Keith, but everyone in the plant called him Grigs — a shortened form of his last name. Back in my engineer ing days, I worked at a rubber floor mat factory, and Grigs was the controller, overseeing the cost accounting of the business. I was often tasked to reduce the cost to produce a particular floor mat, which led me to Grigs’ office to discuss the current labor and material costs listed on bills of material. I would pop in unannounced and often found him with his feet propped up on his desk reading a paperback novel on company time and sipping something out of a QuickTrip travel mug. “What’s up, Nagle?” he asked from behind his desk. Grigs was always helpful and knowledgeable about the floor mats we produced at the factory. He talked rapidly and was a bit of a mumbler due to too much facial hair and several missing teeth. It was a challenge to understand him sometimes, but I managed.
On most days, he looked a bit disheveled, as if he had simply rolled out of bed, placed a ball cap on his head, and stumbled to his truck without the grooming routine most of us feel is important prior to going out in public. Grigs was a man who did not care about his appearance or what others thought of him, in general.
After my first or second conversation with him, I realized that he was a bright bulb — extremely intelligent beyond his work with finances and accounting. He had a close relationship with his elderly mother and talked about her often. He had a framed picture of his son on his desk. He smoked a lot of cigarettes. He loved Mexican food. He loved to read. He farmed in his free time and had several heads of cattle. He told me that he had accidentally run over a calf hidden in the tall grass of his pasture with his tractor one time. His eyes teared up when he told me about finding the little creature afterwards.
By my third conversation with Grigs, I concluded that the Quick-Trip travel mug he kept in his hand all day wasn’t filled with coffee or Coca-Cola. There was something much stronger in the cup.
I mentioned this revelation to another engineer who looked at me and said, “You just figured that out? Amber, the man has a blender in his office so he can fire it up and make afternoon daiquiris and margaritas. I suggest if you need his help, you should visit him in the mornings because the afternoons can be difficult with him.”
But one afternoon, I had no other choice but to visit Grigs during happy hour. I walked down the hallway and heard the roar of the blender. When the noise stopped, I knocked on his door. “Come in,” he yelled.
He was pouring something thick and icy in his cup and offered me some. “No thanks,” I replied.
I asked him to pull the records for all the raw materials we used to make floor mats the previous year. He looked down at my feet and started laughing hysterically.
“Nagle, I like you a lot, but I’m going to be honest with you — I have never seen feet as big as yours on a woman in my entire life. It’s like you have big clown shoes on.”
I gazed down at my size 9 feet. “Has Gene ever noticed how big your feet are?” He continued to laugh and stare. “Probably,” I said, getting a little hot under the collar. “Could you continued from page
just pull that report for me?”
He typed on his keyboard until the raw materials report came up on his monitor. He printed it out and handed it to me.
“I need to ask you something,” he said. “And no, it’s not about your gigantic, ugly feet. It’s about something else.”
Still irritated, I waited for his question.
“I told my mother about how you cook cornbread and cakes in Mason jars sometimes. Mama asked me to get you to write down how you do that. She wants to try it out.” “Sure,” I answered. “I’ll write it down for her.”
“Great,” he said. “You and your huge feet can leave now.” And he burst into a fit of laughter again.
I don’t know why, but that’s where my mind went this morning when I pulled up my Facebook feed and saw that Grigs had died last week at 61. There was a moment of shock, followed by sadness, followed by a few memories of our working together with a cast of other crazy, colorful characters. In the course of my three years at the floor mat factory, Grigs and I became close friends, and though we never talked about his drinking problem, he knew I knew and that I had a lot of empathy for him and his struggles. Grigs was a good, intelligent man with a problem. May he rest in peace. And may he spend eternity laughing at my unusually large feet.