I have a lot of friends I want to write about. They impacted my life for good when I needed it most. Many have migrated to their homes in different states of locations over the years, and though they are not forgotten, our connections are limited and communication is spotty at best.
Still, their influence is real and tangible and never forgotten—at least by me. Most of them don’t even know I am talking about them, because their impact was so long ago. Nevertheless, they have changed my life and influenced who I am today, making me a better person.
My father, a builder, often shared one of his favorite poems with me when I was a boy:
A Builder or a Wrecker
As I watched them tear a building down
A gang of men in a busy town
With a ho-heave-ho, and a lusty yell
They swung a beam and the side wall fell
I asked the foreman, “Are these men skilled,
And the men you’d hire if you wanted to build?”
He gave a laugh and said, “No, indeed,
Just common labor is all I need.”
“I can easily wreck in a day or two,
What builders have taken years to do.”
And I thought to myself, as I went my way
Which of these roles have I tried to play’
Am I a builder who works with care,
Measuring life by rule and square?
Am I shaping my work to a well-made plan
Patiently doing the best I can’
Or am I a wrecker who walks to town
Content with the labor of tearing down?
“O Lord let my life and my labors be
That which will build for eternity!”
(By Charles Franklin Benvegar, originally published in 1967 in The Songs of the Free State Bards compiled by Vincent Godfrey Burns.)
It’s funny. I still remember men that would lift and edify me so that I felt like a million bucks. One friend in particular—Jeff Whitney—impacted my life back in that day. He was my Young Men’s leader at the time, and we had a lot in common. He is funny, friendly, and adventurous—all the things I loved. In many ways as young man, I enjoyed being around him and our adventures are some of the best memories of my youth.
I first heard about Jeff because unfortunately, he had driven his car into the Colorado river. He was from Castle Valley too and had survived the accident. He’d secured a few scratches and bruises, but told me in jest about the event and never took it too seriously. I was a teenager in those days so I took nothing too seriously back then, and we both connected. I used to hang out at his home with him, Trudine (his wife), and their kids, talking about the future and how their trailer was just a temporary living arrangement until he could build the house of his dreams.
Jeff was a cowboy at heart and sang fun ballads while strumming his guitar. He taught me rappelling when I was just a kid, really, and since we lived in rock climbing mecca (Moab and its surroundings), it was fun, scary, and thrilling all at the same time. The first cliffs were overhangs and our harness was made of rope and fitted with a carabiner. For me, going over the edge of the precipice was the biggest thrill. He taught me to lean back and let the rope hold me against the vertical sandstone wall. These were some of the best memories of my youth. Soon I was leaving on my mission to Finland. Upon my return, when he learned that I wanted to build a sauna, he offered to help me. Truth be told, I helped Jeff. I had no idea how to build the structure, roof it, and fashion the wood burning stove with rocks and a brick chimney. Even though we continued our friendship after my mission, our lives have taken us different directions.
Over the years, we have gone our separate ways, but Jeff is still down in Castle Valley and has had a successful career as building inspector and Code Council administrator. He still sports a large, black cowboy hat and his smile is warm and friendly.
Yes, I have regrets in my life, but admiring Jeff and Trudine and their beautiful little family is not one of them—the memories with Jeff are ones I cherish to this day. I was a self-centered, immature adolescent at the time, but Jeff saw me as a friend and comrade, and that meant everything back then. It still does.
His home is a beautiful, multi-story structure today with towers, peaks, and windows—something he can really be proud of. But even that is not his greatest accomplishment. I will always be grateful for the person he saw in me.
Builders are fine people, and in my mind, Jeff is one of the greatest.
Cheers, my friend.
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
― C.S. Lewis
About Walter Penning
In 1989, Walter Penning formed a consultancy based in Salt Lake City and empowered his clients by streamlining processes and building a loyal, lifetime customer base with great customer service. His true passion is found in his family. He says the best decision he ever made was to marry his sweetheart and have children. The wonderful family she has given him and her constant love, support, and patience amid life's challenges is his panacea.