Sunday, June 19, 2016

Life-Changing Opportunities; Amazing Friends

Like all truly great stories, this one begins with a goat.  In January of 2009, a woman named Angela placed a cold call to the butcher shop to ask about butchering a goat.  After speaking with me, she decided she would probably dislike me.  Once she met me in person, though, her opinion changed.  I must have done a decent job of butchering that goat, because she rapidly progressed from my customer to my friend to my adopted sister.  Apparently the mental image that was formed of me from the original phone call was that of an over-educated, possibly prissy woman who had married a farmer and was now doing the administration end of a business.  That image was blown out of the water by the reality of Katherine Harrison working a kill floor in a big yellow butcher apron.  It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

As time went on, we butchered more goats, we butchered pigs, we drank red wine, we shot guns, we shared our sorrows & our joys, and a deep kinship between us was formed.  On Christmas Eve 2010, Angie provided the transportation to bring my beautiful new horse Flirt to Harrison Farm.  Angie had connected me with Flirt's previous owner, and this amazing horse brought so much joy to my heart.  On the day that Angie delivered Flirt to the farm, she also gave me as a Christmas gift several horse-related items: a new halter, grooming equipment, treats for Flirt.  Amongst these items, there was also a beautiful etched crystal prism with an image of a goat.  Angie explained to me that this was a Chimeara crystal etching piece which was done by the couple who owned the booth for which she had worked at Quarter Horse Congress that year.  The prism was lovely, but I will admit that I was so fixated with joy at the arrival of my beautiful new horse, that I could never have dreamed that some day far in the future I would be the owner of that very etching business.

But the summer of 2012, Angie's friendship & loyalty had helped to see me through many life transitions.  She suggested that I consider working at the All-American Quarter Horse Congress that year.  This event is held every October at the Ohio Expo Center, and along with the horse shows & competitions, there is a large merchant fair.  I had many happy memories of Quarter Horse Congress from my youth.  Since it fell during my birthday month, my mother & I had a tradition that we would spend a day at Congress and I would get to pick out a birthday present.  Angie connected me with the couple for whom she had worked at the crystal etching business.  I showed up on my first day completely unsure of this endeavor to which I had committed myself for the next three weeks.  It took very little time for me to recognize that Kathy & Carl, the owners of Wilkinson Enterprises, were people of great integrity.  They were kind and caring and generous.  They set high expectations for their employees -- but it was always obvious that they themselves worked twice as hard as they expected of their employees.  Just as my acquaintance with Angie had quickly progressed, so my relationship with Kathy & Carl moved very quickly from seeing them as bosses, to seeing them as mentors, to seeing them as adopted parents.

By the time Quarter Horse Congress had ended in 2012, I had an offer to work for Wilkinson Enterprises the following January at the National Western Stock Show in Denver.  That was a true test of my endurance and abilities, and I loved it.  My vast respect and loyalty to the Wilkinsons was such that even once I had a new full-time job in 2013, I continued to work every day that I could at their booth at Quarter Horse Congress in 2013 and 2014.  I returned to Denver for the National Western, and even got to help with tear down for their booth at the National Finals Rodeo vendor show in Las Vegas.

Large scale events that go on for multiple weeks are exhausting.  I got to see the Wilkinsons in stressful situations -- dealing with difficult customers, managing employee issues, and working to keep up morale during long, tiring days.  My respect for them grew each and every day.  Kathy is the woman that I hope to grow up to be.  She is strong, and beautiful, and hard working.  She is completely dedicated to those she loves.  In her late 60s, she can still outwork me and look far better doing it!  Carl has given me paternal love & guidance that has shaped me in my adult life, as my grandfather's love & guidance shaped my youth.  Carl treats his wife with love, his employees with respect, and his customers as valued individuals.  I never saw him actively try to sell someone on a product; instead I saw a man who believed in his work and approached every customer as a possible new friend.  From how he carried himself to how he spoke, I learned the valuable lesson that if you act with integrity and carry a product in which you believe, you will be a very successful businessman.

During long hours working in their booth, we shared conversations that are dear to me.  We talked about our faith, we talked about politics, we talked about our families.  I learned big lessons and small ones.  Carl taught me how to size a ring, how to properly use a Swiffer, and how to use a business opportunity to support causes in which one believes.  Kathy patiently showed me how to make jewelry sets, and taught me that patience is a virtue that can improve almost any situation.  They both taught me that chocolate doughnuts are the most important for an event booth, that you should have fun even when you are working hard, that loyalty to your employees and to your customers is an important part of business, and that a business built on integrity & doing the right thing can be successful.  Most of all, they showed me that being a parent has much more to do with acting like a parent, than it does with either biology or marriage.  This lesson has resonated with me as I have worked with the young people in my world.  I may never be blessed with biological children of my own, but I have vast opportunities to use my skills & my guidance to assist the young people around me to grow into strong, successful individuals -- just as Kathy & Carl have done with me.

In the last year, as I have experienced even more transitions in my life, three of the people who stood by me resolutely every step of the way were Angie and Kathy and Carl.  I remember a particular phone conversation a year ago, when Carl had called me out of the blue saying he just felt that he needed to talk to me.  It happened to be during a very tough time for me, and he patiently let me tell him every detail of every tragedy in between my abundant tears.  It was humbling to have a wise gentleman listen to me, counsel me, and make it clear that he thought I was amazing -- and anyone who did not think so was obviously an idiot.  Shortly after that conversation, Kathy & Carl headed to Alaska for a long-planned amazing adventure.  Not long after their return home, Carl became ill, and it was discovered that he had a brain tumor.  The example of Kathy & Carl has shown me over the years what a loving partnership truly means, and their actions since Carl's diagnosis have shown me the strength & grace that is possible in the face of such an illness.

As I analyzed my next steps in life after the struggles of 2015, I knew that I wanted to work for myself.  I am a hard worker, I know how to build a business, and I know that I never want to work at a business without integrity as the founding principle to all business transactions.  In conversations with Kathy & Carl, they provided me with a truly life-changing opportunity: I could take over the Chimeara etching business.  The more I thought about it, the more I knew this was absolutely right for me.  And so I took a huge leap of faith, cleared out my retirement account, flew to their home in Nebraska, received a 48 hour crash course in everything Kathy had learned in 30 years, rented a U-Haul, and drove an etching business home to Harrison Farm.  It is overwhelming and scary and exciting.  I have been touched and humbled by the support I have received from my friends who keep volunteering to help me along the way.  It is inspiring to realize that I am never alone in my struggles or my challenges, with such good friends around me.  And none more so than my amazing friend Angie who took her vacation days, flew out to meet me in Nebraska, and rode 1100 miles home with me in a 26' U-Haul.

This opportunity will allow me to diversify the income stream at Harrison Farm.  It will allow me to set my own schedule.  It will allow me to develop my abilities to create animal-inspired jewelry and etchings.  I have a huge challenge ahead of me to master the skills that Carl & Kathy spent a lifetime mastering.  With their support -- and the support of all my friends -- I know this will be a great success.  I recognize that I am a caretaker for this business, and I will look after it with the same standard of integrity that Kathy & Carl have always used in their dealings.  I will make sure to honor their work, and teach my future employees based on the same standards for excellence that they set.  I recognize that I have been given an opportunity that is life-changing.  It is overwhelming and scary and exciting.  This is going to be a very fun adventure . . . And it all started with a goat!

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