Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The House That WB Built

Writing so much about the here and now and not very much about before AD along with a poem I recently shared, makes me wonder why Alzheimer's begins to define our lives. Actually, it does not, but am sure from the postings, the blog title and what we share it must seem that way to most.

Billy Ray Brantley was born on February 4, 1946 in Birmingham, Alabama. He was raised in Pelham, Alabama on Brantley Hill Road. He, along with his family, built and occupied most of the homes on the "hill" but with the recent passing of his mother, that will soon change. The family home will soon be up for sale, leaving only a few. 

He inherited his work ethic and learned his trade from his father and grandfather. A brick layer, a framer, a home builder, a residential land developer. Even a few stints in commercial construction. He was a State of Alabama Licensed General Contractor before the business was closed in 2008. WB contributed to the building of thousands of homes over his 40-year career and to his credit coddled many into the business by sharing his knowledge.

Build a great home, lay bricks or block, supervise the construction of over 60 homes at once was not uncommon. But, what he was known for and where he truly excelled was house placement. WB could look at the worst piece of dirt this side of a mountain and make it work. I could not see it and many others never will. I know this as I lived on many of those cheap pieces of land nobody could use.  

Even though many of our children are in construction related businesses today, I fear the legacy of this family business has come to an end. Not a single one of our children will walk away without a nugget or two to carry with them and the ability to further their careers. Whether it is real estate sales, or subcontractor sales, cabinetry, landscape, trim work, construction accounting ~ it began with Bill nurturing them along in the business.

Not only did they learn about this industry, but they can talk about housing, its economic impact, the fate of home building, the volatile relationships builders have with banks and identify bottom feeders and opportunist. See, building a house is not the only tool in their tool shed. Life, strategy,  negotiation, business and people skills ~ amazing what all goes into building a home. Their legacy and name may oftentimes help them but may sometimes hurt them.

Sharing lifelong friendships with fellow builders has been paramount. Some are still working, but with the economy as it is, some are not. Dedicating so much of our lives to charitable works through building is archived in many positive ways, however decades of volunteerism in the local and state trade associations has been a huge disappointment. In those circles, if you stump your toe or fall ill, you are treated as a diseased animal. I can no longer recommend it.

We do not talk about that part of our lives much. Like sticking a pick in your neck, it hurts. Matter of fact, we have largely stayed away from the areas of town where he worked. Right now, those memories are in a box, sitting high upon the shelf alongside the pictures and awards.

I spoke to an attorney recently who we had been on the other side of the fence with. Back in the day, he represented many clients who had chosen Dryvit and of course, we had built many as the market had dictated it. Our conversation was pleasant, as we certainly have a history. His first question to me was, "How is Billy Ray?"

He greased this economy, employed many people over the years and definitely played a large role in building communities where people now raise their children and create memories of their own. I wonder then how long he will remember this and if he really knows what an impact he has made on the lives of others.

That said, perhaps it is time to get into that box.

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