Rick, I want you to take a picture of me in this Nascar jacket” he said.

“Okay, in a few minutes,” I responded, without even looking up from my computer. I kept pounding on the keys, and moving the mouse around as a sign layout was taking shape.

I was deep in concentration, and hardly heard the voice coming at me again, “Rick I want you to take my picture in Kelly’s Nascar jacket.” I grunted affirmatively, but kept right at my work.

“I said I want you to take my picture in this Nascar jacket, P-L-E-E-A-A-S-E.”

Stretching out the “please” about a block long, and a bit louder this time, Walter Hudgins finally got my attention. I looked up to see him smiling a big smile and showing off an official Dale Earnhart, Jr. pit crew jacket that Kelly had recently won somehow. He just had to have his photo taken wearing that jacket, and he wanted me to take it right then.

I stopped what I was doing and grabbed my digital camera and took a couple of shots while Walter posed. Later, when I gave him a print of the best shot he was a happy camper, ready to take the photo to church with him to show it off to his buddies there.

Walter, no doubt, is one of my very best friends, and I’ve known him since we were both kids. About five years older than myself, Walt has lived in a white frame house just a couple of blocks down the road from the shop nearly all his life. He shares this home with his 93 year old widowed mother, who along with her husband, adopted Walter when he was about six months old and has been taking good care of him ever since.

“Mom” has been the only woman in his life. If you ask Walt if he’d ever think of marrying, he’d say an emphatic “No! A wife is too expensive!”

Not that he worries too much about money. He and his Mom live on her Social Security and his disability income, and they do okay. And Walt makes a little spending money working a bit at our sign shop, where he mostly hangs out about two or three days a week. Some of our customers probably think he’s family, and well, I guess he just about is.

Walter loves to go out on jobs with me, and he is a willing helper to hand me tools and watch out for mistakes. Though he talks most all the time, and changes the subject about every 45 seconds, he still somehow pays attention and will often catch me about to make some silly mistake and straighten me out. And of course, sometimes the both of us mess up and get into trouble. Then I tell him that I’m just Knothead Signmaker #1, and he’s Knothead Signmaker #2, and Walter starts to laughing. He does a lot of laughing, and I think that’s a big part of what I like about Walter.

He also knows a lot about how things work. He’ll remind me to “measure twice, cut once,” and to never leave the shop to go out on a job without going over the checklist to be sure we have everything. He also knows what the Signmaker’s No. 1 Rule is, and will gladly quote it anytime. “A Signmaker never works on an empty stomach!” he’ll proudly pronounce, and pat his belly which bears the proof of many a good meal.

All Cajuns love to eat, and Walter, who was born in Louisiana considers himself at least part Cajun, though according to him he’s actually from “way up north, around Shreveport.” I think he borrowed that phrase from Justin Wilson, who realized that “way up north” could be just about anywhere if you started out in New Orleans.

Food may be his first love, but Walt also loves anything with a motor, from a Kenworth truck to a Harley Davidson motorcycle. And he can tell you all about the engines that power each of them. He loves trains, planes and Caterpillar tractors. And especially he likes Nascar racing and can talk for hours about it if you’ll let him.

Walter has showed up in several of my articles, and has pressed the shutter on many a photograph illustrating one sign technique or another. But he always hoped I would someday write an article about him, my friend and helper. And I shouldn’t have taken so long to get around to it. As I mentioned, we’ve been friends a very long time.

I think one reason that I’ve spent so much time with Walter, and the reason that my two sons now often take him somewhere or do something with Walt, is that he is one person you can really make happy, and see the proof of it right before your eyes. Just taking Walter out to the model airplane field, or spending a few hours bream fishing on a local lake, or even going on some sign job he’s interested in (especially if lunch out will be part of the project) will make Walter’s whole day. Maybe his whole week. And his enjoyment, which is so evident, tends to be contagious, making the experience fun all the way around.

Yes, even though life has handed Walter Hudgins some challenges, he is one of the few persons I know who seems to be really contented with his life. He’s also glad to be a part of Rick’s Sign Co., as humble a place as this is. I hope you have such a good friend to share your “trenches” with.

Have a great month,