When I was a teenager (and, later, when I was in graduate school), I worked for the family construction business every summer. Typically, during my teenage years, my father (who owned and ran the company until midway through my mission, when my brother Kenneth took over) assigned me to work with “Red” Faler, the company mechanic. (I can’t quite remember his real first name. It was something like “Elwin,” I believe, which is probably why he went by “Red.”) I was and am useless as a mechanic, and I’m sure that he thought me pretty worthless — the boss’s impractical and day-dreaming son –but I could run errands and fetch things and hand him tools and save him time for real work.
Red, who’s been gone now for many years, was a massive man, with massive hands, but he was remarkably kind and gentle, even shy. I liked him very much.
He had come to work for us after years of assignments around the world, supervising scores of other mechanics on massive international construction projects, and he just wanted to settle down. We represented quasi-retirement for him.
He was also an absolute artist with cuss words, one of the two most eloquent swearers I’ve ever encountered. His only serious rival was a favorite uncle of mine. I often dreamed of introducing them to each other for what I envisioned as The World Series of Profanity. Two of the most colorful personalities I’ve ever come across, I think they would have really liked each other.
He marveled at my inability to swear. One day, I slammed my thumb in the door of the company jeep. The pain was excruciating. But I didn’t use any profanity. Not because I wouldn’t have liked to, but because it just wasn’t habitual for me, and I was in too much agony at the moment to come up with any new vocabulary or original prose.
Curiously, despite his genuinely foul tongue, he was a gentleman of the old school. You don’t often see his like anymore. He was, for example, seldom if ever obscene; he simply used the other colors of the palette of profanity with consummate skill and originality. Once, he came at lunchtime from his shop out back into the company office. Assuming that the secretaries were all out, and frustrated by some dumb thing that one of the workers had done to a piece of equipment, he let loose with a string of cursing that would have made most sailors blush. Suddenly, though, he noticed that, in fact, a secretary was still sitting there, eating a salad at her desk. His embarrassment and his abject apologies were comical but actually quite touching. In Red’s chivalrous world, you just didn’t say such things in front of ladies.
Red didn’t have a religious bone in his body, so far as I could tell. He certainly wasn’t a Latter-day Saint. But one of his overseas stints had been down by the Dead Sea sometime prior to the 1967 Six Day War, when not only the eastern shore of the Dead Sea was in Jordanian hands but also the so-called West Bank, up to and including the most historically interesting portion of Jerusalem.
He was fascinated by military history, and so, during his free time, he would take his Bible and hike all over the sites of ancient battles. I hadn’t been to the Middle East yet — that was still a decade or so in the future — and I found his descriptions utterly mesmerizing:
“And then these g-ddamned sons o’ @#$%&es; come in over the pass from the north. Meantime, those stupid clueless *&^%$#@es were sound asleep,” and on and on in that vein.
He knew the historical portions of the Old Testament intimately, and loved recounting tales of battles and intrigue, always laced with generous helpings of expletives, profanity, and memorable adjectives.
My other fantasy about Red, accordingly, was to bring him sometime into a Gospel Doctrine class on the Old Testament. It would, of course, have been the last time that I would ever, worlds without end, be permitted to teach Sunday School, but members of the class would never have forgotten those stories.
Red Faler is one of an ever-lengthening list of people I’ve loved — most recently, my irreplaceable brother himself — who have passed beyond the veil, but with whom I hope to spend a lot of time again, someday. What a reunion it will be.
And he constitutes, in my mind, a kind of argument for immortality: I can’t really picture so vivid a personality as his simply ceasing to exist.