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franklin county times

No pity parties for blind lawn mower repairman

By By Fredie Carmichael / staff writer
Oct. 17, 2004
Earlier in the week, like many of us are prone to do on occasion, I threw a pity party for myself. I invited my wife, my dog and my cat.
I could tell that none of them really wanted to be there, except maybe my dog, but they listened anyway. I wanted to know why my life was so busy and stressful.
I spent about 10 good minutes whining and complaining and asking, "Why me?" Then, I remembered a book I read in one of my classes at Mississippi State University-Meridian. The book was called, "The Question Behind the Question," written by John G. Miller.
In one of the first chapters, Miller wrote: "Questions with a why me?' tone to them say, I'm a victim of the environment and people around me.' Not very productive thought, is it?"
Miller then challenges the readers of his book to turn "why," "when" and "who" questions into "what" or "how."
Pity party
The day after I threw my pity party, I drove down a winding Clarke County road for an interview. Once I reached Cool Springs Road in Stonewall, I met a man who epitomized the concept behind Miller's book.
His name is Joe Mack Lee, a blind man who repairs lawn mowers and other small engines inside a repair shop behind his home.
Lee is a true American self-starter. He's not your typical 56-year-old by any stretch of the imagination. He's been blind since 1972 and his life story seems ripe for the big screen.
He was shot in the face in 1972 outside a bar in Louisiana. He later met his wife, who was a waitress at a truck stop there, before moving back to Clarke County.
Even though he lost his vision, he didn't make excuses for himself. And in a world where people complain every day about reasons why they can't get a job and how there aren't enough good jobs, Lee made his own. He learned how to repair lawn mowers and opened up a shop behind his home.
How anyone can repair lawn mower engines without being able to see is a fascinating story. I can't even fix my lawn mower and I have 20/20 vision.
But Lee doesn't think of himself as special. He doesn't take himself that seriously. He's witty, thoughtful and he loves to talk to others about his walk with God.
He has accepted the fact he can't see and he deals with it. He believes people today spend far too much time complaining about things they can't do, rather than doing something productive.
As Lee puts it, "I just feel blessed by the Lord."
Fulfilled life
When Lee decides to do something in life, he does it to the fullest. Eighteen years ago he began repairing lawn mowers as a hobby. Then, when he decided he wanted to make a living making the repairs, Lee decided he wanted formal training.
He took a class from a Kansas City school through the mail. When the literature came in the mail, his daughters and wife read it to him. And he learned a lot, even though he still insists he's learned more through experience.
Lee said he remembers taking one of his last tests for the class. He said his daughter read the questions for him and wrote down his answers. Half-way through the test, Lee said his daughter stopped and asked him why he didn't just cheat so he could make a good score.
Lee said he told her: "I'm paying for this. I might as well get it right."
That's Lee in a nutshell a simple country boy from Clarke County who bucked up when life threw him a curve ball.
Instead of complaining about the pitch, Lee hit it out of the park. All of us could learn a thing or two from that kind of attitude. I know I did.
Fredie Carmichael is a staff writer for The Meridian Star.
Call him at 693-1551, ext.
3228, or e-mail
fcarmichael@themeridianstar.com.

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