Ben and I have been friends for 37 years with the first part of that time being on the other side of the tracks. What I mean by that is his Mom and my Mom had to work their tails off to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. We didn’t have the finer things in life like some of the kids in our school. The things we wanted that were extra required us having to work.
When Ben graduated high school he immediately went to Gupton Jones Funeral College, studied to be a Funeral Director and soon after graduation he moved to Florida. Now being honest I didn’t understand the move at the time because we grew up here and our family was here but Ben is originally from St. Pete and he had a plan long before any of us knew HOW to plan. I later learned that Ben’s primary goal was to apprentice under a specific funeral director and eventually take over the business when that person retired. This funeral home had history with Ben’s family so he felt good about helping to grow the business. While doing this he worked up to three different jobs including Fed Ex and running a city waste truck. See Ben had another goal and that was to build his house. Keep in mind we are barely in our twenties and the people we grew up with (including me) were not into setting goals, yet Ben had done just that.
Over the years I would travel to St Pete to visit Ben and on occasion we would cruise in Bens pick-up truck. Remember, this is Florida and its a hundred thousand degrees outside. Do you think Ben had the windows up and the air on? NOOO!!! Ole Benjamin wants to be seen. I’m sitting in that truck sweating like I’m in a sauna and he is just laid back, smiling and talking to everyone we see. “MAN put the daggone air on!!!” Ben decides we need to stop to visit someone and the person comes out. “Oh Mr. Lawson it’s so good to see you. How are you?” I look at them and think, “Mr. Lawson” Who is Mr. Lawson? That’s Bingo, not Mr. Lawson.” Everywhere we went it was Mr. Lawson this, Mr. Lawson that. Some people that Ben introduces me to are telling me what a wonderful man Ben is. Ben??? The same guy I ride around in the truck listening to Jam Pony mixtapes with??? Who is this person they are talking about? I was thoroughly confused.
One weekend when I was there Ben says, “Let’s go to Kissin Cuzzins.” “What is a kissin cousin? That doesn’t sound right.” I learn that Kissin Cuzzins is St. Petes version of IHOP only ten times better. When you order a three egg omelette there is more meat than eggs and the pancakes are just that, pan sized cakes. You can’t eat it all. It’s too much food and all for the same price as IHOP. It’s now my go to spot whenever we visit but be warned, they have a line out the door. You are going to wait at least 30 minutes before getting a table. Anyway, Ben says let’s hit the Cuzzins and sure enough there is a wait. Do you think we have to wait? NOPE. Ben walks us in; the owner greets him and sits us at the first available table. HUH???
Some years go by and Ben becomes a firefighter. He continues to run the day to day operations at the funeral home when one evening Ben calls me and tells me the funeral home was sold without giving him an opportunity to buy it. He was UPSET. Right then and there he decided to start his own funeral home, basically an “I’ll show you” move. With the combined work of his Wife, Dad and Step mom they created the Lawson Funeral Home. The Lawson Funeral business grows and the family is flourishing which brings me to this.
Again being honest, even at this point I don’t fully understand the scope of what Ben has become until two weekends ago when I witness the community gathering his family put together. You know the story in the Bible, Mark 6 verse 30? That’s what I saw that Saturday. It wasn’t 5,000 people but there were at least 300-400 people and that’s when I realized that Ben had achieved what few (if any) people from our circle could even think to accomplish. Ben is a leader in the community. He is loved and respected. Wherever he goes people greet him with love and he RETURNS the love. You would never know what he does or will do because he is not a braggart. He remains a humble servant of God and that is where my new level of appreciation and respect comes from.
I came home inspired, ready to feed my community on the same level that the Lawson Family does. At the same time I can’t wait to go back to learn and watch him at work because of what he said when I asked him about the power he has. “This is small. Come back for Christmas”.