One Christmas Eve day several years ago, I was employed by a real estate investment firm that hired me on as a consultant to set up their maintenance program. They had just finalized a deal on a run down old 10 building apartment complex, and were set to take control of the property on the 1st of the upcoming New Year. Except for the two front buildings, the other eight were shuttered, abandoned, and officially condemned, which gives you an idea of just how bad this place was.
Since the middle of December, I had spent a considerable amount of time there, scouting the complex over, going through most of the abandoned units, while planning a schedule of rebuilding and continued maintenance. Now, at about 5 pm on Christmas eve, I was chilled to the bone from working in unheated apartment units all day, there was a decorated tree at home, presents, family and friends, and as I climbed into my car, days work completed, all I could do was look forward to the evening ahead.
At that precise moment, a woman came out of one of the occupied buildings, walked up to the car and banged on the window. "Now what?" I thought disdainfully, as I rolled the window down, trying to keep a smile on my face, but knowing it was more a grimace of contempt than anything else.
She first asked me if I was with the new owners, and when I replied in the affirmative, she then asked me if I could quick take a look at a leaking drainpipe under her sink.
I sat there for a moment; it was Christmas eve, I was expected home where dinner and eggnog awaited, I was cold and tired, the place wasnít even officially owned by my company yet-which meant I would not be getting paid for anything I did-and I didn't want to deal with some stupid leaking drainpipe right now!
I could have blown this off, I could have said I'll be back on the following Monday and take care of it first thing, I could even have said that I was only there as a consultant and was not allowed to do any maintenance until after the 1st of the year. I mean technically, I didnít even officially work there yet, so in reality, all of that would have been true, and her leaking drain wasn't even my problem. But something told me to just check it out, after all, it could be as easy as a 5 minute fix.
So with a sigh of resignation, but with a little hope that I'd be out of there in just a few minutes, I followed this woman into her apartment. As soon as I entered I saw what one might expect on Christmas Eve. The tree, Grandma and Grandpa, all the kids, food on the table, decorations and lights, with everyone wearing coats!! It suddenly hit me, there was no heat, and it felt almost as cold inside as outside. I was stunned!
I found out that they had been without heat the entire winter no less, and since the owner had figured the property was going to be sold to my company anyway, he never cared enough or bothered to keep up with the maintenance. It almost made me ill.
Well, I was here now, and I was not going to allow this to go on, especially on Christmas Eve. I called my family, told them I would be late, and got to work.
Some of the heating pipes had literally frozen and split, so I had to cut out the breaks and solder in splices. The hydronic zone valve was shot, as was the thermostat in the apartment, so they needed to be replaced too. Then I took a torch and walked the entire basement area, blasting away on all of the heating pipe system in an effort to unfreeze the rest of them. Somewhere around 4 hours after I began, the first sounds of heated water, knocking and hissing, began filling the registers, and it was music to my ears!
I'll never forget how incredibly grateful those people were, shaking my hand, patting me on the back while Grandma kept holding me, standing there not letting me go, while saying through tears, "Thank you, thank you" over and over again. I almost started crying right along with her, and truthfully, in a room full of strangers, as they all were to me, I have never felt as much love in the air as was flowing all around.
There have been some cherished and wonderful moments with my family and friends during the holidays, no doubt about that, but there will be no memory that I will ever cherish as much as making the heat flow on that one special Christmas Eve.