A continuing tale of life in the boonies
Paey, the man – a life fully lived
MILTON/FARMINGTON – “Are all those people going into that house?” inquired an astonished Farmington kid on a toy tractor, eyeing 150 people queued outside Peaslee’s Funeral Home.
The line had been creeping steadily into the parlor since 2 p.m. Now it was 3:15 p.m., but if anything, the snake of people was longer than ever.
Folks inside the building shuffled slowly past the open casket, paid their last respects to the corpse, and spoke words of condolence to family members before continuing back on down the stairs and outside into the warm spring sun.
Thus, they made space for more mourners to enter the funeral home, although, in the interim, scores of new arrivals had joined the back of the line.
The late Mr. David Paey, whom so many of his fellow citizens had come to see for the last time, was a judge of human nature who tended to stack people he had dealings with into one of three piles, from which it was hard to get oneself removed. There were Straight Shooters, Goddam Liars, and a much shorter column called Smart Men.
All three categories, if one accepts Davy’s analysis (and it was his swift and accurate analyses of human beings on which his fame partly rests), had representation in the Peaslee procession. There were also elderly VFW veterans, construction workers, elected public officials, horseshoe players, Main Street businessmen, good old boys and gals, family groups, volunteer firefighters, men in suits and uniforms and plaid shirts, women in dresses and skirts and blue jeans, rich and poor … on and on … nobody really out of the ordinary, but in such enormous droves as to astound everyone, and not just the young John Deere pedaler.
* * * *
David Paey, a member of Nute High School Class of 1954, did not distinguish himself, academically. This must be revealed, as we know him to be a Straight Shooter – someone who would revile a whitewash job.
But academics aren’t the only requirement to be a Smart Man (maybe they are not needed at all) and Davy, who had won the heart of the class valedictorian, Dottie Bickford, was smart enough to marry her just a few years later.
He was serving in the U.S. Navy by then, and traveled the world until, when his children came along, he took a job on shore as a military policeman in New York City. Dottie and he, in those service years, lived in Brooklyn, and during this period he met shipmate and Straight Shooter George Banks, with whom he remained friends the rest of his life.
George and his wife, Virginia, subsequently bought Davy’s parents’ house in Milton, and became well-known citizens in their own right. Although, a couple of years ago, they moved down to Florida, Virginia Banks is still remembered for her service to the School Board and George for taking up a lot of space on the annual town meeting bleachers with Davy Paey and Poochy Tanner, from which perch they would influence large sections of the crowd with their erudition, straight shooting, commentary and paw-waving.
Davy had been a selectman for a short spell in the 1970s, but he is best known, in public official circles, for his 16 years as one of the town’s three elected water and sewer commissioners – a position he shared with George Banks and a Smart Man, Professor Jim Haney.
* * * *
When Davy Paey got his honorable discharge from the U.S. Navy in 1964, he and his family returned to Milton.
“With a good conduct medal, believe it or not,” smiled Dottie.
He immediately went to work in the building industry, starting out on the Dover Point bridge job for Chinbro.
In the course of his nearly 40 years on construction sites, Davy worked with almost everyone in the trade in northern New England.
“He always had a job,” recalls Dottie. “If he lost one on Monday, he had another one by Tuesday, and he’d be the boss by Friday.”
In the early 1980s, Davy was joined by his two sons, David Jr. and Darrell, and when, in 1984, they all had a run-in with the same company, they left and started their own business – Paey Construction – with $5,000 that David Jr. had managed to accumulate.
They purchased cement forms and started out pouring house foundations, and gradually amassed some equipment with which Davy was always ready to do a favor for some old-timer. He had a big soft spot for old timers, and the tales they’d tell of old Milton over a few beers.
One April day, in 1986, Davy got a request from one such old boy to grade his driveway, and so he headed his grading machine – the one he’d just let the insurance run out on, down Elm Street.
Unfortunately, at the steepest point on the hill, the grader’s brakes let go and it careered down the slope and demolished part of a house, with the front blade knocking out the floor above the cellar. In fact, it wasn’t a house, it was Mrs. Damon’s ceramic shop, and the colossal impact of hurtling machinery on clapboard and two by sixes destroyed her entire inventory.
David Jr. arrived on the scene and helped his dad back out of the building. Very relieved to discover that Mrs. Damon was not at home, they got to work blocking up the gaping hole.
It took six sheets of plywood to cover the gaping hole, and $15,000 over the ensuing weeks to restore the shop, but by the end of the first evening, as word of the incident spread through Milton and nearby communities, bringing motorized fleets of sightseers, Davy had already capitalized on his misfortune by affixing a painted sign to the plywood sheets on the building.
“ANOTHER JOB BY PAEY CONSTRUCTION,” read the notice.
* * * *
To help a poor neighbor, it’s part of their lives;
The same I can say for their children and wives
In another instance of helping a fellow citizen, Davy once got a desperate call to help someone who had somehow got separated from his two artificial legs. The man, being an Old Timer – a fourth category, in effect, quite distinct from Straight Shooters, Goddam Liars and Smart Men – was at a camp in the woods, and when Davy arrived there in his truck – he saw not one Old Timer but three, all of whom had enjoyed a beer or two. The subject of the mercy mission had, indeed, become separated, during the course of the day, from his lower limbs, while his companions seemed in no shape to help him.
Davy scooped up the Old Timer, gathered the artificial legs, and drove the grateful package back to civilization.
* * * *
Mr. David Paey, a Straight Shooter and possibly a Smart Man, did not embrace hypocrisy and whitewash. He loved stories with a large splash of humor in them, and, like the big man he was, would just as quickly tell a story where he, himself, was the butt of the joke.
Many years ago, but not beyond living memory – and memory courses like warm blood through the arteries of Milton – Davy Paey was driving a large truck down Interstate 95, heading for Florida.
“I thought I saw an awful lot of helicopters on the way,” he once recalled, with amusement, “but I never knew the FBI had taped a big white cross to my truck roof.”
Then, stopped at a toll plaza, he saw in his mirror, serious-minded men running down each side of his truck towards the cab.
“Once they had arrested me, they had no-one to drive the truck,” chuckled Paey, comfortably seated in his kitchen, more than a decade later. He agreeably took the wheel again, driving the vehicle and its cargo of heavy machinery bound for who-knows-where to a destination of his captors’ choosing.
Back in New Hampshire, Davy passed 12 months as a model prisoner, and later went on to employ one or two of his wardens on a part-time basis in Paey Construction. (Gluing ceramic shards back into vases and small animals, perhaps?)
* * * *
A number of years back, David Paey Jr. glimpsed his own mortality on the distant horizon, and suggested to his father that there might be a better way to turn a dollar than jacking up houses, doing major sitework and mashing up fingers.
“I know where there’s dirt, I guess we’ll start a gravel pit,” said Davy. Buying the 229 acres of land up in north Milton was the easy part.
“It took five years for the railroad crossing permit. Lesser men would have given up,” said Dottie.
But few mistook Davy Paey for a lesser man, and those who did rectified their views or, in a few unfortunate instances, had their views rectified for them.
So, Paey Construction got into the gravel business. In the boom years of the mid-‘90s they had been doing $1 million worth of work, annually, and had made enough money to eventually own all their equipment outright. They even bought an excavator.
The Paeys, being Milton born and bred, also volunteered for good causes when needed – the ballfields at the town beach were constructed, in part, with the Paey’s equipment, and Davy Paey, himself a member of the American Legion and the VFW, was one of the shakers and movers who got the World War II Honor Roll into Veterans’ Park. That, as it turned out, was as tough a political battle as the Blockade of Cuba, in which he also took part.
George Banks, calling from Florida last week to check on the family, thought back on his years of friendship with Davy Paey with great affection.
“We pulled a lot of liberty together,” he reminisced. “Our biggest differences? We didn’t see eye to eye on the school. Our biggest laugh?”
George rattled off the name of a public official whom they had held in low esteem.
* * * *
A working class hero is something to be.
- John Lennon
I am sorry the age of bronze statues has passed – statues are a fine way for friends to remember remarkable people.
This column, over the course of almost 20 years, has paid tribute, in its own style, to Ronnie Dumont, Brownie, Royce “Cy” Hodgdon and Harold Bowden. (The words make rather inadequate paper statues, I suppose.)
These citizens of northern Strafford County were all Square Shooters and in their own intuitive way, Smart Men, too. Davy Paey is in good company.
*Milton is a town of almost 4,000 people the other side of Nute Ridge from Farmington.
May 1, 2003
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