Lessons from Billy Boone

Painting is not my thing. I get disinterested very quickly and especially so, if painting something white. There is just not enough cerebral stimulation for me and most often need to listen to music to make it through the job.

I mentioned this to my Uncle Jack, when I was tasked with painting an art gallery wall that was 40 feet long and 20 feet high. It had been painted deep sea black for a particular exhibit and it took 3 full coats to return it to its original color. This color was affectionately called gallery white, an off white sort of beige like gray color; a color that would not distract from the art work, but would slowly bore me out of my gourd.

My Uncle listened to my situation and as he often does, finds way to foster a path towards better days. He replied with this story and some great advice.

From: Jack Mellone
Date: December 23, 2019 at 15:10:00 HST
To: Joe Mellone
Subject: Lessons from Billy Boone

He was a pipe smoking, grey haired, Able Bodied Seaman who worked for the Jamestown Ferry Commission. His brother John was one of the Captains of the Jamestown ferries and also employer in charge of hiring summer help. It was Captain John who provided summer jobs for my brother and I, that would help earn our college tuitions.

Billy and I and others had three jobs: the first, to get the third ferry ship shape; the second, to provide maintenance of all the ferry buildings and the third, to finally be deck hands on active ferry crossings from Jamestown to Newport and back.

Early in the season we spent long days rigging ladders and staging, lots of chipping, scraping and painting both the ferry and the buildings. Billy was 60 when I met him. At the end of the day he would announce that he was going to buy a quart of beer, smoke his pipe and retire to his apartment just up the street. Maybe read the Daily News.

Billy knew many tricks to be more efficient and to make his job easier at the same time. Especially when it came to painting. He would pry open a metal gallon can of paint, then with a six penny nail, punch holes in the groove at the top edge of the can at 3,6,9 and 12 o’clock. This allows the paint that is swiped from the brush to flow along the groove and back into the can. It also helps prevent paint from running down the side of the can when pouring paint from one can to another, a short cut to mixing paint. Once a week the empty cans would be burnt out to be used over and over. Then he would tap a small nail at a right angle into the brush handle to serve as a brush hook on the can and to provide a third finger hook for more leverage while painting. It also kept the brush bristles off the bottom of the can to keep the bristles straight while resting in thinner.

Billy said you had to get a feel for loading the brush with paint, not too much, not too little. Just enough to carry the paint to the work so there were no drips . Tap the brush against the inside of the can to remove excess paint and every so often paint with the upper bristles and smooth with the lower bristles to further control drips. Make sure to level out the paint thickness. “I don’t want to see any holidays”, he would say. A holiday to him was a small area without fresh paint. Then with a final inspection he would muse, “I think you put the paint on inside out.”

Throughout the day, talk was minimal. We listened to the cadenced calls of seagulls and the saltwater splashing against the dock piers. When adjusting the height of the wooden extension ladders, the sound of the spring loaded iron hooks against the ladder rungs was unmistakable, all music to our ears. The smell of oil based paint periodically infused with Old Briar pipe tobacco. Then the final smiles of delight when the job was finished and our brushes and paint cans cleaned and sealed ready for the next episode.

Anyone can be bored over something, either trivial or not, but with closer attention, efforts with the simplest tasks can be enjoyable as well.

Painting is still not my thing, but when required and embraced with purpose and care, I’m able to roll or brush my way through the day.

William (Billy) Boone was born in 1899 in Gloucester, City of Gloucester, Gloucestershire, England. He was a World War I Army veteran and lived most of his life in Newport, RI.

He worked for the Jamestown-Newport Ferry for 20 years. He died at the age of 89 on May 27, 1988. He lived a full life, happily married to Viola E. (DeVere) Boone, with two sons, 12 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren.

I did not know him personally, but will always cherish these lessons from Billy Boone and my Uncle Jack.


One comment on “Lessons from Billy Boone”
  1. Josn says:

    What a great story, Joe. ❤️❤️❤️👍👍👍. You are the consummate story-teller. Have a good Thanksgiving. ❤️


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