It was while I was working in the big factory that I became a twenty six year old orphan. The date was the fourth of February 1985 it was approximately 1.30am on a Sunday morning and I was in bed sleeping when the phone rang. At that time we had one little girl called Michele and another child was due very shortly. I got to the phone as quickly as I could hoping that I was the only one that had heard it ringing. I don’t recall ever having a phone call before at that time of the morning and I was thinking that someone had dialled the wrong number.
When I answered there was silence for a few seconds and then a voice asked me if I was Jim Fugard, I replied yes and a slurred voice that I could hardly make out replied, “Your daddy has just dropped dead in the Legion” then the man hung up the phone. My wife Helen had heard the phone ringing and asked as quietly as she could without waking the child if everything was alright. I went back up the stairs and told her what the drunk man had said to me, I was unsure what to do because I was not properly awake and was not sure if I was dreaming.
We decided that the best thing to do was to phone the police and ask them if any sudden deaths had been reported, I phoned them and they said that they had not received any information about anyone dropping dead in the British Legion. I could not believe that someone would call and make up such a story but we could not get back to sleep. My father had no telephone so I could not call to check if the call was a cruel hoax or not. The only other thing to do was get dressed and call round to his house and see if everything was ok.
I was dressed when the door bell rang and a shudder ran through my body, I sensed that the call was not a hoax but was genuine. I opened the door and a young Police constable tentatively asked me if he could come in, I knew before he said anything that my father had died. He was very sympathetic and told me that my father had dropped dead suddenly with a suspected heart attack. He asked me if I could go with him over to the mortuary at Craigavon Hospital and formally identify my father. I don’t know if that was standard practice or not but I was glad of his offer to bring me over as at that time we had no car of our own.
Everything was happening so quickly and I do not know what state my emotions were in, I think I was hoping that I would wake up in the morning and it would all have been a bad dream but sadly it was reality. As I identified the dead man as being my father the mortician tried to comfort me by telling me that my father was probably dead by the time he fell to the ground, to be honest at that moment in time it was not much comfort.
When I returned home I could not go back to bed as I was struggling with what I was going to say to my younger brother and sister and I cannot remember what I said to them. My father was fifty four when he died and I was twenty six at the time. I guess the alcohol abuse and the cigarettes had taken their toll over the years but it was still a great shock and totally unexpected.
The weather on the day of the funeral could not have been any worse, the rain was torrential and was being driven horizontally by the strong wind, everyone who attended was soaked because it was just too windy for an umbrella. As we were leaving the grave yard a man met me at the gate, I could not make out his face at first as the hood on his coat obscured his identity. When I was close enough to him he extended his hand towards me and told me that he was sorry for my loss. It was my Roman Catholic friend from the D.O.E.
I had no contact with him since leaving the D.O.E but his presence at the grave yard meant more to me than he will ever know. From that time on I dreaded the month of February coming round, it became a time of the year when I felt really miserable and often would not feel very well. Now there were two deaths to remember in February, the twenty first and the fourth. One of the things that saddens me is that our second daughter Christina was born the following month and they never met each other. Christmas time in particular could be difficult when we visited my wife’s parents and I could not take our children to my parent’s home. Thank the Lord Helen’s parents are still with us and it is a joy when our children and our grand children come together as family.
I had settled in well within the big factory, I was quite confident now spraying and finishing off the fork lift trucks but once again I was about to be taken out of my comfort zone. The factory was booming and there was a shortage of people for the machine shop so I personally decided to check our application forms to see if anyone in the factory had prior experience running machines. It was decided that I had enough experience so I was moved out of my department into the machine shop.
I had to start all over again and learn new skills that I was not sure I could cope with. I had never seen any machines like this before; they were C.N.C. machines, C.N.C. meaning computerised numerical control. I really felt that I was out of my depth, this was precision engineering and I was not familiar with, engineering drawings, ring gauges, micrometers, verniers and other precision measuring equipment. I considered leaving but I had a mortgage to pay and a wife and two young children to provide for so I prayed for help and persevered.
Gradually I became more proficient at what I was doing, I envied those men who had the ability to grasp new things quickly, I was the tortoise but I always seemed to eventually get over the line. I was always careful in what I did, my motto was better to be slow and sure. My diligence was rewarded, if you could call it that by putting me on a brand new state of the art C.N.C. machine. I had never seen anything like it before, I was mesmerised by what it was capable of doing and the speed at which it did it.
I talked earlier about learning life lessons in work situations and the machine shop had plenty of life lessons waiting for me to discover. I will only share a couple. On one occasion the plant manager was showing some important people around the factory and he liked to show off his state of the art machinery. He was a man who took no prisoners as they say and his presence on the shop floor spread around the factory like an earth tremor. On this occasion he came into my work centre with three or four visitors in tow and was talking them through the machining process of a vital component on the fork lift truck.
He suddenly got very excited and called me over to the large window on the side of the machine where you could observe the machining process and told me in no uncertain terms to stop the machine and fill up the coolant tank as it had apparently run dry and the tool that was cutting the metal had no fluid going onto it and he said it would soon burn out. This was one of those rare opportunities in life to get one over on the top dog; this was in my opinion an arrogant man who sometimes pretended to know more than he actually did, especially about C.N.C. machines.
The important visitors may have been impressed with the boss’s apparent knowledge but a few rye smiles were soon to be seen. I took great delight in giving him a lesson on thermal cracking. You may well ask, thermal what? Yes thermal cracking. The tool that he was referring to was a mill cutter that faced the metal before the other tools did their bit, what he did not know was that this tool was designed to cut the metal when it was dry, putting coolant on to it would damage the cutting inserts.
The science is simple, the cutter rotated at a tremendous speed and if coolant was applied it would cause a heating up and cooling down effect, all done very quickly but with damaging effects to the cutter. In effect what would happen was hot, cold, hot, cold, hot cold and so on, the result would be that the rapid change in temperature would make the inserts on the cutter brittle and they would eventually crack and break up.
The all knowing boss had to eat humble pie and suggested to the amused onlookers that this must be new technology that he had been unaware of.
So what is the life application that God showed me from this experience? Very simply this, often in our lives things can quickly change from things being good to things being bad. We can be healthy today and sick tomorrow, things can be all right in our families today and all wrong tomorrow. We can be in good employment today and be out of a job tomorrow. We can be in high spirits today and in the depths of despair tomorrow. This up and down experience can damage us emotionally and spiritually, we sometimes hear people say that they feel that they are cracking up.
We read of a man in the Old Testament called Elijah, he was a powerful prophet of God but there came a time in his life when he was on top of the mountain and then suddenly hit an all time low or a dark valley experience and he just wanted to die. The story is found in 1 Kings 18:16-40 and 1 Kings 19:1-4. We are told in 1 Peter 5:8 “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the Devil prowls around like a roaring Lion looking for someone to devour”. The Devil will use high and low experiences to try and break down Gods people.
When we are aware of our enemy’s tactics we can prepare for the onslaught and pray intelligently for God to bring us through the battle stronger and not weaker. Apparently during the second world was the Gestapo employed a tactic whereby they would release a prisoner that they had tortured without any success and as soon as he arrived home to his family they would immediately re arrest him and start the torture all over again. I personally believe that mental torture is the worst form of torture and the Devil knows where and when to strike.
God has given to us spiritual armour; part of that armour is the helmet of salvation. The helmet will protect our minds and our peace.
Isaiah 26:3. “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you”.