Jason Wright: Finding your ‘home’
In some circles, being called a “homebody” might be an insult. But to Shenandoah County native Jay Harris, one of the finest men I know, it’s the nicest thing you could possibly say. No one appreciates the value of “home” more than Jay.
Born in 1976, this quiet, steady father of three has been working longer than he can remember. Jay’s first formal job came at just 15 at Cook’s Country Store in Woodstock. The family oriented environment was the ideal experience and he learned skills that 25 years later remain in his professional tool belt.
Eager to continue learning and growing, Jay moved on to construction after high school. Although he enjoyed the work and took satisfaction in seeing someone else’s house take shape, he knew that he hadn’t yet found his own home.
When Jay discovered a construction opening at Shentel in October of 1999, he willingly took a pay cut for the opportunity to sharpen his skills and work for an anchor of the Shenandoah Valley. “I was looking for a home,” Jay tells me one spring afternoon at his favorite lunch spot in Woodstock. “After just six months, I knew I’d be at Shentel for 15 years.”
That wasn’t the only long-term commitment he made in 1999. In June of that year, he married Chastity Chrisman, whom he’d fallen for at Cook’s during her many morning stops. The couple created a happy home together and added a son, Caden, and twins Macy and Makayla.
One of the great traits of the humble is a steely aversion to sharing stories that point back at themselves. Jay’s no different, and our table was clear before he reluctantly spoke of an experience he’d tucked away years ago.
“We were on a service call at an elderly woman’s house. She had a lot of cats and had told us one of them had run off and not come back. We were working in the bedroom when we smelled something a little … off … and when we slid the bed away from the wall, there it was. It had been a couple weeks, at least.”
Jay and another technician removed the cat, put it in a box and cleaned up the spot. When the woman’s caretaker came later, they explained the situation and let their discovery remain a mystery. “We couldn’t tell her. It just seemed better to let her think the cat was fine somewhere else.”
He quickly added his desire to go “above and beyond” is felt by many. As I continued pulling on this thread, Jay praised all families for supporting their moms, dads and spouses that work “on-call.”
“I remember one year on my birthday we’d gone into northern Virginia for dinner. We’d just sat down and I get the call for a cable outage. So, we drove right back. It’s just what you do.”
“This almost seems like a mission to you,” I say. As Jay ponders the rhetorical, I watch and admire his thoughtful precision. To say he’s a man of few words isn’t entirely accurate. His actions speak volumes, even if his conversations are economical.
He speaks of his goal to make the unhappy smile. “We convert the reluctant, those who’ve had bad experiences. We try to be more personable and always ask, ‘Please, let me help you. What do you need?'”
Jay’s desire to serve doesn’t end at 5 p.m. or when he’s not on-call. The lifelong churchgoer currently serves as president of the young men’s organization at his local congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and volunteers 15-20 hours per week. He’s also involved in scouting and spends time each month with a friend from church visiting families in need.
Jay is confident about his spiritual journey and he likes discussing how his church service has blessed his life and allowed him to do things he never thought possible. With that, I point out the obvious: He’s found a spiritual home, too.
When he’s not at his spiritual, career or family homes, he’s outdoors hunting, fishing and riding ATVs with friends and coworkers. Nature is important to him, and he admits that if he weren’t at Shentel, he might be a farmer.
He smiles. “I think about that sometimes. I could leave here, go into farming. Or go make more money in the city. I might have a bad day and wonder if the grass is greener somewhere else. But would it be worth it? I found a home here.”
Before we pretend to fight for the check and say goodbye, I ask Jay if there’s anything we’ve missed. “This is your shot for the last word,” I laugh.
Then, as if hitting a power button, he’s tuned into his favorite channel. “My wife, Chastity. She’s awesome!” As he rolls on, I make a note that his biggest smile of the day came at the mention of her name.
“I couldn’t do it without her. She’s a huge support. Being on-call is tough — she knows I could be gone when the phone rings and she’s always got to be ready.” He reminds me that she works full time, too, and travels frequently. When she’s gone, Jay loves playing Mr. Mom.
Moments later in the parking lot we realize we’re parked next to one another. “Where you headed?” I ask. “Work or home?”
He smiles and steps into his work van. “Yes.”
Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including “Christmas Jars,” “The Wednesday Letters” and “The 13th Day of Christmas.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.jasonfwright.com.