RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Eddie Jacobs’ Chevy S10 pickup truck is hard to miss. The bed is filled with decorative birdhouses that he sells, each one inspired by the state of North Carolina.
There are lighthouses with their distinctive black-and-white stripes and diamonds, each with a solar-powered light on top. There are tobacco barns and pack houses, log cabins and outhouses — many decorated with metal roofs, plastic shrubbery and toy cars.
Once a week, you may see Jacobs’ truck parked on the side of U.S. 401, just north of the Ten Ten Road. The truck will pull a small trailer filled with more birdhouses, including wren houses with copper or cedar roofs that sell for $500 each. Or you might spot his truck parked outside the McDonald’s in Garner where he drinks his morning coffee, or in the parking lots at Lowe’s or Home Depot, where he scours the bins of wood scraps.
Fifty-seven-year-old Jacobs had never built a birdhouse until two years ago after a confrontation with his then 15-year-old daughter convinced him to take up woodworking again.
As Jacobs recalls, he and his youngest daughter were raking leaves in the yard of their southern Wake County home. Jacobs had chastised her for how she was doing the task. She blurted out: “I don’t want to be around you anymore. You’re ill.”
Recalling it now, Jacobs says: “Sometimes the truth hurts.”
To fully understand, you have to know where Jacobs was at that point in his life.
In 2009, Jacobs was injured in a car wreck, leaving him with severe neck and back pain. It ended the only career he had ever known.
After graduating from high school in Bladen County, Jacobs moved to Raleigh and worked two weeks at a Bojangles’ before being hired as a woodworker at a cabinet shop. He worked in a handful of other shops before eventually owning his own business. He worked on commercial buildings, homes and churches. He built up his business to where he only took on about four projects a year.
Thomas Perry, owner of Thomas and Thomas Construction and Air Care Heating and Cooling Service in Raleigh, has known Jacobs for more than 20 years. They were first hired to work on jobs together, and Perry would later hire Jacobs to work on projects. About Jacobs’ woodworking skills, Perry said, “He’s probably one of the best I know. He’s a person I would still use. I miss him truly.”
Not only was Jacobs good at his job, he truly enjoyed it. Jacobs said: “You work 35 years. You love doing it. It wasn’t just a job.”
After the crash, Jacobs said he was in denial that he would never go back to work. His wife also worked, as a teacher at Raleigh’s Underwood Elementary. At the time, they had two daughters in high school and a son in college. “I didn’t want to accept I was hurt,” he said. “It was two years before I even filed for disability.”
After his daughter confronted him, Jacobs, who now walks with a cane, decided to pick up his woodworking tools again. In an 8-by-12-foot shed, he organized the tools so he could turn in a swivel chair from one task to the next: chop saw, table saw, nail gun and a drill press he converted to a lathe. He started making birdhouses because it allowed him to use the same skills he used renovating houses. The houses are fanciful like folk art, yet functional with clean-out holes in the bottom.
“It’s just what I done all my life,” he explained. “I did the details on the big houses and put it on smaller houses.”
Soon Jacobs’ house was packed with birdhouses, and his wife told him: “You got to get them out of here.”
So Jacobs said: “I screwed them on the back of the truck and started riding around.”
One day a week, he parks the truck on the side of U.S. 401, not far from his home. He sits next to his truck and trailer in a fold-out chair under a red umbrella. Neighbors and acquaintances honk as they drive past. Jacobs said he loves meeting people who stop to buy the birdhouses, most of which cost $18 to $100. His customers are often from out of state.
Jacobs said the birdhouses have been good for him — calmed him down and kept him busy. He makes them when he feels inspired and sells them so he can get out of the house.
Now his youngest daughter will sit in the shed while he works. Father and both daughters will pull out the paints while watching a movie and paint the birdhouses. (He gives them money when the ones they paint sell.)
As the traffic streams past on U.S. 401, Jacobs recalls that disagreement with his youngest daughter that launched him down this path. He said, “I think I won her back.”
Information from: The News & Observer, http://www.newsobserver.com