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Rutledge: The new house will have a full ‘key on the dog’ security system

Joe and Jon.jpg

Joe Talbert, left, and Jon Harvey catch up on the days when they built houses together.


By Mark Rutledge

Saturday, August 4, 2018

I left the house key on our dog Max for my buddy Joe Talbert last week—which means he was coming to town for a visit. This time, he left his carpentry skills in his toolbox.

I’ve written many times here about Joe’s helping me with everything from new flooring to home additions to treehouse construction. Before one such visit, he came up with the concept of leaving the house key on the family dog rather than under the doormat.

No one was to be at home when he arrived, so Joe and I were trying to determine where I might hide a key for him. “Your dog likes me,” he said. “Just put the key on the dog’s collar.”


“The key’s on the dog!” has since been our standing-invitation expression.

I have the biggest home-improvement project of my life going, and Joe declined to bring his work boots or hammer. Building a house from the ground up is not a weekend endeavor, and Joe knew that I had it covered.

Most of what Joe knows about building he learned during the 1980s working with a mutual friend of ours, Jon Harvey. All of the experiences, lessons, and carpenter phrases from those days would come out during the weekend projects that Joe and I completed together.

“Plumb, level, and square” and “That looks like it growed there” are two of my favorites. Joe learned them all while working with Jon.

“I was framing a house with Jon Harvey one time...” is the way a lot of Joe’s stories have started during the 30 years since he and Jon swung hammers together.

The stories often were illustrations of what a thorough and meticulous builder Jon was. He would explain that where many carpenters would put things together in a quicker and easier way, Jon would take the extra pains to do it better.

“If I ever build a house,” I've declared many times, “I know who I’d want to build it.”

I've repeated that mantra for more than 30 years, and finally I’m building a house. More accurately, Jon Harvey is building it for me.

I’ve known Jon since we were in the second grade together at Fairmont Elementary. He comes from a family of musicians and carpenters. Hanging around the practice house where Jon and some other friends from high school played music during the early ’80s, I once heard Jon say that the only thing he loved more than music was carpentry.

During Joe’s recent visit, he stopped by the building site to see his old friend Jon for the first time in 20 years. I was not about to miss that reunion.

Joe parked up the road, walked down unnoticed and appeared like a ghost sitting under a shade tree.

How cool it would have been, I thought, to have seen the two of them working together again. And on MY house!

After they swapped stories for about an hour, I began to realize what a bad idea that would have been. Nothing would get done.

Once the house is finished, maybe we’ll get Joe and Jon over for a longer reunion. The key will always be on the dog for those two — and anybody else Max likes.

Contact Mark Rutledge at mrutledge@reflector.com or like him on Facebook at Mark Rutledge Columns.