The following story was told to East Coast Stories by a New Jersey contractor who prefers to remain anonymous.
Different images come to mind when people hear the name “Whitney Houston.” Some people focus on her rise from poverty to stardom, or her tragic death. However, I remember her as a neighbor in Mendham.
Ms. Houston had a lovely house and property and had hired me to put in a rustic split rail fence in the backyard. When I found out who I was working for and that she wanted a fence, I assumed that she was going to ask for some high chain link monstrosity topped with barbed wire. I admit that I guessed she would be very hard to work for. Instead, I found her to be a beautiful soft spoken woman who wanted a simple split rail fence to accentuate the rural feel of the rolling backyard.
When I built the fence it was a warm summer day. It was not a big job, so I was working by myself. Ms. Houston was home with another woman. They were in the music room, which faced the backyard where I was working. The windows to the room were open to let in the soft breeze.
Then I heard the piano begin to play and the two woman began to sing. It was a soft song and not one that I recognized. Whitney sang the lead and the other woman harmonized. I don’t know which one was playing the piano. The sound was wonderful. Periodically they would stop and laugh and then start singing again. It was obvious that they were not rehearsing for anything. They were singing just for the fun of it.
I remember thinking that life does not get much better than this. There I was in the fresh air in the bright sunlight on a warm day listening to my own private concert.
I saw Whitney Houston once more after that. I was waiting in line at the Black Horse Tavern in Mendham when she came in with a couple of friends. She did not try to jump the line like a big celebrity, but instead waited like everyone else. Then she saw me and said hello. She actually remembered my name, and said how much she like the fence. The guys I was with treated me like a real star for the rest of the night after that.
When I heard about her death years later I didn’t cry. Let’s face it. I’m a building contractor in New Jersey. Guys like me don’t cry. Besides I don’t want to think about that side of her life and her struggles with inner demons and substance abuse.
For me the Real Whitney Houston will always be the one I met. She was a beautiful charming woman singing with a friend on a warm summer day just for the pure joy of being alive.