HURRICANE, W.Va. -- This is not just Tim Smith's story. It's also about his dad, the Bob behind Bob's Upholstery. His father, who can't hear or speak, started the business 40 years ago in his garage with a '49 Ford truck that wouldn't start without help.
It's a story of mutual respect -- a son filled with admiration for all that his father achieved, a dad grateful for the success his son made of the business he started on a very thin shoestring in 1973.
Located in Hurricane since 1990, Bob's Upholstery bustles this time of year with marine work. Boat tops and boat seats in various stages of renovation reflect the firm's go-to reputation in the boating community.
Tim runs the shop with his wife, Carol. His dad, approaching 80, still works three days a week.
Generally outgoing and upbeat, the son softens at the thought of his impossible childhood dream: He'd give anything if he could hear his father's voice.
"I'm from St. Albans. My mother and father both are deaf. They weren't born deaf. He had an ear infection in both ears when he was 3. My mother had rubella when she was a child.
"They were good parents. They were strict. But it was hard to explain in sign language what I was trying to tell them as a kid. I don't remember learning to sign. Dad said I caught on when I was about 4.
"I have two younger sisters. They would always say, 'Tell mom this' or 'Tell daddy that.' I would say, 'No, you have to learn to sign, too.
"Through grade school, every teacher would find out my parents were deaf, so they would make me stand up in front of class and do the alphabet because they thought it was so neat.
"When we were growing up, we would flip on a light or stomp to get Mom or Dad's attention. They could feel the vibration and turn. When I was born, my mother said she would get up every two or three minutes because she couldn't hear if I was crying. They finally brought in Dad's mother to help them.
"His mother was so proud of him when he built his own house because they had never owned a home. They lived in a one-room apartment on Clendenin Street where the Civic Center is now. She worked at Superior Laundry over on the Boulevard.
"He worked at Tickle's Upholstery for 20 years. He learned upholstering at the deaf school in Romney. When he was a teenager on a summer break, Mr. Tickle would hire him. He would just do the grunt work, tearing off the old stuff.
"He quit Tickle and moved to a place called the Bargain Barn on Big Tyler Road. After a few years, he decided to go into business for himself.
"He taught mom how to sew, and they worked together. It's unbelievable what they did.
"I was 14 when they started the business. His mother was staying at the house at the time. She would answer the phone when I was at school. When I got home, dad would take me on calls for estimates. I was basically just an interpreter.
"As soon as I turned 16, he told me to just do it myself. I had learned over the years how to price things and how much fabric it took. It's not a trade you learn in six months. He taught me how to tear down, then I learned to sew a little bit.
"He started out of his garage. The first couple of weeks, he got no calls. Finally, he got one, and he got the job, and he was so excited. It took off after that.
"We started out with this old truck, a 1949 Chevrolet pickup truck. Every time we would deliver something, we would make sure we were on a hill so it would start. Sometimes we weren't, so I would get out and push the truck, and he would pop the clutch. He finally got his first van.
"The business stayed in our home for 17 years, until 1990 when we moved down here. We were running out of room at the house. In the mid-'80s, we had branched out into marine stuff. He knew John Lucenti who had the marina where Lou Wendell is now. John asked him to do some seats and tops. Now we do work for all the marinas.