My family was your typical family full of it’s share of problems. We didn’t feel rich or poor we just struggled along like normal people. We had many chances to be taught lessons but the biggest ones were manners and honesty.
My folks refused to have kids grow up not having manners and respect. They worked very hard to instill in us the value of hard work and integrity. At a very early age we had chores and errands to do. With my mom, there was always work to do.
My father was a very hard worker and expected his children to be like him. He built our first house and our second. There was nothing superficial about my father and he was going to make me a man even if it killed me.
As a young man, it quickly become apparent that my parents were trying to mold me into a somewhat decent human being. They had many opportunities to teach me seeing that I was in trouble more often than not. Gentle persuasion at the end of a paddle or belt was typically the result of one of my choices gone wrong.
I chuckle about most of these stories now and at the time I didn’t see the lessons, only the punishment.
I remember a few lessons that required the loss of a summer as I worked to pay back my father for costing him money as he reimbursed others for wrongs I had committed. Broken windows and ruined paint jobs are two such lessons that turned out to be very costly to me.
Time passed quickly and the city around us grew faster than I did. My father hated the congestion and limited space. It wasn’t long before they decided a change was necessary.
We moved to the other side of the valley and started ourselves a small farm, my father decided it was time for me to be the “man” of the house and take care of us. It was up to me to see if we would be eating or not.
He pushed me very hard to learn about chickens and the husbandry of cattle. He showed me how to create rows in a garden for the best way to allow water to flow so all the plants could be watered evenly.
I was up at the crack of dawn and sometimes would be watering fields with a flashlight in my hand. While most teenagers were spending a ton of time sleeping in and causing difficulties to their parents I was working. I was too busy and tired to go out with friends but I still found the time to get into trouble,
On one such day, my father used my bad choice to teach me a valuable lesson.
Our neighbor behind us came over to talk to my dad. I was 14 and full of mischief but this man wanted to hire me to take care of his farm for two weeks while they went to visit family on the East coast. He said he’d be fair in my wage and said that he had total faith in my ability to do the job. My dad agreed and said I would come over everyday for the next two weeks to learn the system from this farmer until he left. The farmer felt that was a great idea.
So, every morning I jumped up and did my own chores and then headed over to this other farm and helped with his chores. To say I was tired was an understatement.
Soon the day came and the farmer drove off with his family, trusting this fourteen year old kid to watch over the way he fed his family. Things were going well after one week of working on the farm and I felt good that I had learned how to take care of this small ranch. The pigs stunk and were as grumpy as any I’d ever seen but they were well fed on my moms scraps that she said I could collect and the meal that the farmer provided for them. Their water was always dirty and on more than one occasion I got dumped on my butt by a darn pig pushing for a spot at the trough.
On that next Monday, I was done with the chores and I was walking around the house looking at the grass and flowers and I noticed a window open by the back of the house. I had never been inside this mans home and I’d known him for a few years. I started to get curious about just what they had in their home.
I used an old barrel to get myself up high enough to get my leg inside and the rest was easy. I slid in no problem and then I was free to look around. I figured I’d only be in the home for a minute or two. I walked slowly from room to room imagining how they lived. I never opened a single drawer nor did I touch anything. I noticed some very nice paintings on the wall and some great photos of family that must have been grandparents. I was walking towards the window to leave when I heard my dads voice calling my name. I froze.
He walked around the farm noticing that I had completed my chores. He noticed that I also was no where to be found. He approached the house and stood outside looking at the house. I saw the recognition in his eyes and noticed disappointment setting in. He then caught a glimpse of the window and the barrel left little to the imagination.
He stood there for about ten minutes as I sat frozen in the house. I knew he knew and I had no idea what to do or say. Suddenly, he called my name in a very demanding voice. He waited… I felt a fear and shame that I’d never felt before. He called me again and this time added, “Don’t make me come in there!” I pushed the window open and our eyes met.
“Don’t you dare crawl out that window!” He said very calmly. This tone in his voice confused me. I expected a line of cuss words intermingled with my name.
He had me close and lock the window and then he had me come out the door. I was to lock the door behind me and then we walked the half a mile back home. My father didn’t say one word to me. When we got home, my dad sent me to my room and I heard him relate to my mother the story. I closed my door and laid on my bed. I knew I was in trouble but I never really understood the lesson I was about to experience until I was much older.
My mother is the one who talked to me first. She said Dad was to upset to speak. She talked about reputations and respect. She said I would need to tell the farmers family what I had done. She asked if I stole anything and when I told her I’d touched nothing she shook her head and asked mywhat possessed me to go in that house. I had no answer.
My father was an expert at the silent game. He went with me every day to watch over me as I worked. Unless it was absolutely necessary, he wouldn’t say a word to me. Finally the week ended and the farmer came home.
It wasn’t long after that they showed up at the house to settle my pay for the time.
Dad greeted him and then asked me if I had anything to confess or say. I then related what I had done and told the farmer how sorry I was. I said that since I’d broken his trust, I could not, in good faith, accept his money.
My dad and him went off by themselves. I couldn’t hear what was being said but I could see the farmer pleading with my father. They shook hands, the farmer shouted a thanks in my direction and they parted. Soon, the judge, jury and executioner was standing back in front of me.
“Well, I guess your explanation and the fact that you were completely uncomfortable has satisfied this man.” My father said as he looked sternly at me. “He says his hogs have never looked better. Farm was cleaner than when he left and He also said he hadn’t realized that the window had been left open. He was really surprised the cats hadn’t got in and was glad you found it open. He was grateful to you for shutting the window. His house was clean because the cats were kept out.”
He continued, “The farmer said you earned this money fare and Square and I feel that you have paid your price.” He paused and sat down motioning me to join him.
“The reason I became so frustrated with you is that you represent our family. When we work we are making a verbal agreement to the employer. We promise that we will give all we have to be the best we can be. If we do nothing more than all we can then we have become successful. I need you to always remember that when we die, we will only have one thing to show on our tombstone and that’s our names. Our name and reputations mean everything and are worth more than gold.”
That day my father taught me that our last name is what defines us. It’s not the cars we drive or the house we live in that makes us a man. It’s not what job we have, how many promotions we achieve or what our title is. All that maters is that we strive to be the best we can be. If we are superficial and fake then people will take notice and our reputations will be tainted.
To be an honorable, hard working person and to not be fake or superficial was the best lesson I had as I journeyed from child to boy to man.