Do you know why your friends with children always have such neat, organized homes? Children can leap tall buildings at a single bound. With no more than a hint they are eager to scrub, sweep, paint, rake the lawn or clean your house – and they never seem to get tired.
I could never afford to have a child of my own, but yesterday I experienced the benefits of parenthood when my young neighbor, Zeb, agreed to help me out with a few chores around the humble farm.
Hiring help is a new experience for me. But there comes a time in every farmer’s life when he can no longer pick up a barrel of fresh cow manure and place it on the tailgate of his pickup truck.
That time differs from man to man. Some men don’t stop until the barrel seems to be frozen to the ground. Some of us with arms like pipe stems never even got out of the starting gate because we’re simply not built to lift and lug. A real man, however, continues to hoss great weight around until something snaps in his back.
Please hear in your mind a plaintive humble voice reciting a poem from my young bachelor days. This is the reality little guys face every day in a world dominated by Big Men.
“Don’t think a 5-foot-7 man
“Can stack your wood like big guys can.
“For little guys are overawed
“By chores exceeding one small cord.
“Our backs and arms get sore and bent
“But big guys smile cause they ain’t spent.
“Just when I’d think there’s no more owed
“They’d want to stack another load.
“So shop around when you need wood
“For things like that I ain’t much good.”
So. What did Zeb do, you ask?
He wheeled a barrel of cow manure into the barn where it will ripen. Moved a ladder and caulked a crack high up on the north side of the house. Tore out a bookcase and moved half of the contents of a crowded room into two adjoining bedrooms.
Took everything that wasn’t nailed down out of the upstairs bathroom – including a portrait Heather Grills did of me on Monhegan. Carried the new toilet bowl upstairs. Got a mastodon of a TV and 100 or so videotapes of movies lugged down a flight of stairs and packed off to Lisa at the dump store.
Moved a 1,500-pound doorstep rock 20 feet back to the place where it belongs, in front of the door. Took 12 or more 4-by-8 sheets of one-eighth-inch mulching plywood out of the rhubarb patch and stacked them in the tractor shed. Put 18 hinges on nine pantry cupboard doors (that my wife, Marsha, had just painted) and hung them. And that was just for starters.
Any one of those projects would have taken me a day or more, and some of them I couldn’t have done at all. But when a 23-year-old boy well over 6 foot tall with shoulders 3 feet wide sets out to move something – get out of his way.
I was amazed. I still can’t believe what children can do.
From time to time I bemoan the fact that I could never afford to have children, and this was one of those times. How lucky you are to have children. With all that eager, young power carrying out your every wish, it is no wonder your home is the envy of the neighborhood.
True, some grade-schoolers perform better under a watchful eye and a guiding hand. When Zeb was quite small, he and I set out for the St. George Memorial Day parade in my Model T. We parked in a driveway and waited. But when we got the wave to move out, the car wouldn’t go, and the parade left without us.
I bought this car for 10 dollars in 1951 and, because I’d been driving it ever since, I had my troubleshooting right down to a T. If it won’t go it isn’t getting gas or fire.
Everything checked out. Plenty of spark and plenty of gas.
After messing with it for quite a while, I discovered that while he was fidgeting unobserved in the front seat, little Zeb had twisted the needle valve knob and shut off the gas.
This came to mind a dozen years later when I looked up at Zeb and asked him what he wanted for wages. The young giant smiled and said he’d help me if I just gave him a good meal. When we sat down at noon and had dinner together, I realized it would have been cheaper to pay him.
The humble Farmer can be seen on Community Television in and near Portland and visited at his website: