Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Lessons in work and play

My dad had a strong belief that work was not play and you should not have fun when you are on the job. I think his strong conviction come from the fact that he spent many years without work and struggled to find employment during the depression. He was very demanding  and he  expected me to work hard and never complain. If I complained he would just create more work for me. His favorite refrain was “stop playing around”. I was expected to come right home after school and do chores before supper. After supper I had to go to my room and do my homework and go to bed. During the school year it was simple work and school. He was a bit more lenient during the summer. I was allowed to play with my friends for a few hours in the late afternoon and sometimes during the long summer evening. However, most of the time I was playing with my brother and taking care of him. When I was about 12 years old my dad put me in charge of mowing a vacant lot next to our house.  

I was surprised when my Dad purchased an old gasoline powered mower to make cutting the large lot easier. I had been using a push mower and it took about four hours to cut the grass. He was a very good mechanic and he was proud of his restored mower. He  showed me how to start the mower and gave me a lesson on maintenance and safety. I was thrilled with the mower and for the next few months I breezed through the cutting process. The mowing became routine and I started to vary the cutting pattern.  I would cut zigzags and circles; it was sort of an early form of crop circles. When my dad returned home late at night he did not check my work until the next morning. I had removed all traces of my patterned cutting and he was proud of my work and was not aware that I was having fun during work.

My creativity proved to be my downfall one hot summer afternoon. I decided to cut my initials into field. I had a great time making the large block letters. When I had finished putting the final touches on the “I” the mower began to sputter and smoke. Apparently, the aggressive use of the mower as a sculpting tool had taken its toll on the refurbished mower. I checked the gas and oil and both tanks were nearly full. I pulled and pulled the starting cord and checked and rechecked the carburetor settings. In a panic I loosened and tightened screws. The final attempt was removing the spark plug. The wrench slipped and I broke off the tip of the plug. I was in deep trouble. I tried to remember my maintenance lessons as the sun set on my “fun project”. I was frantic and my dad would be home soon. I spent a sleepless night knowing that in the morning my dad would see my handy work and I would suffer his wrath. In the morning I went to breakfast. I received a cheery greeting from my mom and a stern  question from my father. “Did you finish the mowing” after a long and painful pause, I confessed that I had encounter a little problem. He looked at me and sternly and said “that is what you get for playing around”.  I will not bore you with the details of my punishment but I still remember it over sixty-two years later. 

It is both strange and prophetic how we remember and react to  little dramas in our life. I am thankful for that harsh lesson, it just made cherish the fact that throughout my working years I never separated work and play; and I still do a lot of “playing around”.

Whenever you trace the origin of a skill or practices which played a crucial role in the ascent of man, we usually reach the realm of play.

"Things hidden in my head" Copyright 2013 © Ronald D. Isom, Sr.

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