Clippings by John McCright: It’s all about the Benjamins, Daddy
My girls learned a little something about hard work this past weekend, and maybe I learned something, too.
The woodman from Bristol had dropped off a cord of dry two weeks ago and he was going to drop off another any day now. I wanted to get the first pile cleared and down by the basement door. It would be a real chore. He drops the wood off at the edge of the driveway near the front of the garage because he can’t get his truck any further toward the back of the house. Our house is built into a side of a hill; the back is lower than the front. To get the wood put up for the winter I have to haul it by hand 10 yards toward the back of the house, then lug it down a sort of a retaining wall made of boulders to some pallets near the door to the basement workroom, where I can pull inside a week’s supply or two of fuel for the little soapstone stove. Last year I put in some concrete steps; it makes it a little less awkward, but it’s still just a very tiring chore.
So I wasn’t really too keen on moving the wood. But I knew what could happen — I’d put it off and then it would snow and the job would be half again as hard, slogging the snow-covered firewood down the slippery boulders in 10-degree weather. Been there, done that. So I half-heartedly carried a few chunks to the edge of the wall and tossed them listlessly toward the pallets. KaCHUNK! KaCHUNK! And I sauntered back to the pile, grabbed two more and flipped them toward their stacking spot — kaCHUNK! KaCHUNCK! I guess the noise caught the attention of my wife. She is much more nurturing than me, so she rounded up the girls and said, “You go out there and help your father.”
They’re not any more energetic than their father, but they’re good girls and they do what their mother says. The 14-year-old came out in her nicest pair of leggings and a posh jacket. “Are you really going to move firewood in that?” She resisted changing into something a little more rough and tumble, even when I reminded her that I have 51 years of experience on this planet — a half century of mistakes that I’d hope my offspring would learn from. I reminded her of the complaints I hear all the time about the ragged clothing I wear and explained that it gets that way from moving wood; she went inside and came back in her plainest pants and a work jacket. Then her 12-year-old sister showed up wearing a perfectly good pair of ski gloves. “Hold on there, darling, Daddy’s got two pairs of canvas work gloves for you to choose from.” “No thank you, Daddy”; and that’s just about the last she’d hear on the subject.
I really hadn’t expected help, and I told the girls that they only had to move the wood for a half hour. In a brief reverie I imagined the three of us chatting, telling stories, singing some songs while we walked the wood into place. Instead we quickly settled into the monotonous rhythm of the work gang, the only sounds the crashing of the wood onto the pile and the grunting of the oldest member of our crew as he strained under the double loads he was struggling with. There weren’t many smiles, just the determined stares in the girls’ faces as they methodically went about the task. I expected to hear a near constant time check, but to my surprise there was not.
After a half hour (OK, it was really 33 minutes) I stopped the girls and said, “OK, you’ve fulfilled your obligations for your allowance. But if you want to earn a little extra you can keep working with me.” I was grateful to have had any help, and we’d actually moved about half of the pile, and fair’s fair, I’d told them they only needed to give me a half hour. To my amazement, they both just said, “OK,” and went back to work toting chunks of wood down to the pallets. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great girls, but they’re also maybe a little more on the cerebral side — a book is always a much safer gift than a basketball. So I was pretty happy to have such strong buy-in on finishing the stack. Sure, one of them started tossing smaller pieces off the wall onto the pallet rather than carrying them into place, and the other got a call from her best friend and excused herself for five minutes. But they both came back to work hard at finishing the job.
As we got closer to the end, we started to speculate on how many armloads we had left. The end was in sight. I told the girls how thankful I was for their help and how proud I was that they had stuck with it. I asked them why they had continued working so hard even after I’d released them from their obligation. They looked at me with a little bit of surprise in their faces, as if it should be obvious. Then the older one said point blank, “I just wanted the money,” and the younger one chimed in, “Me, too.”