Work ethic

27 Aug

“Things we used to do all day, now take us all day to do.” Said by a fifty-something couple this past weekend.

Saturday, my wife and I drove to my father’s home to help him clear some brush, so his drive way would be clear this winter. The temp was about 85 degrees F with moderate humidity and a light breeze. We both stretched properly before we started to work.

Okay, a little back ground is in order. My father lives in the middle of the woods with a state forest on two sides. He and my mother carved their homestead out of the woods several years before my mother passed away. The driveway is about 300 yards long and winds through oak, white pine, wild rose, poplar, and raspberries. The problem with cutting your homestead out of the woods/jungle, is that the woods/jungle has a habit of reclaiming what is feels is rightfully its own. So, if you cut a twenty-foot wide strip, three hundred yards long to use as a drive way, by the end of the summer the path will only be fifteen yards wide. Within a year, if you do nothing, the path will be seven yards wide and so on. The battle to keep the driveway clear goes on year after year. If you ever stop or get lazy, the forest wins.

My father is older and can’t work like he used to. He needs help to fight the unending battle. So, my wife and I started in at 10:00 AM and worked for four hours using an extension chainsaw and loppers. If you have ever done this kind of work, you will understand.

First you have to determine which trees, branches, thickets, etc. need to be removed. Then, you have to fight your way in and get close enough to cut them off. This must be done as far back as possible from the driveway to ensure you don’t have to come back in six weeks and cut it again because it has grown back. You cut and chop and saw and pull for the full 300 yards, on both sides! You stop and look back and see piles of branches, raspberry canes, and vines lying in the middle of the wide-open driveway.

You begin to feel satisfied with your work until you realize that all that brush you worked so hard to cut, needs to be dragged back into the woods far enough so that you can’t see it from the driveway. This is when you really wish you were twenty or thirty years younger.

After uncounted trips, dragging the debris back into the woods and creating head-high brush piles that the rabbits and grouse will soon make their home, you finally throw that last twig onto the last pile. You arm drops to your side. There is a constant stream of sweat running from the bill of your baseball cap. Your arms look more like hamburger than you remembered due to the thorns from the raspberries and wild rose branches stripping the top few layers of skin away. You stagger back out onto the driveway and smile with satisfaction try to suck in enough air to keep you heart from pounding through your chest wall.

I said to my wife, “I’m getting too old for this shit!”

My wife looked at me and said, “Let’s get something to drink and eat. Then, I’m going to take a long shower.”

“Sounds like a plan dear.”

We leaned on each other as we walked down to the waiting van where my dad had been supervising the operation. During a late lunch, I asked my dad why he didn’t hire some young energetic high school footballers to come out and clean this up for him.

He told us that he and two of his “neighbors” had been looking for some young people to hire to do a variety of jobs for over a month. But, no one was interested. I was shocked!

Now, what high school kid could not use a couple hundred dollars for few hours work? Really? Are they so busy looking at their $300 iPhones that mommy and daddy bought for them, that they can’t earn their own gas money? Or, and this one really scares me, are they afraid of a little manual labor? I cannot believe that young people, especially athletes, would not want a summer job that pays better than a fast food restaurant, let’s them be outside to work on their tan, and would help keep them in shape for the upcoming year’s activities.

Am I way off base here or is this just a blip on the radar? Are young people today too comfortable sitting in front of their computers?


Posted by on August 27, 2012 in Musings and Odd Thoughts


Tags: , , , , , , ,

31 responses to “Work ethic

  1. annewoodman

    August 27, 2012 at 10:34 am

    Young people today are sitting in front of their computers. Yes, I think you have that right. We looked for years for teenagers who wanted to babysit: no dice. Of course, there are a few, but they are so busy that you can’t share them with the other 500 parents who need babysitters. I guess this bunch goes out with their friends instead of babysitting or mowing yards/cleaning debris for money? I’m sad about that, because it’s a source of labor we really, really need, no matter what age we are now.

    I’m impressed you could do that work for that long. Every time I do something like that, it makes me realize that I’m not in as good a shape as I thought I was. ; ) (And please (speaking like the mom that I am), put lots of Neosporin on those cuts… they can get infected quite easily.)

    • Dennis Langley

      August 27, 2012 at 1:51 pm

      Okay mom. (heading for the medicine cabinet)
      Ibuprofin is our friend!

  2. scottweberwriter

    August 27, 2012 at 11:31 am

    My son and friends go around the nieghborhood in the spring and fall to do odd jobs. There are 75 or so houses and they only managed to get one or two jobs per trip. Some folks are very hesitant to have kids (13-16 yrs old) do stuff with sharp tools. I bet there would be a hell of a problem if someone got hurt. Some folks just want to do it themselves. Then again, there are folks that want to give them the equivalent of $4/hr for labor, and the kids realize it isn’t worth it. For older kids, the bigger problems are the fact that they have activities and/or jobs.

  3. Shannon M. Howell

    August 27, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    I’m going to offer a thought here. I’m 31 and I’m short, so take that into consideration…

    I would never have taken a job that required being outside for that long during the summer. I have pasty skin approximately the color of white-out. I was raised to the omnipresent drone of sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen.

    So, that might explain why they don’t want to be outside working on their tans.

    My dad is a salesman. My mom worked on computers. My mom would pull out a chainsaw when a tree branch broke, or she’d fix the sump pump. However, none of the know-how was passed on. I have to call her if I want to store a new vegetable to learn how to store it properly.

    I think that a few things have happened. First, young people are treated as idiots – they must be constantly watched. Secondly, it is “too dangerous” for them to do certain things. So, they don’t get to try until they’re out on their own and clueless.

    Frankly, there’s lots of things I could learn how to do myself, but since I’d have to start from scratch and I don’t have all the time in the world, I just hire people to do it (handyman jobs, install a ceiling fan, etc.).

    In short, I think part of the issue is having life on a silver platter. I think another part is societal over-coddling. Note that I don’t place blame on the parents. Sure many of them hover ridiculously. However, some of us live in fear that we’ll be charged with abandonment if we take a 5-minute shower while our 5-year-old watches a few minutes of TV.

    If you aren’t ever allowed to try anything, you won’t have confidence of competence. Also, people ARE generally growing lazier. I miss the Protestant work ethic when I’m not busy reading a good book. 🙂

    • Dennis Langley

      August 27, 2012 at 3:00 pm

      You bring up some very good points. Parents, as a rule are being asked to perform a very difficult task within an ever decreasing box of behaviors that society will allow. As far as doing dangerous things, I am amazed that anyone between the ages 50 and 70 ever made it past puberty according to today’s standards of what is “Safe”. Thanks for your thoughts, Shannon. I hope you are feeling better.

      • Shannon M. Howell

        August 27, 2012 at 4:58 pm

        I’m starting to think that there’s a secret group trying to make us evolve to be dumber… by eliminating elimination for being stupid. I’m sure they hate the Darwin Awards. 🙂

      • Dennis Langley

        August 28, 2012 at 7:09 am

        The Darwin awards are some of my favorite reading material. It reminds me no matter how stupid I think I am, there are a lot dumber people than me out there .

      • Shannon M. Howell

        August 28, 2012 at 10:28 am

        I was thinking about this some more. Another problem may be that high schoolers who are “achievers” often have somewhat regular jobs during the summer. They might be life guards, camp counselors, or work extra hours at a year-round part-time job while the grown-ups go on vacation. That may make it hard to do odd-jobs… especially for those who are already outside in the sun 5-7 days a week doing physical work (like chasing after rowdy groups of 30-odd 8 year olds).

        Since more families are spilt or 2-income, more kids go to camps and classes all summer long, so lots of high schoolers are teaching ice skating, gymnastics, swimming, etc.

      • Dennis Langley

        August 28, 2012 at 11:16 am

        All valid arguments. I applaud them if they are that diligent. Maybe there is hope and I am but a mere grumpy old man. 🙂

      • Shannon M. Howell

        August 28, 2012 at 2:08 pm

        Well, probably we’re both right… just depends on which particular kid we’re talking about. I’d rather not do hot sweaty work – and I’m willing to forgo the money unless life is dire. But, that’s just me – note that I planned for such events by getting a degree in math (statistics) that can go into many different fields from medicine to research, government, insurance, etc.

      • Dennis Langley

        August 28, 2012 at 2:16 pm

        Statistics! Yaackk! I would have never known by the way you write.

      • Shannon M. Howell

        August 28, 2012 at 3:04 pm

        Clearly you aren’t one of the people who has read my bio (for some strange reason, my bio page gets GOBS of hits). 🙂

        I’d like to think I’m multi-talented.

      • Dennis Langley

        August 28, 2012 at 3:16 pm

        Okay, after feeling really bad about being the one person not to read your bio, I went and read it. Wow! Interesting choice for a Masters. I would agree with you being multi-talented.

      • Shannon M. Howell

        August 28, 2012 at 3:21 pm

        I wouldn’t have felt guilty. I almost never read bios. I prefer to be surprised.

        By the way, the only reason I can write is because typos/misspellings get a funky red underline and if I right click, it gives me options so I can find the correct word. Otherwise, I’d be downright unreadable.

      • Dennis Langley

        August 28, 2012 at 3:26 pm

        LOL, I don’t buy that at all. Second thought, I’m in the same boat. 😉

      • Shannon M. Howell

        August 28, 2012 at 3:44 pm

        Seriously – I can’t spell. I took LATIN to try to improve my spelling it was so bad.

        In 7th grade, my Language Arts teacher pulled me aside one day. I’d had him the previous year and he was a favorite teacher of mine. He looked almost embarrassed as he told me that he’d sent home a midterm progress report (those meant you weren’t doing well). I looked confused at him and he went on. Seems I was getting a solid A, but had FAILED every spelling quiz that quarter. I just shrugged at him. He admitted on day one of school that he was a bad speller – I’m sure that’s why he looked uncomfortable. My parents thought it was funny (my dad’s is terrible too).

        Honestly, it would have been easier if the spelling books had kept up with my vocabulary. They stopped spelling after 5th grade – and 4th grade had such words as “pool” and “loop” while I was reading words like: exemplary, interstitial, exsanguinate, fiduciary, mnemonic, etc. Really, most people spell short words by how they look – it’s the LONG words that are tough because you kinda stop paying attention in the middle. 🙂

      • Dennis Langley

        August 29, 2012 at 7:31 am

        That’s interesting. I usually misspell short words when I type by transposing the letters. I am a horrible typist. When I spell longer words, I go by how they sound as I say them in my head. Maybe that’s why I’m so slow on the keyboard. Thank God for spellcheck, eh?

      • Shannon M. Howell

        August 29, 2012 at 9:14 am

        I often misspell short words when typing too. To me, that is really a typo not a misspelling. However, before auto-correct I would transpose a couple letters in “those” so it read “thoes” Well, I saw it wrong so many times that I started spelling it incorrectly when I was writing by hand as well.

  4. robincoyle

    August 27, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    Having cleared a three-foot-wide path at our cabin two summers ago, I know EXACTLY what you are talking about in terms of Mother Nature wanting to reclaim what is hers. Hard work! And my path was only three-feet-wide and about 100-yards long. What a good son you are.

    Young people’s work ethic? Don’t get me started on the “Occupy Movement.” The audacity of it makes my blood boil.

    And, how it is I’m not following you? Shame on me! I am now!

    • Dennis Langley

      August 27, 2012 at 3:35 pm

      Mother Nature has her own way and humans are not at the top of the priority list.

      The Occupy Movement? I can only guess.

      Thank you for following.

      • robincoyle

        August 27, 2012 at 3:42 pm

        Mother Nature has a mind of her own.

  5. Matthew Wright

    August 28, 2012 at 1:32 am

    Absolutely agree! I figure teenagers today have pretty fit thumbs, and I get the impression a few ‘angry young twenty somethings’ have an undue sense of entitlement to the fruits of our labours, which they seem to think they will be handed without working. They haven’t learned that hard work is necessary and it pays off.

    It probably sounds like I’m getting old (and I think I can hear echoes of my own parents saying something like it, about 30 years ago). But hey…

    • Dennis Langley

      August 28, 2012 at 7:17 am

      I don’t think anyone ever died from having callouses or an overused brain. Yes, we do sound a little like or parents. But, that does not make us any less right. I can’t explain how we came to this condition. 🙂

  6. Nicole

    August 28, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    By and large, most young folks are too pampered. The ones who are willing to go out and do high-school level work are the “kids” who graduated college and can’t find work. I speak both from experience and for my fellow classmates. Forget high schoolers and appeal to the college crowd. They aren’t “wanting”, they’re desperate. Of course, I have personally done manual labor since I could wield a shovel and pack buckets of feed, but I’m in the minority since I was raised on a ranch. Now that I work as a theater manager, I shock many high schoolers with stories of castrating calves, giving injections, cutting warts out of ears, sewing eyes shut to combat pinkeye, and preg-checking cows (hint: it isn’t done by making them pee on a stick). Granted, the bloody stuff turns my stomach a little, but I still do it. Like I said, I’m probably in the minority. I think the whole problem boils down to making people step out of their comfort zone. The more people do, the higher their confidence, which makes them more likely to do a variety of jobs. When kids get out of the home and into the world, they have to step out and do things they never had to in the past. It has a way of making them more willing to do things they never would have done even a month or two ago.

    • Dennis Langley

      August 28, 2012 at 2:23 pm


      Excellent points. You do have me beat on a couple of your chores. But I have cut pigs, baled hay, picked melons and detasseled corn. I believe a long rubber glove comes into play on one of your tasks. ;-( All fun jobs when it’s about 100 degrees and 98% humidity. You are absolutely correct that real life has a way of balancing things out. You learn to work or go hungry.

  7. Cassidy Cornblatt

    August 28, 2012 at 10:50 pm

    Hi, I have nominated you for the Liebster Award. Click here for details:

    • Dennis Langley

      August 29, 2012 at 10:23 am

      Thank you Cassidy! I appreciate it very much.

  8. Matthew Wright

    August 31, 2012 at 3:49 pm

    Hi – I’ve just nominated you for the Liebster Award too – following Cassidy’s award of it to me:

  9. ltownsdin

    September 19, 2012 at 8:32 am

    I don’t have a comment on what kids are like these days, but I do want to say how much I enjoyed reading the story of your work day. I liked all the detail and could easily visualize the scene. Good writing!

    • Dennis Langley

      September 19, 2012 at 8:49 am

      Thank you. Sometimes, the writing is easier than the work. 🙂


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