Pat Online ~ May 2013
The Pleasure of Work
This morning my wife, Bun, said sternly,” I have a job for you.”
“What?” I whined. Actually I was pleased. I don’t do any actual work anymore, and I miss it. I know that sounds weird. I would certainly never reveal to Bun that I miss work, because she has an uncanny knack for thinking up things for me to do. In this instance she wanted me to remove the old license plates from the car and put on a new set. I was enormously pleased. This was real work.
“Does it have to be done right this minute?” I responded. “I was planning on reading the newspaper.”
Actually, the newspaper is so thin any more, it doesn’t take a whole minute to read. I do try to give the impression that I rush from one activity to another. But there are no activities out there. Replacing a set of license plates sounded wonderful. So I grumbled a bit and then went out and unscrewed one set and screwed on another. Then Bun came out, looked at the car, and said, “You did it wrong.”
Here I had accomplished an actual job of work, and I was accused of doing it wrong. How on earth is it possible to put a new set of license plates on wrong. There are only two ends to a car and two identical license plates.
“The plate with the little stickers on it goes on the back,” she said. “The one without the stickers goes on the front."
“Who cares?” I said.
“The State Patrol,” she said. “They like to see the stickers so they know you paid the state for the plates.”
So I switched the plates. It’s not a good idea to irritate our State Patrol officers. Actually, I enjoyed this little extra work and was somewhat sad when it was completed. All my life, at least until recent years, I have worked. Well, maybe not when I was a baby but certainly as soon as I got into long pants. Back in those days, everybody worked, including the children. One of my first jobs was hauling in the firewood. I even split the large chunks of buckskin tamarack into smaller pieces for the cook stove. The large pieces I hauled in whole for the wood heater in the living room. Naturally, I complained loudly about this mistreatment, but even as a youngster I felt a certain pleasure in it. It made me think I was of some value to the family. There was also a certain pleasure derived from the overhead swing of that double-bitted ax and the sound of the chunk on the battered chopping block being split asunder.
You might ask, “Wasn’t you’re mother afraid you might chop off your foot?”
I don’t know. She never gave any indication of this fear. In those days, I think, mothers must have been so inured to all the dangers of work, they simply ignored them. I can‘t seem to recall that as I headed out to get the evening’s wood, my mother or grandmother saying casually, “Don’t chop off your foot.” I think I must have taken their failure to issue such warnings as a compliment. At least they didn’t think I was that stupid.
[This is Pat's mom, Mabel DeMers, circa 1960. She was a tough, one-room schoolhouse teacher who was not afraid of much--including whether young Pat was going to chop his foot off or not.]
As I got older, my work increased. By the time I was grown, which in those days was assumed to have occurred when you were about 16, my life was pretty much dominated by work, then and from then on. Now here’s the odd thing. I miss it. I now live in a house that heats and cools itself. Meals arrive on the breakfast and dinner table with no effort from me. I have no idea how that happens.
Now that I’ll be eighty in a couple of months, Bun decided we should have a somebody come in and mow the lawn. She arranged to pay one of my grandsons to do it. I have put a stop to that. I now mow the lawn myself. I gas up the mower and adjust its cutting height, and sharpen its blade and change the oil and hookup the bag and do everything it’s possible to do to a mower. Then I mow the lawn which is quite a bit larger than a postage stamp. The rest of the time I stand at the window and gaze out at the grass, encouraging it to grow faster.
[The picture of Pat mowing (top)) was taken several years ago when he got to do real mowing at his cabin in North Idaho on the Clark Fork river. Now he has to content himself with mowing his front and backyard in Spokane. Photo by Bun.]