Hard work and good attitude

Aug 7, 2014 By Betty Starks Case

I learned both at a young age on the farm

The teacher's writing assignment reads: "What I did this summer."

A child responds: "If you followed me on Twitter, you'd know."

This is from a funny but not so funny newspaper cartoon that speaks volumes about the fallout when we place electronic gadgets in the hands of every child. As tools, the devices have learning advantages. They also teach kids to center the world on themselves. You just send out your daily "selfie" report and photo and imagine millions reading all about you.

In reality, that's not likely to happen. Nor are many likely to care.

In teen years, if you are open to life outside yourself, a summer job can earn money while teaching how a good attitude and cooperation can make your life more productive and exciting .

For those who didn't learn about attitude and caring at home, a job can help them learn fast.

But recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that only 40 percent of our 15- to 19-year-olds are working at summer jobs. That's down from 75 percent of teens a generation ago.

So what are our kids doing? And where will it take them?

Most people consider their chosen type of work gives purpose to their lives along with a living. And if they prepare themselves for employment informed by their natural talents, work can bring broad and pleasurable rewards.

Locally, clerks of all ages serve shoppers in the stores. Many are older people trying to supplement a meager income. Sometimes with physical frailties, they nevertheless follow instructions and react with courtesy and consideration toward shoppers.

In contrast, teen checkers sometimes appear pouty, don't say "hello" or smile, and seem determined not to assist elderly customers in loading checked groceries into a cart, though they clearly are stronger and more able.

In the event someone younger than I happens to read this, or is forced by a parent to read it, the young person likely will ask, "So, smarty pants, what did you do when you were my age?"

You'll be sorry you asked. Listen, anyway. You might sense an attitude or a vague pattern of response to life that you could use, even in this greatly advanced world you live in.

Yes, times were different in generations past. But work is going to be a necessity in your life. Your attitude can make it pleasurable or boring.

Like many of my youth, I was raised on a farm. Work there, beginning at age 8 or 9 meant going to the pasture for the milk cows. If one of them happened to have given birth to a new calf that day, or if the bull was feeling curmudgeonly, you might have found yourself running for your life to climb the nearest haystack. In the end, you were expected to bring in the cows.

If, at age 9 or 10, you can hold a milk bucket between your knees while keeping a T-shape milk stool upright and extract milk from a cow that would prefer to kick you or swat you across the face with a nasty tail, then you are now a regular.

By age 12 or 13, you'd be expected to shape endless acres of cut grain into teepee-like shocks. In the event you didn't do it well and the wind blew the shocks down, you'd find yourself repeating the process.

Believe it or not, all this helps one learn to do things right. Or wish you had.

If a cow jumped the fence and gorged herself in the alfalfa field, she discovered that fresh alfalfa is not cattle food and staggered to the corral hugely bloated and miserable. In order to save her life, which is crucial to your family's survival, you will give her "the treatment."

While your sister throws a lariat around the cow's neck and secures it to a nearby post, you climb aboard the writhing bovine neck and tighten a kerosene-soaked towel that fills her mouth. If the bloated cow burps sufficiently and does not die, you will now be ready for a bath. This can occur if you carry a bucket or two of water from the irrigation canal and heat it on the cob-fired cookstove.

Now you are age 15 or 16, and it's time for sugar beet harvest on weekends. The weather is frosty. You wear heavy winter clothes to walk the long rows of beets, mechanically lifted from the ground, but which you bend over to grab by the root, one at a time, and chop away the crown and leaves with a big knife that can remove fingers if your aim is off.

In the evening, you'll milk several cows, gather heating fuel for the house, and wash supper dishes.

You'll probably still find time for a bath and a Saturday night dance wherever the kids are gathering. For awhile, you'll forget how tired you are.

But you'll never forget all you learned about attitude and planning an easier way to earn a living. And how it strengthened you for adversities that may head your way.

Not in a lifetime will you forget.

Today, I hope kids don't expect fanciful response from Twitter or some other gadget to relay their special gifts to the world. Their talents in action, with concern for fellow travelers along the way, can bring them rewards and surprises never imagined.

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