Character

Bill - Okalhoma City, Oklahoma
Entered on November 8, 2011
Age Group: 65+
Themes: work

I believe “You reap the fruits of your labor.”

I came into the world with certain traits, but I believe my character developed from surviving the gauntlet of infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.

Before age ten I had many chores: Squeezing the cow’s teats and seeing milk squirt out, knowing it would reach the table at mealtimes. Weeding sprouts and enduring the stink while wearing knee-high rubber boots, ankle-deep in the back of an oxcart, pitch forking cow manure on garden rows that yielded fresh vegetables. Crouching at the dying pig’s throat collecting and stirring the blood, though gory, in addition to the hog’s other parts that were salted in a cellar barrel, providing parents and seven siblings protein through the long, cold North Atlantic winters.

When I was not quite thirteen and cut my hand trimming fallen trees for stove wood, I didn’t think it was uncaring of my brother and grandfather to let me walk alone out of the snow-covered forest to the main road and thumb a ride to a doctor. The problem was mine, and I didn’t question family necessity taking priority.

Realizing the cliché “no pain, no gain,” in adolescence I didn’t question what came along—good or bad—I had earned the outcomes.

Back bent, swinging a four-prong pick, digging sea-worms on the low-tide mud flats strengthened my body and further conditioned my brain to recognize that labor contributed to survival, although compensation at that time was only a penny for each slimy worm dropped in the bucket.

Pulling, baiting, and dropping lobster traps to the bottom of the deep, cold North Atlantic Ocean further imprinted on my psyche. At four o’clock in the morning, I hoisted, shook herrings out of nets into the hull, and reset the nets, before heading to the mainland to sell the catch. Of course, I kept a few for a home meal. Tide restricted, standing in a dory as the sea rose, I collected rock-weeds with a ten-foot rake, returned to shore, and met the buyers.

Experiencing more wet days (fog and drizzle) than sunny ones, not to be caught with unharvested mowed fields, I pitch-forked dry hay into the barn until sunset.

Mid autumn found me stuffing eel-grass and small spruces around the rock cemented foundation to keep the house warmer, as well as the food in the cellar from freezing through the winters.

At not quite sixteen, I worked in a fish factory, dragging full tubs of herring filets on the wet floor while the boss screamed obscenities to do more, quicker. This is where I first learned the impersonal nature of business.

I am who I am because of the beliefs and values implanted in early life.