I believe in the value of hard work and the strength of family.
We all think that our childhoods were harder that those of our children. And our parents think the same of theirs too. And you know what, it’s probably true. But my children don’t disbelieve their father’s childhood stories, for they can visit the proof, to this very day.
My wife once asked me: “Fred, could you NOT tell people about HOW YOU WERE BROUGHT UP?
She said: “Most people can’t relate to growing up in a LABOR CAMP.”
My six siblings toiled in this “labor camp”, where we did what we were told, out of the great love and respect for our parents. Living attached to a grocery store, open every day of the year, while maintaining 30 apartments, could be seen as labor I suppose.
But on top of all that, there was THE WALL. A great stone wall constructed over 15 years of hard, physical labor.
A wall so big and strong that it remains today as the proof, that my children now bare witness too.
That Wall was the “homework” through which my father taught many life lessons, such as cooperation and trust in your brothers. With no machinery, but simply our legs and backs, we spent hour after day after year “flipping” stones too large to carry.
We’d joke about dad’s unspoken motto: “If you can do it by hand then do it by hand; and if you can do by machine, then do it by hand”. His norm had us cutting telephone poles with a 2 man buck saw and dragging countless railroad ties with giant ice tongs from the 1930s.
One very sad spring brought us down to the river to begin work, only to witness the dozens of immense stones washed down stream by the river’s raging waters and resting on the bedrock below. Dad’s simple direction; “Go and bring them back so we can rebuild the wall”. And without question or rebuke we commenced flipping stones, upstream.
Now, more than ever, I see the Wall as a metaphor of our family; a family stronger because of the sum of the individual stones within it. A strong wall, built stone by stone. A strong family, fashioned person by person. Each one in turn, set firmly, yet gently in its ultimate, purposeful place, over those many years, by the “great mason” of our lives; our father.
And when my father passed away, I returned to The Wall after many years. And in the wall, as within our family then, I found an open “wound”, a hole, within the wall. I reached deep inside the heart of that wall, and I pulled out a single stone. We all signed that stone and gently placed it in the coffin where our father’s leg once was. We were all very proud to carry our father that day, and were somehow comforted by the task of carrying one last rock for “the Old Man”.
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