Let me just get this out in open right away: I was an extremely lazy and extremely whiny kid. I never liked to do anything that resembled work, I complained about everything all the time, and I quickly learned to do the minimum necessary for anything assigned to me. Aside from legos and computers, I expended as little effort as possible in everything I did each day.
The funny part was my parents in many ways enabled it and slightly encouraged it. They had a hard life of labor, standing on their feet, working near 200 degree ovens, and were working 12-13 hours most days. They would come home from work exhausted and stinking of grease and dirt and tell me every single day that their life was the pits. “Use your brain, get a job where you get to sit at a desk and use brainpower instead of this horrible life we have working so hard.” Thankfully, I excelled at school and I even remember in junior high and high school when I figured out at a A- counted the same on my GPA as a A+ (my schools didn’t do the 3.67 or 4.33 for A- and A+ grades, it was all worth 4.00). I quickly became an expert on figuring out how much I needed to study and what grades I needed on exams to hit that minimum 90% in every class. Heck, I also realized teachers felt bad giving me a B+ for a 89% grade so I started shooting for 88-89% knowing I could eek out a A- and eek out a 4.0 grade from classes.
Every summer I spent a week or two with relatives, most often it was my mom’s parents, my grandma and papa. They were retired from my earliest memories so often we’d go to the beach, travel around to see other relatives, and my papa had this habit of helping out his elderly sisters and brothers with home improvement projects. He also maintained gardens at home, cured and pickled his own olives and vegetables, lots of Great Depression stuff he never stopped doing.
When I was about seven I was with my grandparents and we went off to see my aunt Lena to help out around her house. I think I started the day watching cartoons on the couch and I remember my papa coming into the living room and being grumpy, turning off the TV and asking me to help with the yardwork. As long as I can remember, I lived in a condo or a small house and I was either too young to do yardwork or yardwork was handled by the condo association. I didn’t actually buy my first lawnmower until I got a house around the age of 31. When I was a teen I would get a lot of flack from friends, since that was a standard teen chore they all had to do but I got out of.
So Papa wanted to show me how to mow a lawn at age seven, and I remember it was a push mower and Auntie Lena had a pretty sizable yard (several football fields in size to my seven year old eyes, probably meager if I visited it today). I remember what a pain it was, pushing that old rusty mower, constantly getting tripped up by too much grass in the blades, having to redo parts again and again. Over the course of a few hours I eventually got the entire lawn knocked down and my hands were blistered from the rough wood handle. After dinner, I collapsed on the living room couch and asked if I could go to sleep before 8pm.
Just before I was drifting off to exhausted sleep, my papa entered the room and said something along the lines of “Matthew. You’re tired right? Do you feel exhausted?” I said yes and he went on “Good. Now you know what an honest day’s work feels like. You’re tired and you’re exhausted but you did a good job today and you should feel proud of all you did out there. Someday you may have to do work like that every day but you will get to feel satisfaction from it like you did today.”
It’s funny, I continued to be a really whiny kid after that experience and I don’t think I ever fully kicked the laziness habit, but I do feel after that day I learned it was ok to plunge into projects and work and school assignments and hobbies and jobs with the concentration and dedication I once only reserved for new lego sets and a Commodore 64.
Thanks papa for teaching me what work means and though I’m sad to see you gone you did live to 96 and I got to spend nearly four decades with you around.