All of this starts with an ancient mansion on the edge of town, three floors huge, tall doric pillars perfectly stationed over an elegant overhang way up top. Rumor has it that the entire third floor is a dance hall--"dance hall" sounds cheap. Amend it to ballroom. Seriously, the entire third floor.
That old mansion was moved here. No one in their right minds would build anything like it today. No Dutch Calvinist would have built it long ago, sinfully ostentatious. Picture some 150-year old hotel on the Main Street of some upper Midwestern town--that's what the place looks like.
Yesterday, when it had already begun to feel as if the day was going to be as hot as promised, I drove by that monster and noticed two kids--they looked like kids, but they may have been late teens--scraping the paint off the siding in the front. I am aware that some people do more tedious jobs everyday throughout the world, but scraping paint is hardly the work of kings. It wasn't hot yet yesterday morning, when I saw them; but the temps finally reached up into the 90s here yesterday, and we're in Iowa, not Arizona, where the 90s is not only livable but pleasant. I didn't envy those kids.
Just seeing them there, taking on that spekkled monster, reminded me of baling hay when I was in my early teens. Upstairs in bed, I'd hear the phone ring downstairs, then listen as my mother spoke only once or twice during a short-lived conversation that would tell her when I needed to be where that morning, at what farm in the Town of Holland, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin.
For reasons I secretly treasured as being my own bulk and strength, I was almost always assigned to pack bales in fly-infested dust bins where, by early afternoon, the temps rose higher than the stupid decorative cupolas on the roof. I spent hours and hours and hours in a succession of hay mows, packing them full of bales ripe with a pungency I will never, ever forget.
But, oh my, I learned how to work. I did. I disliked everything but the lemonade, but honestly wish my grandson could have a similar opportunity today. I really do. I suppose I think of baling hay as vets talk about the military--a million dollar experience I wouldn't give a nickel for.
There those two young guys, kids, stood in front of that formidable monster of a house. Blessedly, they had a cherry-picker. At least they wouldn't have to spend energy going up and down ladders to reach those awful flaky gutters. But what faced them in all that heat was a whole long day of scraping paint. Could there be a worse fate?
If I had a nickel for every time I heard this line, we could have a great night at the casino: "that guy [substitute boy, girl, kid, woman, man] knows how to work." Among the children of the Dutch Reformed, to be described in that way is a blessing because, dang it, we're good at work. Works for women too. Loose some women in the church kitchen, and when the dust is gone, someone ringing out a dishrag will say it.
I just finished working on a book for Sioux Center's 125th birthday, and the most impressive takeaway is the realization that success is in fact achieved by those who work. And work. And work; and then, when the rest of the crew is home watching the Twins, work some more. Successful people don't work because they have to, but because they want to. Doesn't matter what at, they simply love to work.
Today at my church, a bunch of guys are getting together to put on a new roof. I won't be among them. I'm too old--that's not an excuse, it's plain fact.
But I can guarantee that among those who do show up, some will earn the description--"that guy knows how to work." I've been on a hundred such jobs. I know very well that there will be some blood sport among the true men, some significant testosterone spent in the battle to work even harder than the next guy.
Work is like righteousness. You can't get enough, really, ever.
I grew up among whole crowds of people who knew how to work, entire churches full of them. Whether or not my ancestors ever did it is irrelevant, I guess, but nothing about Tulip Festivals seems more characteristically Dutch than all those long-handled brooms and milk cans full of bubbly water--the perfectly absurd job of street-scrubbing. It's nuts. It really is. But let me tell you: just stand there and watch them for a while, and you'll say it too--"good night, those people know how to work."
They do. Good Lord, they do.
[More to come--]