Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Hard Work

Work. Just thinking about the word can conjure feelings of dread, satisfaction, weariness, or accomplishment and sometimes contradictory emotions swirling together, but one thing is certain. Work is a necessity for all. Even the extremely wealthy need something to put their efforts toward to keep their days from becoming meaningless.

These days, with my third career as a teacher, summer affords me a time to change my work to focus on tasks of choice, like writing, gardening, or designing a mosaic glass table. There were plenty of other times in my life that work meant doing whatever I could to pay the bills. I have cleaned other people’s toilets, hung off ladders painting way too many feet in the air, delivered newspapers in the middle of the night, even cleaned out nasty basements getting covered head to toe in sweaty dirt all in an effort to earn my keep.
I tried to teach my kids to work hard at an early age. I remember many sweaty summer mornings helping my kids pick blueberries for sale, so that they could buy themselves things I couldn’t afford.
I hope when they think of me they will be reminded of my perseverance and my hard work and know that I did it for us all. I’m no hero, though. I just did what many people do each and every day. When I think about my perseverance I have to admit that it was driven out of sheer fear. My drive to work hard stemmed from the thought of what might happen if I didn’t.
As I think about hard work I am reminded of my great-grandmother working in the hot cotton fields to earn a little money for her children. My basement cleaning pales in comparison. Here is a portion of her story from my book Leave Him? available on Amazon.

As Ella tied her bonnet on her head to prepare for another long day of working in the field, she noticed herself in the mirror. A talk with her mom always lightened her worries a bit. She thought, “Every time someone whispers that I can’t make it on my own, I need to remind myself that they are right. I can’t—If I didn’t have the help of mama and daddy I wouldn’t have survived this long.”
She grabbed the cotton sack and slung it over her aching shoulder, sighed a bit and said, “Bye mama, and you be sweet Roselle. See y’all this evening.”
As she walked toward Mr. Wilson’s farm she could see the three little brown heads of hair blowing in the breeze as they chased after the baby pig who had gotten out of the pen. As Henry grabbed the pig by his hind leg it let out a squeal. Floyd noticed her walking towards them and said, “Have a good day Mama! If I didn’t have to go to stupid school, I’d come help you.”
“Floyd, you know school is the most important job you have. Study hard so you can be something when you get big. That goes for you too, Henry and Buford. See ya this evenin.” Ella Mae waved as she walked past them to the fence-line. She crawled over the top of the fence to save a few steps and remembered, “It sure was easier to hop over this fence when I was going over it on the way to meet Harvey.” Many times he would come here to meet up with her.
“Come on Ella Mae. Jump to me and I’ll catch ya,” Harvey said as he pushed his hat back to show his face.
Ella Mae perched on top of the fence and paused to study Harvey Pate. His smile caused the left corner of his mouth to rise slightly more than the right, displaying his dimple all the more. When he smiled he seemed like a playful little boy. Ella Mae thought he seemed a bit mischievous, and he seemed to enjoy planning their sneaking off together.
“Come on girl, jump. Don’t ya trust me?”
Did she trust him? Oh, she trusted him enough to jump from a three foot fence, she just wasn’t sure she trusted him enough to jump into a life together with him. She looked into his eyes, said nothing, and leapt. Harvey caught her and twirled her around making a full circle before allowing her feet to touch the ground. “I told you, you could trust me, Ella Mae. I won’t ever let you down.”
The breeze blew into her face making it impossible to stop her tears from falling from her eyes. Walking as fast as she could toward Mr. Wilson’s farm didn’t seem fast enough. She suddenly had the urge to run. She hiked up her skirt and ran toward the tree line. Maybe she ran to remind her of her girlhood and innocence, maybe she ran to have a moment of feeling like she was escaping. When she got to the trees she stopped. Leaning her back against a dogwood, she looked up at the rustling leaves, took a deep breath and wiped the tears from her face.
“Harvey, you did let me down! You should’ve taken care of me and treated me right! Every time you beat me, you let me down. Every time you spread lies about me, you let me down. Every day you refuse to take care of our kids, you let me down.” She shouted.
She slid to the ground and looked up toward heaven.
“Lord, why can’t you make Harvey change? Why can’t you fix him? How many times have I cried out to you asking you to heal his mind? You made heaven and earth and all that is around me. You can do anything because you are almighty. Why can’t you fix Harvey?”
The sound of the leaves brushing against each other in the breeze was the only sound she heard. Ella Mae knew better than to question God, especially out loud. She never had voiced the questions that plagued her mind night and day before now.
She bowed her head and said, “I’m sorry, Lord. I realize that you gave us all a free will and I know Harvey is using his to choose the bad things that he should not choose. I just get so frustrated and since I can’t tell him all of this, I guess I sometimes blame you. I’m sorry!”
Feeling spent from all of the emotions boiling up inside her and from her run, she had the urge to just lie on the cotton sack under the trees and take a nap. A couple of feet from her a squirrel crept down a tree trunk and dug in last fall’s leaves looking for something to eat. Ella Mae watched his tiny hands bring forth a hickory nut and take a nibble, while looking at her. She kept perfectly still, so she wouldn’t scare the creature. The little fingers on both his hands clung tightly to the nut as his big brown eyes studied Ella Mae. He twitched his tail a bit then scampered off to hide behind a distant tree.
Ella Mae stood, dusted off the back of her dress, picked up her cotton sack and said, “Well, even the squirrels have to work to get their food. The Good Lord doesn’t rain nuts down from heaven when they are hungry, so I guess I better go make some money to help feed my babies.”

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