My grandparents and thousands of others just like them left Denmark in the 1890s, having served and worked, walked and loved. They had learned lessons around kitchen tables, kilns, and fishing boats.
Many were fishermen and tradesmen leaving home because there was no way to expand.
Some left with a reputation because they had stolen something one day in their past.
Some with a reputation for being skilled would be greatly missed. Some had been divorced and left behind a small daughter who would disappear in memory and never surface to be recognized again.
They arrived in America to be greeted by New Yorkers who had been building, working, and sweating for one hundred fifty years. They stood for hours in the lines at Ellis Island or sat on their crates and trunks, and worried that they would be refused entry.
Those who greeted them or sold them railway tickets or directed them to the rooming houses had also internalized their own lessons around heavy wooden kitchen tables in Poland, Italy, Denmark, or Scotland – or perhaps in Brooklyn. Now those lessons were being worked out by New Yorkers, by Bostonians, by those who had Gone West.
They worked out what had been worked in.
My grandfather ordered a custom made clothes brush in 1884. The date is gouged deep into the side of the thick wooden base. The heavy bristles are all brown except for the couple of hundred white ones that form his initials within the brush itself – SL – in beautiful script. No one could ever doubt whose clothes brush it was.
My maternal grandfather built the library table that sits by my pantry. My dad built the book case with perfectly swinging doors on small hinges. My mother crocheted the dresses I wore when I was three and four and five that hang here and there.
They all worked out what had been worked in. Someone showed them. They learned. They did. They remembered. They recognized where to implement it. They chose to implement it. So I have the library table, the book case, and the dresses.
Get up and get to work! – became gotta do what ya gotta do accompanied by it is what it is. Which later became we have to live life as it is, not the way we wish it was. Repetition of gentle sayings that got worked into the warp and woof of life to remind children and young people and old people – life is what you make it.
Sun’s up! Time’s a-wastin’!
About fifteen years ago in Minnesota Lakes Country Grant was dealing with An Old Farmer regarding the purchase of a small rowboat.
The negotiations took some time because the old man had stories to tell about how he and his wife had managed their farm over the decades. He shared in some detail about how this field got cleared, how that beaver dam got blown up.
Each story ended with a triumphant restatement and declaration. “Yup. I blew that dam up. I did I did.” There’s just something about the satisfaction of honestly declaring, “Yup. I did that. I did I did.” (with no pause for punctuation)
When Grant and I, some weeks after the drama of placing the ledger board, finally finished our 12′ X 20′ deck on the Minnesota house we took up the Ceremonial Carpenter’s Pencil and one of us began “Yup. We built it…” and the other chimed in to finish together, “We did we did.”
Internalized lessons that become reference points end up reinforcing day by day determinations, hour by hour results, and and become life’s accomplishments.
Unlike some states in these United States, Montana laws allow for mineral rights to be held by individuals. The original plots of land deeded to settlers in the early 1900s included 100% of the rights for any minerals found either on top of or under the matted prairie grass that covered the poor land and those mineral rights continue to move with the ownership of the land over the years.
Because he understood the value of property our dad didn’t sell his mineral rights during The Great Depression when there was no cash for months at a time, as some others did.
Because he understood the value of delayed gratification he didn’t sell his mineral rights for an excellent price in the early 1950s, as some did, in order to buy a new car.
Because he understood the value of patient endurance he didn’t become bitter when he lost both some land and some mineral rights during the depression. The bank took possession of less than fifty acres because he was unable to pay the taxes on that one parcel. The local banker told him he would have first rights to buy it back when things got better. Things got better. Dad repurchased the acreage but the Federal Land Bank had passed a regulation that allowed them to retain 50% of the mineral rights from such land so, to this day, out of 1180+ acres, our family no longer holds the mineral rights for that portion.
Because he understood the value of doing what’s right – when he was dying in 1962, he included 50% of the mineral rights in the sale of the farm to his nephew and retained 50% for mom. He could have retained 100% for her but in his thinking that would not have been right.
Because he was determined to simply do things right, last December Grant refused to turn in his resignation at his part time Home Depot work via a phone call. He believed you need to resign in person.
It wasn’t that they didn’t know what was happening – they had known for a month that he had a terminal diagnosis and would never be back to work. I always tried to support in very practical ways and would go with him when he had doc appointments or tasks that could be difficult or lonely during those weeks, but you know what? This trip for this task? I just couldn’t.
I tried to persuade him, gently, that it was OK to do an official resignation on the phone in conversation with his department manager. We talked about it two or three times and then one morning he quietly said, “I’m going to Home Depot. Shouldn’t take too long.”
He did. It didn’t. I couldn’t.
I had watched him cross every ‘t’ and dot ever ‘i’ all of his life – doing it the way it needed to be done. Drove me crazy sometimes when a job took him three hours (done right) that I could have done in thirty minutes (done fast). And now, knowing he was walking in there to finally say, “I can’t. I have to resign.”
So he did it ‘the right way.’ With full accountability. Face to face. In complete sentences. Taking direct responsibility for what they already full well knew: he would not be coming back to work.
When our sons and I spoke with his former department manager at Home Depot, there were tears in her eyes which escaped now and then as she described to them how she valued his work.
She said it like this: “I call them my old farts crew. When I have a bunch of guys like your dad in my department things work right. The paperwork is right. They show up on time. They work until I kick them out. Inventory is pulled down at the right time. With an old farts crew I know we’re good to go. They do it right and don’t have to be watched.”
Lessons that are worked in do get worked out.
Doing one or the other
all day – every day
let’s push on
and afterward we can say
“We did we did.”