His daddy had a nightly routine. First, he’d go through the house with a Flit sprayer, and spray the bedrooms with insecticide for mosquitoes, then he’d hit the outhouse. Once done with his doings, he’d bark commands to his boys. “Before my dad went to bed each night, he assigned chores to be completed before he got home next day: re-roof that carport, cut a rick of wood in the swamp, go get a load of pine knots, go get that cow, find that goat, fix that fence, pick those peas, clean out that barn, take the starter off that car, move that hill…”
That’s Cousin Codger talking. He worked as a kid, he worked as a grownup, he’s still working, after retirement. “I’m on a first name basis with work.”
Cousin Codger lives on the outskirts of a small town that never was large, but used to be bigger. Of the many things about America that I did not see coming, the decline of the American work ethic is high on the list. For perspective, I went to Cousin Codger.
“To many people, work is a four-letter word,” says Cousin Codger.
Needy? Or Dead Weight?
There’s always been those, of the dawdling persuasion, but in Cousin Codger’s youth, the lazy at least had the good manners to keep their flaw hidden. “There was a time when accepting assistance was an embarrassment. Seems now, that everybody wants something for free,” he says.
“During the Great Depression, there were few “Help Wanted” signs and millions seeking employment. Today we have millions of “Help Wanted” signs and few seeking employment.”
We seem to have crossed some common-sense line, where America can’t distinguish between the truly needy, and the truly dead weight.
Cousin Codger quotes a passage we would’ve heard from the pulpit in our youth, the Apostle Paul admonishing fellow church members, “…if any would not work, neither should he eat.” (II Thessalonians 3:10.)
“I agree,” said Cousin Codger, but he has some specific exceptions, “children whose parents don’t provide, the handicapped, and the elderly. I think Paul would agree. We must help those who are less fortunate than we, not those who are lazier than we.”
Rise and Fall of Families
Cousin Codger is old enough to have seen a very different America. In his youth the nuclear family was the center of life, multiple generations layering the truth about Who We Are and What We Stand For, to the youngest generation. Since World War II the nuclear family, as it once was, began “a gradual dissolution,” he says.
“I have watched families over several generations. Some improved their lot and some descended. The determining factor was the work ethic.
“Ultimately, parents are responsible for instilling a work ethic and many are failing. Why do the parents of a teenage son hire someone to cut the grass?” Cousin Codger’s father’s unspoken parenting motto was Keep ‘em Busy. “Today’s unspoken parenting motto is Keep ‘em Entertained.”
This is a man who had a newspaper route, who pumped gas, did oil changes, worked day labor, fetching, sweating, grunting. He is baffled, that grown men pay gym fees, and then hire someone to cut their grass.
To Cousin Codger, work is a fine thing. “Any job is better than no job! There are few feelings more satisfying than the feeling at the conclusion of an honest day’s work. Now that’s a good tired…”
He’s got a college education, but thinks the American schools are “failing by not teaching manual arts.” He sees what is obvious. “Everybody wants to work indoors now. Craftsmen, like plumbers, electricians, carpenters, roofers, brick masons, and welders are in short supply.
“Too many young people finish college with no work experience, only to find that they do not like their chosen field. They should have to spend time on the front lines early in their college career. Work experience teaches skills that cannot be taught in the classroom.
“I worked several links in the petrochemical chain – oilfield construction, rough neck, offshore pipeline, refinery laborer, refinery operator, and service station attendant.” When he finally got a white-collar job, he found it “was the toughest job I ever had.”
Whistle or Whine
His father once worked seven years without a day off. “Now, everybody clamors for the weekend so that they can get a break! Those who built this country seldom got a break. This country wasn’t built on holidays and vacations.”
Cousin Codger believes in the American way. If you’re a good person, and a good worker, you’ll be in high demand. “Anyone who gets along with co-workers and customers, and is dependable can advance up the chain. The best way to advance at work is to do things not listed in your job description.”
His family childhood taught him what college never did, about the power of attitude. “A person who is unhappy at work is likely unhappy everywhere.” And vice versa. “One’s attitude at work generally reflects one’s attitude about life. We have gone from ‘Whistle while you work’ to ‘Whine while you work.’”
Cousin Codger is old school about work, “Honest labor is a noble venture. Our signature on our work should be like Sterling on silver.”
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This edition of Uncle P’s Bedtime Stories is dedicated to the honor of work. God expects us to pray for our daily bread, but He also expects us to bake it.
To order copies of his books, or leave Uncle P in your will, or to offer unsolicited advice, email Uncle P at email@example.com. More Uncle P Bedtime Stories are found on the Eighty-one Facebook page.