When I turned fourteen years old, I decided that it was high time to get a real job. Riding my bike down to the old man’s property wasn’t cutting it. I had done it ever since that first day of raking leaves and while it had brought in some extra money, it wasn’t nearly as much as I wanted. If I was to one day purchase that house in the hills I have always dreamed of, I would definitely need more income.
Now, let’s talk about my work ethic for just a minute. I think I did a pretty decent job of describing it above, but in case you didn’t get the gist, I’ll tell you what it was – pathetic. But worse than being pathetic was the fact that even though I didn’t do much of anything in the way of hard labor, I felt I deserved more pay. Being older now, I see that my way of thinking may have been the very problem that kept getting in my way, but as far as I was concerned back then, I felt as though I deserved more.
I often thought about why I wasn’t earning any money at the old man’s house, and it wasn’t until my teenage years that I figured out exactly what was going on. And I’ll just begin to tell you about it here.
During many workable days, meaning weather permitting, I would come home from school, change my clothes and run out the back door of our house. I would jump on my bike and ride straight out of our driveway. I would pedal up the road to its end and then make a right. Now, I’ll tell you that I grew up in a house that was situated on top of a hill, a big hill. A hill so big that it was serious action riding down that hill. And that hill may have been part of the reason why I liked riding my bike to the old man’s house so often.
Anyway, I would ride my bike on that main road until I reached that giant hill. When I hit its crest, I would pedal as fast as I could so I would hit all the big bumps the hill offered. There were one or two larger ones that would allow me to sometimes get air if I was going fast enough. Now, as soon as I got air off the second bump, I would have to start applying my brakes because the old man’s house wasn’t on the road I was traveling. It was on another main road that ran parallel to it. In order to get to the old man’s house, I would have to go to the bottom of the hill, slow down a lot more, and then make a left to cut through to the other main road.
The road I turned onto twisted and turned and was really fun to ride on. I remember it being chock full of big trees and there was barely any traffic at all. Great for riding a bicycle. And even more so since no one knew I had even left my house. I’m sure none of my family would have appreciated getting a phone call telling them that something had happened to me because a car had decided to get in my way or something like that.
When I reached the end of that twisty road and with the reservoir coming into view, I would take a quick right onto the other main road and then I would take a really quick left. My father had built a dirt road that traveled from the main road all the way through the old man’s property and to the dirt parking lot I told you about before. I swear I think I put more work into getting back and forth to and from the old man’s house than I did with what he had me do there.
I would ride my bike along that dirt road, through that dirt parking lot and onto the pavement – finally towards his office which was situated in one of those old factory buildings I told you about. Finally, I would walk inside and get my list.
The old man left a never ending list of chores for me to read each and every day I showed up. It wasn’t necessary for me to find him to ask him what needed to be done. Most of the time, I wouldn’t have to talk to him at all. He would simply wander about his property on his own schedule and think of things that needed to be done. And then he would just add each item he thought of to that list.
In addition to the list that held the items the old man felt needed to be completed, there was always a few dollars as well. A clipboard holding both the list and the money was hung on the wall of the main room, directly across from the main entrance. When I walked in through the door, I could see it without any difficulty. It was a nice arrangement too because as soon as I entered, I would trot across the room, grab the money, read the list and then walk out to get to work. Well, what I thought was work anyway.
Oftentimes, the old man simply had me trim bushes and do some light weed whacking. He would jot down that he needed me to go in the garage to get paint for some small project. Either a fence somewhere needed touching up or a blue shutter was peeling. You know, small stuff like that. And I’ll be really honest with you here. There were times when I thought that the old man just liked having me around. I would see him from the corner of my eye just watching me. He would wander around with his hands clasped behind his back soaking up the situation. The situation he created and maintained right there on his property. The property that held all those wonderful things I have described throughout this story.
Now, like I mentioned above, I thought that I needed more money. I was fourteen years old and even though I had grown very fond of traveling down to the old man’s property to work and even fond of the old man himself, I wasn’t getting paid very much. I thought the grass might be greener on the other side. The day of our talk in that dirt parking lot was never spoken of and the old man seemed to have had an about-face in his opinion of me. I hadn’t found out why because we hadn’t done much talking. But there was a sort of relaxation in the old man. His belligerence had dissipated and he seemed much more accepting of me. It made life better, but still, I felt I had to move on.