I was taught early in my life about working hard. As children, my parents carefully explained to my sister and me how important it was to work hard for what we wanted. They set a perfect example of how this principle worked in their daily lives. They always lived what they taught.
We were assigned chores early in our growing-up years. Trash had to be taken out, dirty dishes had to be washed and our bedrooms, well, they were in constant need of something! Our assignments were clearly written down on a sheet of paper or poster board with exactly what was expected printed directly beside them.
Many times, I didn’t understand why I had to be responsible for so much at that time in my life. But as I became older, I realized the important lesson my parents were trying to teach us. It was a simple one: You never really value anything unless you have to sacrifice something for it.
If any of our chores went undone, my sister and I were immediately called onto the shag carpet that covered several floors of our small home. We were reprimanded, warned and reminded of what was expected of us. It was always our goal to avoid being called “onto the carpet.”
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Sometimes gold stars were firmly stuck to the poster board charts when our jobs were done well. The stars always gleamed when they caught the light — but not quite as brightly as quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. Without a doubt, we preferred money to stars!
To my sister and me, a single dollar bill meant we were rich. I remember carefully holding a bill in my hand as if it was almost holy. We loved getting the green stuff but would gladly accept coins for our good deeds. As we became older, our responsibilities increased.
Lawns had to be mowed, leaves had to be raked and not just our bedrooms had to be cleaned — the whole house did. When the large pecan trees in our front yard yielded nuts, we spent hours upon hours picking them up. We also helped our parents in the cracking and shelling process. I hated picking up nuts! To this day, I treat shelled pecans as if they are gold.
As the years passed, one dollar turned into two but the most I ever recall getting was a crisp five dollar bill. When we became old enough to drive, our parents co-signed with us to purchase a very used car. We were expected to make the car payments, so we had to seek employment elsewhere instead of just in our home and yard. We had to get real jobs!
Sears and Roebuck was my first employer. I started working there several years before I graduated from high school. My check had to be large enough to make the monthly car payment and to put gas in the tank. I rarely filled up the entire gas tank because my money situation simply wouldn’t allow it.
I can’t tell you how many times I drove up to a gas station and put just a dollar’s worth of gas in the tank. I drove, sometimes holding my breath, until the car was running on vapors and I got paid so that I could add a little more gas. It didn’t take long before I knew just how close the little needle could get to “E.” If it dropped below, I had to either rob my piggy bank to tide me over until I got paid or ask my parents for a small loan.
Many times, I didn’t understand why I had to be responsible for so much at that time in my life. But as I became older, I realized the important lesson my parents were trying to teach us. It was a simple one: You never really value anything unless you have to sacrifice something for it. In other words, you appreciate something so much more when you have to work to get it. This didn’t just involve getting by — doing our best also was expected.
My parents’ work ethic has stayed with me to this day — now many years since their deaths. I felt like it was my duty to pass along what they taught me to the next generation. My wife and I did our best.
While visiting us during the recent holidays, my son and I were working on something around the house. I was just trying to “get it done” so we could move on.
“Pops, if we are going to do this, we are going to do it right,” Blake said. He was correct. I was proud. All of us need to be reminded from time to time.
Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him at instagram.com/markcreates; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.