Keep up the Work

On a day like today, it is easy to recall many summers ago when I joined my cousins in the tobacco fields. It was very hot - often above 95 degrees. We would spend all day going down long rows of tobacco picking three or four leaves off a stalk - this was before harvesters, or even tractors. We would be joined by a mule pulling a sled that we filled to the brim before it was driven back to the barn. Our days were sometimes interrupted by a glass of water at 10AM or if we were lucky a Pepsi Cola, Nabs or peanuts for our morning break. Sometimes we were fortunate enough to have a watermelon patch next to the tobacco field and we would dash over there and get a watermelon. We would smash the watermelon on the ground and push our gummy hands into the center and come up with the “heart”. I remember it today as being juicy and very sweet. It would be devoured with enthusiasm as this refreshment was meant to be enjoyed.

All day we would work until the field was complete or the sun went down, whichever came first; but our work was not complete after cropping. All that had been done during the day, sometimes up to 1,000 sticks of tobacco, had to be “hung” into the barn. That required somebody to hand it up to two people up in the tiers, one to hang the lower rafters and the other to hang the upper rafters - and it was hot in those barns. The temperature must have been well above 100 degrees. There were no air conditioners or fans, and the occasional breeze was all too brief. How we made it - nobody knows.

So, today we sit in air conditioned houses and offices and claim how bad we have it. I only have to reflect on those times to remember just how good things are today. We had to put forth a lot of effort for very little pay and there were not a lot of options for work. This was before the job market “opened up” - summer jobs and camps were just a dream. Summer meant work- hard work. The meager earnings were used to buy school clothes or to help with family expenses. I know things like saving accounts existed, but often there was nothing left.

Maybe the enduring lesson is that you have to work hard if anything is to be achieved. I know that I sincerely believe we do not control the outcome, we only control the effort. It requires that we do our best to make things better, or at least try. There is great satisfaction in doing the best you can do. Often the result is less significant if you know you have done all you can. I am often distressed that the goals I have set for myself have not been achieved. I know of no better prescription than to get back to work and give it all you have - each second, each minute, each hour, and each day. Unfortunately, most of us are not the beneficiaries of great inheritances. It is only through hard work and endurance that our path is made smoother. My only hope is that there is enough within us to keep working until there is a change.


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