News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Mike Lunsford

November 2, 2009

The Off Season: Proving persistence, one pull of the rake at a time


In summers long ago, I used to work with my grandfather as he tried to earn a few extra dollars with his retired time. It was hard work for a 12-year-old boy, but he’d come down to our house by 7 a.m. or so, his black coffee and toast already gulped, to drag me out of bed to go with him to hoe strawberries at a neighborhood farm. I remember standing at the end of those roes in my Huck Finn get-up, shoelessly toeing at the sandy soil, as the newly planted strawberry plants — a year away from yielding fruit — stretched out in long straight rows toward the horizon. We’d hoe until lunch, eat out of our dented aluminum boxes in the shade of a few locust trees, then hoe some more, and we did it for 75 cents an hour.

My grandpa thought jobs like that would “make a man” out of me. At the time, I just thought they made me tired. He, on the other hand, was a hoeing machine, and if I couldn’t keep up, which inevitably I couldn’t, he’d just hoe himself a good distance away from me, a blur of his worn hoe blade and wrinkled skin in the far distance. But it was his lessons in hoeing that kept me going years later when I insisted on cutting a 100-foot sycamore tree into fireplace-length pieces, a mall and sledge and ax and sweat all the resources I had, and it took me from midsummer until the snow was flying to get the job done.

I hear of great tales of persistence: a man who has read the Encyclopedia Britannica, a woman who collected aluminum cans until she could pay for a community swimming pool, a tough old guy who tore a barn down a stick of wood at a time, took it to his new farm in numbered pieces, and put it all back together again. Just a few days ago, I read about a man who had completed a trip around the world in his own old car. Small strokes do indeed topple great oaks, as Benjamin Franklin reminds us.

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