To earn money during the summer months as a young teen in Utah I’d mow lawns and do odd jobs for my father. But once or twice a summer my grandfather would invite me to his home to work on his small farm. We called it a farm but it was really just a large garden. The only animal I ever saw was a big fat squirrel that lived on the wood pile. My grandpa told me he once saw a snake on the wood pile and that was enough to keep me from going very close to it.
My grandma would make us breakfast and then send me off the farm with a big kiss to my cheek. My job was to carry the big thermos full of lemonade to and from the car. Once we arrived at the farm my grandpa would give me a few tasks to do. Sometimes I’d weed the carrots or pick fresh peas. If I was lucky he’d let me water the beans or pick peaches or cherries from the trees that dotted the property. That way I could work in the shade.
Although the temperature during the summer months could easily climb into the mid 90’s we had lots of lemonade to keep us cool. I enjoyed hanging out with my grandpa and they stories he’d tell. I recall him telling me how he’d pick crates full of fruit for pennies a day when he was my age. I learned more about the life of my grandpa during these days on the farm than I ever did otherwise. He was at home on the farm and his normally stern demeanor relaxed while he worked there.
I’d keep busy the first few days and the time would fly. But the minute grandpa would run out of real jobs for me to do, he’d have me walk around the perimeter of the farm and look for large rocks in the soil. My jobs was to find, dig and then toss them towards the outer fence. This was the most boring job in the world to a 14-year old boy. I could toss hundreds of rocks and never feel like I’d made any progress. When I’d pick fruit I could see the results of my labor, but tossing rocks at a fence felt like busy work to me. It felt like insignificant.
Tossing rocks was made worse by the fact that I was able to see my grandpa working the rototiller. The rototiller was the holy grail of machinery to a 14-year old. I so very wished my grandpa would let me work it by myself. It looked like so much fun and did such a good job turning dirt that I wondered why weeding by hand was ever necessary. I’d watch my grandpa go up and down the rows with the rototiller while I was digging up rocks that were growing faster than any vegetable on the garden.
One afternoon on the drive back home, I asked my grandpa if I could run the rototiller the next day. He didn’t answer immediately. But that night at the dinner he told me and grandma that I could work the rototiller the next morning. I was so excited I could barely sleep that evening. I slept in my uncle’s old room that came with a digital clock radio. I’d watch that clock tick off the minutes until I dozed off listening to Gordon Lightfoot.
The next morning we arrived at the farm and grandpa told me I could rototill the very area where I tossed rocks from the day before. He showed me how to safely engage the blades that dug deep into the soil. I pulled the cord a few times to get it started and was quickly on my way to rototilling bliss. It was so much fun although I felt like the rototiller was pulling me a lot more than I was guiding it over the soil. I was making good progress when I heard a very loud, SMACK! The rototiller jerked hard to the left and toss me to the dirt as I tried in vain to control it. Luckily, my grandpa was there to pull me up safely away from the blades. He turned off the engine, and I stood there shaken and a bit embarrassed. I looked down and saw a huge rock in the dirt with white scrape mark across it. I’m sure my grandpa saw it too but he never said a word. He brushed the dirt off my shirt and face. The only thing he said to me was, “Grandma’s going to wonder what I did to you”.
What I learned that day was that the job I thought was meaningless wasn’t. Had I taken my rock tossing responsibilities a little more seriously the day before I may have seen that large rock. As powerful as the rototiller was, it was no match that dang rock.
I learned a lot of lessons from my grandfather. I’m glad he let me try new things like the rototiller even when he probably knew I was in over my head. I think back to these experiences now I raise my children who often ask to do things that give me pause. He’s probably looking down on me now and laughing at some of the mistakes I make. But I hope there are enough good times where he smiles and realizes that his good influence on me was can be seen in how I interact with my children today.