Thursday, July 5, 2006
Several weeks ago Jo Anne and I were visiting with our good friends, Miles and Barb Gardner, in Surprise, Arizona. We had gone to Arizona to see our youngest son John, receive his certificate as a specialist in ER medicine from the University of Arizona in Tucson and at long last become a full-fledged M.D. having successfully completed his residency. It has taken him four years of college, four years of medical school, and four years of an internship and residency to ultimately achieve his goal. John knows how to work! He also knows how to play, but somewhere along the line he learned how to "scratch".
Let me explain my use of the word "scratch". While staying with the Gardners in Surprise we noticed out in their yard a number of quail. The quail were in family groups and were very interesting to watch. The mom and dad quail would have their little chicks out with them in the hot sunshine scratching for food and then herding the little ones back under the shade of a bush when it got too hot. We came to understand while watching them that there was one mom and dad quail that had 21 chicks. When that family went out to scratch for food, the entire family was scratching and working hard. Mom and dad quail simply could not scratch for food for themselves and all their children, and so these little ones were scratching for themselves, and in the process learning to become independent and strong. On the other hand, one mom and dad quail only had one chick. Watching this family we noticed mom and dad scratching hard and giving food to their little baby, but that the baby chick was not scratching at all. Having all its needs met by mom and dad quail it was as though the baby chick had not learned how to scratch for food. Why did it have to scratch when mom and dad were doing all the scratching for it?
Now, my observation is not about family size, but about the necessity of each one of us learning how to "scratch". No child is done a favor by parents who do all the scratching and thus put their child or children on early retirement. If a child does not somewhere along the line learn how to "scratch" how will it ever find its way successfully through life? I suspect it is as difficult now to teach children how to "scratch" as it ever has been at any time. We are such an affluent society, and many moms and dads can do everything and provide everything for their little "chicks", but at what cost?
One of my favorite people over the years has been Spencer W. Kimball -- a man who knew how to "scratch". He graduated from high school in 1914, and his father, Andrew Kimball, also his stake president and president of the board of education, delivered an address at the graduation ceremony and announced that Spencer would not be going to college in the fall; he would be on a mission. Spencer, in his journal recorded: "Father informed me in these exercises before all the people that I was to be called on a mission. This took me by surprise for I had been planning to go to college."
"Four days after graduation he was at work in Globe, eighty miles west. His job had already been arranged. Two summers back his father, hard-pressed financially, had helped him find a job with the Anderson-Blake Dairy at $47.50 a month plus meals and a bunk. The second and third summers he earned $62.50 a month at a different Globe dairy. Except for tithing and an occasional five-cent ice cream or chocolate bar-"once in a while I would indulge myself"-Spencer had saved his whole wage to pay for books, clothes, and pocket money at Gila Academy through the winter. Now the money would go for his mission."
"Spencer described life at the dairy: "June 22. Nothing extraordinary happened. Same work each day. Arise at 8 a.m. Eat breakfast. String from 30-40 bales of hay around the mangers and remove wires therefrom. Help wash about 300 bottles. 10 a.m. help yoke up the cows. 10:30 milk till 12 pm. when I turn separator and feed calves. Clean the refuse hay out of the mangers. Dinner at 12:45. Sweep up boards in barn and clean up waste hay. Rest. 5 p.m. Help wash bottles again. Saw wood, put separator and strainers together. Milk again from 11pm.-2 a.m.
"It was tough work. The scalding water he and the other boys used to wash the milk cans made their fingers tender. As soon as he would start to milk his two dozen cows, morning or night, the pressure on his tender fingers would split the flesh. They swelled and cracked until the blood would ooze out. "I could have cried many a time," he remembered. Some of the boys' fingers got so sore their fingernails fell off and their forearms swelled. Some of the cows' udders seemed so hard, Spencer remembered, that "it was almost like getting milk out of iron bars." When he would walk into town for Sunday School with some of the other boys, their fingers would throb so badly they would hold them over their heads to help the blood drain out. "I always made the joke," said Spencer, "that we supposed people who saw us thought we were giving up, surrendering. But of course, we put our cracked and bleeding hands in our pockets if we passed anyone."
(Andrew E. Kimball, Edward L. Kimball, Spencer W. Kimball: Twelfth President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 50.)
Couldn't Andrew Kimball, a prominent man in the community, have made life a little easier for little Spencer? I suspect he could have, but chose not to. Much of the greatness of Spencer W. Kimball came from his ability to work hard day in and day out. After his years of working at the Globe Dairy I would imagine that most other jobs he ever had seemed relatively easy. His dad taught him how to "scratch" and he became strong and self-reliant in the process.
What do we do today to help our children learn to "scratch"? There aren't many Globe Dairies anymore are there? Understanding the principle of "scratching" for ourselves however, is invaluable, and then we must be creative in applying the principle in our lives and in our children's lives.
"Scratching" need not be unpleasant. I believe the chick that scratches for its own food ultimately enjoys it more than the chick that never learned how to "scratch".
"It does not seem to be true that work necessarily needs to be unpleasant. It may always have to be hard, or at least harder than doing nothing at all. But there is ample evidence that work can be enjoyable, and that indeed, it is often the most enjoyable part of life."
(Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, 1990, Mihaly Csitkszentmihalyi)