March 1, 2008


Many of life's lessons are accompanied by either pain or laughter and frequently they arrive together. I learned recently that my Uncle Jim is in the hospital and he, unwittingly, was one of my greatest teachers. We were a lot alike I think, in that I recall much tut tutting from some of his sisters when he was young and single - it doesn't seem that long ago and like his nephew later, there may have been a dram or two involved to cause the tut tutting. He got past that stage and married a wonderful woman whom I remember laughing uproariously, when this little snot of a city boy drank an entire bottle of heavy cream found on her front porch, thinking it was milk. That same summer, my uncle had taken yours truly into their home to help with farm chores and a glorious summer it was (in retrospect). There was the day he sent me into an outdoor pen to grab a young calf and bring it into the barn. I walked in, grabbed it around the neck and pulled it through the gate, at which point the calf spotted freedom and made a bolt for the open highways with me holding on for dear life. My uncle stood in the gravelled yard and laughed his head off as I got dragged from one side to the other, like a rag doll. Every time he told that story over the years, he would add the line that I never let go of the calf and it makes me proud to this day.

My days of being a wrangler came to a close when Uncle Jim decided that I should paint the farm house, a brick, 8 storey edifice that had faded wood trim at the very top, shrouded in clouds, or so it seemed to a young boy barely taller than the aforementioned calf. Up the rickety wooden ladder I climbed with paint can and brush held with the white knuckles of one hand and the other clutched to the rungs, as I pushed myself further skyward on wobbling legs. At the top end of the ladder, I had to stretch as far as I could and still came up short of the actual peak, but I stole a glance at the ground when I heard my uncle standing there laughing so hard he was crying - the very top never did get painted that summer, but many years later, I had a painting business with 5 crews working and I didn't allow them to leave the worksite without painting the very top, or I'd climb up and do it myself.

Another responsibilty, that long ago summer, was keeping the barn clean and I attacked the corridors with a push broom and much enthusiasm and he always expressed his pride in my efforts. Along with sweeping straw and hay, there was the need to keep various areas directly behind the cows and some hog living quarters, clean as well. This required the use of a shovel, a strong back and a concerted disregard for my sense of smell. Shovelling shit became my specialty and if you have read this far, you will see that that lesson was also well taught.

Thanks Uncle Jim and I'm glad to hear you are coming home from the hospital soon.

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