In two weeks, school will be out for the summer. While many families will head out for a long-needed vacation, and worn-out high school students will sleep in as late as possible, my boys and I will be headed to Oklahoma.
We’re not going on vacation. My boys are going to work camp on my mother’s farm. For 21/2 weeks, they will clean horse stalls, haul manure, sand and paint fences, help build a feed room in the barn, weed the garden, and perform any other task their grandparents can think of that might be needed, wanted or would help to form a stronger character in my two suburbanite boys, whose extent of weekend chores includes vacuuming, mowing, doing laundry and cleaning bathrooms.
For years, I’ve told stories of life on a farm, mostly to emphasize to my children how easy they have it and how hard I had it growing up on a farm with numerous German shepherd dogs and Arabian horses that my parents bred and showed on a regular basis.
The old joke about walking five miles in the snow barefoot to school has nothing on the stories I’ve told my boys about getting up at the crack of dawn to clean stalls and dog runs before getting ready for school, driving an hour into town, attending school, staying for after-school sports, driving home, attending to all the animals again, eating dinner, doing homework and falling exhausted into bed before another day began again.
They’ve been told a hundred times the story of my mother’s April Fool’s Day joke of waking me and my sisters up at 5 a.m. on a Saturday morning, frantically announcing that the horses had gotten loose from their pasture and we had to round them up, only to have her burst into laughter while we all scrambled around pulling on boots and coats over our pajamas.
They’ve heard the tale of chasing horses down miles of red dirt roads when they really did get loose. Or sanding and painting the barn over the summer. Or the list of chores that stretched about as long as our lanky teenage arms that my mother would leave for us on spring break week. Or how the grasshoppers were so thick in the fields you could take a couple steps, put out your arms, and gather dozens of them as they sprang into your hair, your shirt and, sometimes, even your mouth.
Needless to say, they are mildly concerned about heading to work camp, even though they adore their grandparents and are excited to see them. And they’ve naturally asked the “why” question repeatedly. And here’s what I told them:
When I was growing up on the farm, I wished I didn’t have a ton of chores. I wished we had more money, I wished we didn’t have all those animals and I wished for an easier life. But when I entered the workplace at 15, I knew what it meant to work. I knew what it meant to earn a day’s pay. I knew what it felt like to give 50 percent effort and 100 percent effort, and I found out that giving anything less than that 100 percent didn’t feel very good.
I grew up watching my parents work hard, sometimes joyfully, sometimes painfully, but they knew how to work, and they passed that gift on to their four daughters.
And that’s what I’ve come to realize what work truly is — it’s a gift, and it’s one that we want to give to our boys, so they know what it feels like to give everything they have, to earn an honest day’s wage and to feel good about what they are producing.
So, they will moan and groan about 21/2 weeks of their summer being spent doing manual labor while their friends are at the beach. But I’m betting on the memories they make, and the effort they spend, to stick with them the rest of their lives.
Karin Leeburg Larsen of Puyallup works in Seattle and enjoys writing everything from novels to a cooking blog. She is one of six reader columnists whose work appears on this page. Email her at Klarsen265@gmail.com.