A shovelful of reminiscences and lessons

Ah, another Michigan winter is upon us, courtesy of Sunday’s storm that left all of us, I’m sure, looking out our windows and feeling like we were part of a Norman Rockwell painting.
Most people complain that our state has only two seasons (winter and orange barrel). Perhaps it’s the brown slush, wet feet, skyrocketing heating bills and more-dangerous-than-usual bumper car extravaganza we call driving in Michigan that turns people off to winter.
But the holidays, skiing, tobogganing, hockey, snowmen, snowball fights and freshly fallen snow on a crisp morning — there’s something about those things that says “childhood” to me.
And since I’ve never actually grown-up, I take a special delight in these things, even more so now that I have nieces and nephews to attack…uh… I mean teach life’s lessons.
Monday was my mother’s birthday, but I had to work and couldn’t celebrate it with her, so I had dinner and dessert with my parents on Sunday. Of course, we got a blizzard.
So, that evening I donned my winter gear and did my duty as a son, shoveling my parent’s driveway after getting the 8-10 inches of snow (weather accounts vary depending on which super-duper, state-of-the-art Doppler radar system you listen to) that shrouded mid-Michigan.
With each shovelful of snow, I remembered how my brothers and I always sneered at my dad, making flippant remarks that he needed to buy a snow blower. He retorted that situations like this are why he had sons, adding some rubbish about how in the “olden days” a man’s wealth was measured by the number of sons he had.
To my knowledge, the three of us still haven’t seen any of this fortune our efforts were supposed to bring in.
My dad got his work ethic from tagging along with his grandfather, who owned a plumbing and heating shop. My great-grandfather — who went by Bill, even though his name was Alexander — liked hard work and lawyers. Probably because he thought lawyers were destined to earn a lot of money. Maybe it was just because he liked to argue.
My dad would go on jobs with my great-grandfather when school was out; creeping into the crawlspaces the men couldn’t, looking like a filthy little vagabond when he emerged, blissfully unaware, as was my great-grandfather, of every child labor law in existence.
Anyway, as I shoveled on Sunday, I thought of the orders my great-grandfather probably would have given: “put your back into it” — even thought most doctors, personal trainers and the Surgeon General now recommend that people lift heavy loads from their legs to avoid back injuries.
However, my grandfather, and now my dad, believed that the pleasure you take from your work is directly proportional to the amount of effort you put in (or watch you children put in), no matter what the job.
About two-thirds of the way to completion (it’s a long driveway, about 70 feet), my dad yells from the comfort of the front door, the halo of light and warmth silhouetting him as I shiver in the tundra: “Why aren’t you using the snow blower?”
Huh? You kidding? Twisting the knife a little?
Tucked in the corner of the garage sat a clean, new, fully-functional snow blower. He had, now in his sixties, finally, gone out and purchased his first-ever snow blower. AAAGGGGHHHH!
My expression, I’m sure, went from dumbfounded to stern to resolute.
I gripped the shovel handle a little tighter and went back to work (stubbornness is a family trait), telling myself I enjoyed the exercise (I did).
So, I shoveled, not quite blissfully, but satisfied in the end at the driveway my Herculean efforts had bared – watching as my parents’ neighbor, unaware of the lessons he wasn’t appreciating, revved up his shiny snow blower. Maybe his parents were lawyers.

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