Cottage Grove

Hashtag this: Work ethic never grows old

COTTAGE GROVE — I recently saw a post on the Cottage Grove community page from a teenager looking for work. It did my heart good to remember my younger days trying to scratch together some money for something I wanted at the time.
My dad was born early enough to feel the crash when it came in 1929. It didn’t help that his dad died a few years later, leaving my grandmother with three kids and not very much else.
He grew up a “Depression kid” and learned the value of a buck. He had a very strong work ethic and had a paper route and all sorts of other odd jobs to help the family.
He brought up us kids in a similar way. He didn’t try and compensate for his not having much growing up, but instead tried to instill what he had experienced for our own good.
We never got an allowance. He set up a savings account when I was born and any time I got some birthday money or other such windfall he would strongly urge me to put most of it into my savings. His way of encouraging thrift was to negotiate me down to as little as possible for me to “blow.”
Since we didn’t get pocket money, it was up to us to conjure some up. Fortunately for me there were deposit soda bottles. I mean the real deal: heavy-duty glass bottles that you see in antiques stores today. Our little neighborhood was bordered by two well-traveled roads, so I had my route, looking in the ditches for glass gold.
Every bottle I scored was two cents. If I was really lucky and found one of the big Canada Dry green bottles, well, that put a nickel in my pocket – that is, if I could resist the charms of Miss Bessie who ran the little Bellevue Grocery Store at the corner. She had a great selection of penny candy and always tried to entice me to spend the deposit money in her store.
Her smile slipped into a frown on those times when I had to insist on cash instead of taking it out in trade.
Other schemes I cooked up included cutting my mom’s flowers and selling those around the neighborhood. I hadn’t asked, so that project came to an early end when she noticed the denuded plants.
A few of my other plans for money included selling Christmas cards from an ad in a magazine, and an okra patch – the produce of which I sold door-to-door. Oh, and the classic: a lemonade stand where our mailman was my best customer. When I got older, I started mowing lawns and eventually got a paper route myself.
Even though my dad was tight and always encouraged me to save, he would help us when we really needed some money for something. While we had our regular chores, he would cook up a special job for hire when there was something we were shooting for. “The car needs washing,” or “the driveway needs edging,” or something like that.
I didn’t realize he was implanting the idea of working for what you want; I just thought he was cheap. I have thanked him many times since, to myself, for this gift, and a few times to his face.
So it did my heart good to hear that a modern kid has the same notion of wanting something and being willing to work for it. I hear a lot of locals telling stories of picking beans and strawberries for their school clothes. And while I am not advocating child labor, the value of working for what you want is a good one and should be preserved.
I have been spending a lot of time with youth these days. I took on a long-term substitute teaching job and must try and keep up with a culture that’s increasingly foreign to me.
Being a dinosaur who has never had a cell phone doesn’t help. I can’t imagine why someone would be so attached to a device that won’t leave you alone. But hey, that is not just the kids. Almost everywhere I go there are folks with devices in their hands, or at least close at hand, their eyes often straying towards it – even if they are with others, eating together or in other situations where is seems like you should be paying attention to each other.
People are always asking me to text them. I haven’t figured out how to do that with my landline. Even my rotary dial phone won’t do that.
Then there are shows I have never seen, along with movies and music I don’t know. I could go on and on but will end it mercifully here. Living in the past where the rent is cheaper, that’s my style.
But what was the most memorable experience about kids and teaching was finding the malleability of truth. In my day, lying was generally looked down on. You might see if you could float a mild revision of the truth and see how far it would get before it capsized in the face of cold facts.
In my first year of teaching, I saw a student who didn’t realize that I had him under scrutiny make a paper ball and throw it at another student. I told him to go pick it up and apologize to the victim. To my utter amazement the young man looked me right in the eye and very convincingly told me that he didn’t throw it.
When I told him that I had seen him do it, he even more emphatically denied the very thing I had witnessed. I tried to make some headway by holding up two fingers. “How many fingers am I holding up?” I asked him.
“Two” was the reply.
“So, like you saw my two fingers, I saw you throw that paper. Now go pick it up!” was my response.
To my utter astonishment came the most impassioned denial yet, invoking his late grandmother. Seeing that I was getting nowhere I decided to pull the plug and told him I was sending him to the office for lying and not doing what I had instructed him to do. When I threatened that dire consequence he immediately went and did my bidding.
As he headed back to his seat I decided to try and have a teachable moment. I asked him how I could ever believe him again, having had him deny what I knew to be true not once but three times running. The look on his face was priceless: utter confusion. It was as if I was suddenly speaking a foreign language he didn’t know.
The effect on his mind may have been permanent. I haven’t had a case to top that one but have had the experience of many students testing what they could get away with.
What I wish they would realize is exactly what I failed to understand when I was sitting on the other side of the desk. The reason you are there is to learn the skills to become an independent adult. Sounds like at least one young Grover has figured out something along those lines.
Work hard, kids, be honest, and if you take some time to hear out what some old dinosaurs are saying you might save yourself a few steps and avoid some hard bumps along the way.

Contact Dana at 541-942-7037 or [email protected].



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