(Originally posted 12/7/2012)
Today is Pearl Harbor Day. I always remember this day because it's the day after my grandfather's birthday. He would have been 89 this year. I spent every summer of my childhood working on his ranch and learned some valuable lessons that I try to carry forward. There was one lesson in particular that I will share with you, but first some background.
My grandfather was a cattle rancher from Klamath Falls, OR. It was originally a dairy ranch, but over time, the amount of cows decreased and were replaced with steers. However, he always had at least two cows around to provide milk for calves. This means very little to urban folk, but what having cows means is that every day of your life is a 12-hour work day. Cows need to be milked on a regular schedule in order to remain productive. And you cannot just decide not to milk them for one cycle, as that creates all sorts of problems that I don't need to get into. But seriously, every day of his life was at least a 12-hour day. Up at 4:00 am, working by 4:30. Re-milking at 4:30 pm, and by the time all the cattle had been fed, it was close to 6:00 pm, which really means he worked 13.5 hours per day, with time off for lunch and to read the paper at 3:00.
The summers were longer. After feeding the cattle, we went back into the fields to change the irrigations lines. That was another hour or more. In between the milking and the feeding were long days of cutting, baling, and stack bales of hay. For hours, my grandfather would throw 90 pound bales of hay around, stacking them as high as three stories. He did this well into his 60's. He finally retired after his hip started failing, which was primarily caused by sleeping on the same crappy mattress for 30 years. He seemed superhuman to me. Spending time with him was like working with John Henry, a man with an incredible work ethic. That's what I knew about him.
As I got older, I found out other things about him. My great aunt would tell me about how he fought in World War II. I'm a history buff, so I would ask him questions. He would just deflect the questions and describe his time in the Army as his European vacation because he never wanted anyone to get the impression that he felt put out by his duty to his country. I also learned even later that my dad had a brother that had died when he was very young. The loss of a son deeply affected my grandfather.
So why am I writing about all of this and how is it related to anything? Through everything my grandfather experienced, he never complained. Not once. Never about the hard work he was required to put in EVERY day, not about the weather, taxes, the price of oil, immigration, not about dying, or any other trivial or non-trivial matter. He taught me a lot about the value of a hard day's work, but he also taught me, through his actions, that there's no value in being a complainer and that no matter how bad you have it, there's someone somewhere that has it worse off that you do.
I would like to think that I follow his actions, but I know I don't. I have my own regular complaints. But when I really start feeling sorry for myself, I think about my grandfather, and how he worked hard his whole life in quiet dignity and went about his business knowing that each day is what you make of it. We have the choice to be happy or to be miserable. Complaining about your work or your life is making the conscious decision to be miserable.
Right now, many of you are preparing for final exams while also balancing a multitude of other commitments. Your life probably feels stressful and difficult to manage. I feel for you, as I'm in the same boat. But let's count our blessings and agree not to complain about it. Given everything we will go through in our lives, this will be easy and we'll come out fine in the end. Let's agree that these are good times and act accordingly. Happy holidays.
I teach people who will be building our country's infrastructure.