C4 Challenge #17 - Character
Do hard things, always.
Several months ago, I found myself working along side my son-in-law. He, meticulously putting cement block after cement block into place, each one handled with such care and accuracy. Me, standing astride an 18 foot oak with axe in hand working to hand hew the timbers. As I sat down for a break to escape the searing heat of an early summer Virigina afternoon, I was filled with such immense pride for Henry, my son-in-law, and what he was doing.
What started as an idea with my eldest daughter and Henry, was transformed by his hands into a beautiful sketch of their future home. Within a few short months the necessary negotiations for land and finances was complete, blueprints were signed off, and ground was broken. No fancy equipment was called in for this last task, just the farm tractor with front end loader and Henry at the helm.
What has transpired over the last four months has been incredible. Henry, an incredibly skilled builder, is crafting with his own hands and mostly by himself, a beautiful home for his wife and daughter. The cement block walls of the bottom storey are now complete and just yesterday Henry was off to a local sawmill to mill the lintels for their windows.
My pride comes in seeing this young man dedicate himself in heart, body, and soul to lovingly craft by hand a home for his family. Day in and day out in the almost unbearably hot Virginia sun, Henry is out working on their home according to his own self imposed deadlines, a strong work ethic, and within a very constrained budget.
He could have very easily had these oak timbers, harvested from his father’s land, milled at the local sawmill too. But, with his masterful artisan’s eye, Henry has the vision to have hand hewn timbers as the joists to hold up the second storey. Some have given him a hard time at the “time wasted” or the folly of the labour required to hand hew the timbers, but Henry has stayed true to his vision and for this determination too, I am proud.
He had expressed to me what it would mean to one day look up at the hand hewn timbers with all their axe marks and imperfections and know that they were hewn with love, care, and with the specific purpose to support their home. That means something. I know that when I walk in our barn and see the hand hewn timbers and the names carved into the wood from 1927, my wife and I often remark on the time, effort, and skill of the builders and wonder aloud at who it was that swung that axe.
We sacrifice something with convenience and ease. Sure, sometimes we must follow a certain path based on circumstance, time, and finances, but other times we have a choice. I know that Henry could have just as easily gone to work for someone else to make the income so that he could pay someone else to lay those blocks, mill those timbers, and build their home. He also could have continued to work as a craftsman and dreamt and planned forever, without taking that definitive step forward. There would have been safety in that. Likely a steady income, regular work hours, scheduled breaks, and no responsibility other than following the direction of others.
Henry chose the harder, unfamiliar, unknown path with more inherent risks, but also with so many more rewards. He is assured of the quality of his home. It is is crafted to the exact design, aesthetics, and standard which is his. He knows intimately every minute detail. He is learning many new skills along the way. The responsibility is his to build a home for his family and he has chosen the path to do it now, saving money by using his own skills and time. An investment that will benefit his family in all the years to come.
Henry fits in perfectly with the mould of our family. Our family knows the value, purpose, and reward of hard work. My beloved wife just wrote an essay on this very topic entitled “let them work”. I would highly encourage you to read her essay as it has so many insights into how we raised three daughters who value work, work ethic, contributing to the family unit, and following through with tasks.
There are so many examples in our family of us working together doing hard things, but then also reaping the benefits of our labour. This is happening even as I sit down to write this challenge. Our counter tops are overflowing with organic fruit from a recent fruit buying club order - beautiful plums, peaches, nectaries, and apricots from our cherished fruit farmer in Niagara. Pots, pans, jars, and every different type of wooden spoon and utensil has been handled in the processing of this fruit into chutneys, jams, glazes, fruit cheese, and more. My wife, the masterful magician directing and doing with me as assistant labour. Hard work now to benefit us later during the fall and winter when no ripe fruit is to be found. But, we will be rich beyond measure with our bounty all properly stored away in our root cellar, waiting for that cold, snowy wintery day and the ability to dip into a summer delight.
Are we tired? Yes. Is it worth the effort now? Yes. Are we looking forward to the fast tempo and rush of summer harvest being over soon? Yes. Would we exchange this work and effort now for the convenience and ease of buying it off the shelf at a grocery store? Hell no. This is our choice and how we are choosing to live and craft our lives. Using our hands, our bodies, our brains, and talents to live according to our design. Within this, our food is central. It nourishes us, sustains us, and gives us a sense of place. There is love infused into our food by our hands as we plant, grow, raise, kill, harvest and process it. The hard work is our investment in food that has a quality beyond measure. Our lives, by choice, are based on hard work, learning new skills, and earning the rewards from our efforts.
Our hands are often dirty. Our bodies often weary. Our minds often fatigued from the tempo and our fast paced dance with the rhythm of summer. But, our days are pleasurable. We work hard so that we can earn the reward of slowing down and enjoying the fruits of our labour. Our time spent working enjoyed in easy conversation or comfortable silence. Together.