WORKING IN THE GARDEN WITH DAD
My Sister Irene has asked me to write down some of the experiences that I have had with Dad (Elmer H. Mackley). I suppose that some of these experiences are boring to read about to some but they will be fun for me to reminisce about. I have come to the conclusion that one of the best legacies that I have received from my Father is the knowledge of how to put in a full day’s work. My education has afforded me the opportunity of better employment to support my family but all to often I have found that my work ethic has developed advancement opportunities for me. I learned these work ethics from Dad. I want you to understand that this process wasn’t an instant lesson with immediate results, more like a slow evolution. To put it into a more honest prospective would be to share a bit of my Fathers philosophy on my neophyte attempts at chores. He once, (probably more than once) told me; “Billy you have one of the hardest jobs in the world. When you are doing nothing, you can’t stop to rest.” It still stings, even today as I write this account.
What I really wanted to share with you are some actual working experiences that I have had with Dad. The first that comes to mind is that never-ending job of raising our garden. Gardens to most families today are a hobby. It wasn’t so with our family, it was a necessity. Because of its importance it was approached with serious dedication. A considerable amount of memories and rewards develop because of its existence. A couple of rewards that come to mind are the produce in the form of dilled carrots and dilled beets. Mom was a talent in this regard and my sisters and I remember those delicacies with fond appreciation. It wasn’t a small garden either. On my last visit to Arco and checking out the old home site, the area that was our garden now has a new home built on it with a sizable front yard and a significant backyard. That new home site was our family garden! Not all of this area was tilled ground however. At least a third of it was a raspberry and strawberry patch, with the raspberries being the larger of the two. Along one side was an irrigation ditch that provided water for the front lawns and a similar ditch that ran across the entire top of this plot of ground. Along the edge of these ditches were several locations of asparagus and a few fruit trees. Apricots were planted first and then later on two apple trees. Rhubarb grew in several bunches along the bottom of the garden. After we kids grew up Dad enlarged the garden by leveling a small slope that was close to the chicken coop giving him additional room that was three to four times the size of the garden that I presently have in my back yard (a hobby). It took a few years to get it “fertile” like the rest of the garden, which brings me back to the story I want to share.
On an early March morning, just as the sun came up, Dad would wake me up to go help him spade the garden. It would go something like this. With a very melodic voice he would sing; “it’s time to get up, it’s time to get up, it’s time to get up this morning. You musta heard the roster crow, it musta been a week ago, get up, you good for nothing sleepy head.” It would be pleasant, cheery in fact, this time. I learned the hard way that I was entitled to one cheery wake up. What he wanted was for me to be out of bed and on my way in an expedient manner. I was a good boy and always learned quickly. Excuse me for this ever so small lie. Mom would be up as well for it was understood that hard work deserved a good breakfast and they were good and filling. One could linger a little, getting a good breakfast, just a little. Then off to the garden we would go, spade in hand. I don’t know how it was in other families but there were always plenty of hand tools to go around at our house. Gloves were a luxury, calluses would develop and they worked just fine as gloves, cheaper too.
As I have mentioned we were spading the garden. Some springs Dad would have repaired someone’s something or other at the shoe shop and in exchange they would agree to plow our garden, sometimes. I quickly learned the value of Dad’s bartering and deeply appreciated those opportunities. Dad like it too; it saved an enormous amount of time. Time was an essence. The ground had to be turned raked and prepared for planting. You can’t have a productive garden until the seeds are sown. He liked having a very productive garden and to accomplish this there was a window of time allotted for the seeds to be put in the ground. This would allow for the entire growing season to work its magic and we would not miss that window. The truckloads of fertilizer contributed as well. He wasn’t the only person who worked to this schedule; many in our hometown worked to this end and it would not go unnoticed. I can remember Dad saying something like, “Frances and Dan are out working their gardens, I guess we had better get started.” It was just the way it was a necessity. This spring, there was no plow, so we spaded. Spading is a very tediously slow process. The work is grueling and you spaded until your shoulders and arms ache and then you spaded through that pain. At some point your anatomy would reach numbness, and you would work on. It was just part of the job and it had to be done. You could complain but after a while you would get tired of hearing your own whining and would just resign to get the job done. Dad somehow would ignore the whining and after a while I would stop. Why whine when no one listened!
The spading process would go something like this. We would start at the bottom of the garden in the middle. Dad would spade one direction me the other. You would spade to the edge of the garden and then back to the center. Dad would get to his edge way before me and would start spading back in my direction passing the center mark and continue on. I would have spaded to the edge and would just be starting back by the time Dad would reach me. We would then step back and start on the next row going in opposite directions, me a short distance to the edge of the garden, Dad with nearly the whole expanse to cover. When I got to the edge I would start back in his direction. When we met again we would repeat the process. This way I never really got way behind and discouraged. Sometime during this process it came to me to see if I could better my last rows performance and would push myself a little harder. I don’t think this was an instant discovery but I do remember that it was my own thinking. Then I would look at Dads face for any hint of his acceptance of my new effort. I would get it in the form of a smile. Few words were ever spoken. As I grew older and stronger a race would develop (in my mind) and I would push even harder. Dad was always efficient, fast and methodic in all aspects of manual labor. I eventually learned that a first strong thrust to the spade deliver instant results and that the rhythmic lifting of the shovel to turn the soil was more efficient and it would reserve my strength. Spading is very dull work and even boys with an early morning duh factor could learn simple body mechanics.
As I mentioned the race was in my mind for I never was able to out work my Father until he was in his sixties and I was close to thirty. Then I noticed that my reserve lasted longer and I would get the opportunity to lend him a helping hand by going beyond the center mark to insure we finished together accomplishing the same objective, together. He taught, I learned, that work hurts but it is a good hurt. That honor comes from contributing to a good effort.
The next experiences I want to share are those that came from our donation of time to the Church Welfare Farm. The crops would vary with each year. Most years it would be potatoes but then occasionally it would be hay. One year it was wheat and most of that work was done with a combine. For all of these crops there would be irrigation that needed to be accomplished. Dad was one of those guys who irrigated. The water would be available at a specified time and whether it was early morning, middle of the day or early evening meant whoever was available showed up. There were always adults supervising but we teenage boys always got our chance to “play” in the water. When the water was scheduled you took advantage of it and used the full-allotted time. It wasn’t hard work but it was important to do it right. In southeastern Idaho water wasn’t wasted.
The harvesting of the potatoes was a lot more of an event. Everyone took part. Kids of all ages and their parents would contribute. It was like a holiday really with everyone doing his or her share, either in the actual work or the preparation of the food. I’m sure the food was a drawing card but I think that even if it weren’t available the people would be. On these occasions I often found that I was working along side of Dad. I probably thought then that it was to insure I didn’t goof off. An honest evaluation, I was prone to goofing off. Now, I think it was Dad’s way of saying, subliminally, I enjoy working with my son, being with my son. We did a number of things together, fishing, hunting, going to priesthood meetings and working. Anyway on one occasion Dad told me that giving to the Church in this manner was a real pleasure to him. He said something on the order that he enjoyed working on the welfare farm because he wanted to, not because he had to and that made it much sweeter. Dads say the funniest things sometimes. Whatever was that suppose to mean? Well it stuck in my disinterested mind and now I sustain him for his earnest and honest attitude. This subliminal lesson was not just taught to me. My sisters have always shown evidence in their dedication to Church callings that this is the only (correct) attitude to serve with. I have to admit that my actions have supported his testimony as well.
I guess the last thing I wanted to address was Dads propensity for what he called “was right”. Which translated to anything he undertook and could do in quantity. Physical labor for sure would qualify as “was right” but he would confront other aspects of life with this same sedulous approach. Things such as prayer, tithing, reading, genealogy, friendship and there are other characteristics that escape me now. Oh I am not saying that he was perfect at any of these endeavors but he had the propensity to achieve perfection. Well, it is my opinion that he would give it a good try. It was enough of an effort to impress me.
Take reading for an example. He never was a good reader but you could not prove that by the number of books in his library. He told me once that he wished he could remember every thing that he had read. Boy isn’t that what we all wish. I asked him one time how many times he had read the Book of Mormon. He apologetically told me that he had no idea. Let’s just say that he read it many times. Well I have witnessed this same tenacious attitude with regards to prayer, church attendance, and friends. Now there is a subject to warm your heart. I remember seeing people at Dads funeral that I have not seen in years, some of them shabbily dressed. Dad didn’t judge people to quickly and his friends respected him for that. So do I respect and admire him for that quality. Now when it came to work this is where he would shine. There was a certain standard in his mind that he had to achieve. He was a dedicated worker; he knew it and always performed to that remarkable level. I have a full and complete knowledge of this fact. When Dad left the Craters of the Moon they hired two men to take his place and they still couldn’t accomplish his janitorial duties. That wasn’t only my opinion, it was the remarks of the men he worked with. I was there and my heart was touched with admiration to hear their supportive evaluations.
Remember that trench he dug from the house to the sewer line at the
corner of the property? I never really understood why he had
to go diagonally across the lawn but that is what he did. It
was a trench that was four to five feet deep in some places.
It was shoulder wide and I am certain was more than a hundred feet long.
I have dug a few holes in my day but nothing to compare to that project.
You could label him stubborn, tenacious, whatever you want to call it,
I prefer to label it a propensity. He wasn’t going to quit
until the job was done and it was late that second evening before it was
completed. There was some kind of deadline that he had to meet.
He shoveled it mostly by himself with some help from me and I remember
you girls being involved as well. Oh yes, you could label him
as a grump, or worse, during this effort but when he completed the task
I know there was a feeling of satisfaction in his heart. He
probably thought, “damn Elmer, this job about kicked your butt.
Regardless, I am the victor once again”. Yep, I am going to
stick with propensity. It was the right thing to do.