For a long time now I have tried simply to write the best I can. Sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can. - Ernest Hemingway
By the time you read this, at Fulton’s Pond in Mansfield will be history; the winners will have been announced and, depending upon the result; my grandson Logan will either be basking in the glory of victory or wallowing in the agony of defeat. Actually, he doesn’t really care if he wins, but I do. He just wants to have fun. I blame his grandmother for that.
I’m writing this on Wednesday, the day of the race, and the tension in my house is palpable. Well, honestly most of the tension is emanating from me. Apparently, Logan is too young to understand the magnitude of the situation. He’s still yammering about ‘having fun’ and stupid stuff like that. Hey, this is a competitive event! This is serious business!
Logan and his flock of five multi-colored plastic ducks have been in training since the ducks were purchased at the early last week. Okay, maybe it’s not so much that Logan is in training as it is that I’m in training. Hey, I take these competitive things to heart. My wife, on the other hand, has some weird, bohemian notion that it’s all in fun; that it’s for the kids. Wow, where is she coming from? Talk about misplaced priorities!
The thing that bothers me most about my wife’s cavalier attitude is that it seems to have rubbed off on Logan. I drove to West Bridgewater at five-thirty yesterday morning to pick him up so we could get the ducks some last minute road work and the little slacker wasn’t even out of bed yet. Unbelievable! How does he expect to crush the competition with an attitude like that?
I’ll report the results of the race in next Friday’s . I’ll be extremely disappointed if Logan’s ducks don’t take the grand prize. I shelled out a bundle of cash for those duck enhancing drugs.
My wife thinks I take these things too seriously. Can you believe it? Women!
For those of you who haven’t been paying attention; today is July 1st. And for those of you who have been paying attention; it’s still July 1st. Funny how that works, huh?
The start of summer vacation was delayed for the kids in Mansfield this year due to the glut of snow days this past winter. I remember how great snow days were when I was a kid, but having to stay in school even one extra day in June is a bummer. But school’s out and the summer is in full swing.
I’m sure summer jobs are scarce this year due to the state of the economy. But it wasn’t that way when I was a kid. I got my first summer job when I was sixteen, working in the gladiola fields. Yup, you heard it right – the gladiola fields.
The fields were out in West Mansfield where the baseball fields are located now. I worked for Mr. Koukol; at least I think that was his name. My memories from forty-seven years ago aren’t all that clear. Truthfully, my memories from forty-seven minutes ago aren’t all that clear.
Every morning, all the kids, aka child laborers, would meet at Mr. Koukol’s house on South Main Street down toward Vickery Motors, where is now located. We’d pile in to the back of his pick-up truck and Mr. Koukol would drive us out to the fields.
His truck had a metal frame with a canvas cover stretched over it like a camper shell. Occasionally, when we climbed in to the back of the truck we’d encounter a bat or two hanging upside down from the top of the metal frame, which always made for an exciting ride to work.
The work was hard, but I was well-rewarded for my efforts. I made a whopping sixty cents an hour, which translates to twenty-four dollars for a forty hour week. I believe I took home around eighteen dollars after deductions.
I’ll spare you the ‘when I was a kid’ rhetoric, but eighteen dollars was a lot of money to a sixteen-year old back then. I was rolling in dough that summer. Well, I was rolling in dough right up until I got fired.
My job was to cultivate, weed, water and, when harvest time arrived, cut gladiolas. If you were to ask me, I’d tell you that all I did was pull weeds all day out in the hot sun. The work was hard, sweaty and dirty – filthy actually. Even at the age of sixteen, my knees and back were killing me by the end of the workday.
But the worst thing about the job was that it was boring. Eight hours in the gladiola fields seemed more like sixteen hours. Time dragged. So, as sixteen year old boys will do; we made up ways to entertain ourselves so the time would pass more quickly.
One of Mr. Koukol’s steadfast rules was that throwing dirt bombs was not permitted. For those not indoctrinated in the ways of dirt bomb throwing; allow me to elucidate.
Dirt bombs are exactly what you’d expect them to be - bombs made of dirt. But as simple as that may sound, there’s skill involved in finding and throwing a dirt bomb.
The key to finding the perfect dirt bomb is to get a good, solid clump of dirt that will fit nicely in your hand; something a little bigger than a baseball, but not as large as a softball. Next, the dirt bomb should be moist so it will stick together in flight. Not wet, just a little damp.
The next most important thing in the art of dirt bombing is the throwing technique. You may find the world’s most perfect dirt bomb, but if you fail to throw it correctly you’ll never hit your target. Because of the volatile nature of the dirt bomb, it has to be thrown with your entire arm, with a kind of catapulting motion rather than being thrown like a baseball.
As I’ve mentioned in , I was a lousy baseball player. I couldn’t hit; I couldn’t field and I couldn’t throw. I had a spaghetti arm. But, for some unknown reason; I was the king of the dirt bombers. I could drop a clump of dirt on the back of a flea from twenty yards out. I was a pro!
There are guys who are being paid millions of dollars to play baseball and I’m blessed with the uncanny ability to throw dirt. Nice!
As I said, Mr. Koukol was anti-dirt bomb. Anyone caught tossing anything aside from their lunch after working in the hot sun all day was fired on the spot. Mr. K was not a flexible man. He was an old school New England farmer. His word was law. He had the final say.
I’d been working in the gladiola fields for about five weeks and to be honest; I’d had about all I could take. I needed some me time. I had worked a little overtime and had managed to salt away about seventy-five dollars over my five week career as a farmworker, so I figured I’d be golden in the cash department for the remainder of the summer.
Those of you who have been around a while know that once you sour on a particular job; things are never quite the same; your attitude changes; you become indifferent; you basically don’t give a rats behind about your performance. I’m not saying that’s the right way to be, because it definitely is not, but that’s what happens whether you’re conscious of it or not.
I’m not sure I was consciously trying to get myself fired, but I did the one thing that was sure to get me canned if I were to be caught. I launched a Blitz Krieg on my fellow laborers. It was all out war! Dirt bomb hell!
And I was sneaky. I made sure my attacks were well planned. I never mounted an assault when the old man or his henchman, the foreman, might have even the slightest chance of catching me in the act. At least that’s what I thought.
One morning, as I unleashed a particularly brutal barrage on my friend, Bobby; Mr. K snuck up behind me and grabbed me by the scruff of the neck. I think he’d been tipped off by one of the other kids who had decided he’d been victim to one too many of my deadly assaults.
I’d been set up; trapped like a rat! I was fired on the spot! To tell you the truth, I wasn’t as concerned about losing my job as I was with what my parents were going to say when the found out or, more accurately, what they would do.
I was grounded for about ten years, or at least that’s how it seemed. My mother kept a tight rein on me for the rest of the school vacation – and I did a lot of yard work – for free. It was summer; I had seventy-five dollars in my desk drawer - and nowhere to spend it. All dressed up and nowhere to go!
Well, I may have lost my job, but at least I learned a good lesson, albeit the hard way. I’ve thrown a few more dirt bombs, figuratively of course, since those days back in Mr. Koukol’s gladiola fields, and I’ve generally paid a price for doing so. I don’t know about you, but most of the things I’ve learned in life have been through adversity; through messing up.
At times life seems unfair, but our problems are often brought on by our own imprudent actions. One of the conundrums of life that I’ve always found unfair, and the first thing I’m planning to ask God when I die is……….
As we grow older, why does hair grow in places where we don’t want it and fall out in places where we do want it?
I’m so profound!
Make it a great week!
Bob Havey is a freelance writer and a Mansfield native, currently living in Easton. His column "Take Me Back" appears every Friday at http://mansfield-ma.patch.com and his column, "The View From Here", may be seen each Tuesday at http://easton-ma.patch.com.