If you drive down the highway today, there is a “Help Wanted” sign in almost every store window. Apparently, some of this new generation wasn’t raised the way I was and it shows. It seems like many young people today just stick their hand out and expect someone to fill it. They all want a little bit of something and a whole lot of everything, but they don’t want to work for it.
I was taught growing up that a strong work ethic is the most fundamental trait in life. Daddy always said that going above and beyond and taking that extra mile is imperative to success. “You’ll never get ahead without working hard,” he told me numerous times.
Back in the early days of my childhood, I remember working alongside my parents on a daily basis. They taught by example. We got up early ... around 4 a.m. ... to open our gas station in downtown Albertville. I pumped gas and operated a cash register at the same time I was reciting my ABCs and learning to write my name.
Even though we owned a business, Daddy still planted a huge garden every year out behind our house in Rabbit Town. He plowed by the light of the moon many nights and Momma canned hundreds of Mason jars of vegetables when harvest time came. I remember getting up in the middle of the night on several occasions and seeing her standing at the stove in front of a pressure cooker. They both worked long hours, but always did what needed to be done.
The day I celebrated my 15th birthday, I took a job at Hardee’s in Albertville. I worked a register, selling burgers and fries, from the time I got out school in the afternoon until 9: p.m., as well as on weekends. I still helped Momma and Daddy when I could at our family store and kept up my grades up in school. My junior and senior year of school, I enrolled in a work program and got out of class each day at noon. I worked at the local Social Security Office till 4 p.m., then clocked in at TG&Y (a department store) an hour later and worked till closing there.
Even though I worked a lot growing up, I don’t feel like my parents “robbed me of my childhood,” at all. They gave me two good feet to stand on and taught me responsibility and accountability lessons that I still carry today.
While raising my three children, I followed my parent’s footsteps and did my best to instill a strong work ethic in them. As a young mother, I took jobs delivering newspapers, cleaning offices, catering weddings, selling Avon and any other side hustle I could find. I always took the kids with me to help and teach them how to work. I shared the pay checks with them and encouraged them to manage their earnings wisely. Now that they are grown, they have each thanked me for teaching them those important life skills.
My husband, Larry, was raised much the same way that I was. He says he doesn’t recall a time in his life that he wasn’t working. His family owned a dairy barn and farmed in the Painter community near Crossville. He said before he even started to school, he had to go out and milk the cows each morning before the truck came by to pick up the jugs his family filled. He said as a child, he picked more acres of cotton than he can remember as well as bags of corn and peppers.
When he was just eight years old, he hired out and worked for an uncle down the road during the hay harvest. He was too small to carry and load the square bales of hay, so he drove the ton and a half truck through the fields while others threw it onto the back. He could barely see over the dash and had to put it in “granny” gear because he couldn’t reach the gas pedal.
As a young teenager, he got a job working with a local mason and learned to mix the mortar and assist the men on the crew laying the brick and block. A couple years later, he was hired at a poultry processing plant in Boaz, hanging chickens in the evenings after school.
In 1967, when he graduated at Crossville High, he signed up to join the military and was accepted into the United States Air Force. Anything was better than the cotton fields, he said. With the war in Vietnam raging overseas, he volunteered to be stationed there because the pay was better…$135 a month.
If you take a look around at the most successful people in the world, you’ll find that most of them have worked harder than you can imagine to achieve their goals. It’s not always an easy path, but hard work pays off, I’ve learned.
While many parents don’t agree with “child labor,” I am thankful that my family did and still does. My oldest grandchildren are teenagers and they work part-time at local businesses after school. The youngest three grands have household chores like taking out the garbage, cleaning off the dinner table and feeding the chickens and family pets. They all help in the garden and with the harvest each year, too. My six year old grandson has probably shucked more corn than many adults have.
My daddy always said that hard work won’t kill you…it will just make you stronger. Our family is proof of that and I’m proud of it.
Sandy Holsonback is a local contributing columnist for The Reporter.
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