from the Farm
A Cure for Laziness
My mother used to say, "You can train men and dogs to do almost anything. You just have to reward their good behavior with food!" I can still remember the day when Mr. Edgar Wentworth put her theory to the test.
Now, there were three sins that my mother simply could not abide: pride, laziness and the love of money. Pride was followed by destruction, idle hands were the Devil's playground, and of course, the love of money was the root of all evil. When it came to these indiscretions, she had little patience, and on more than one occasion, she had wholesomely corrected the person who dared to cross the line in her house.
It seems that every small town has at least one person who finds purpose in irritating others: and in Glenfield, that person was Edgar Wentworth. He routinely committed the three forbidden sins and was shamelessly proud of being both rich and "bone-idle."
Edgar's parents had been hard-working, yet humble people, who left him one of Glenfield's most prosperous farms, the local dairy, an ownership in the Farmers' Exchange and a row of potato houses near the railroad station. However, they didn't pass on one ounce of ambition to their lazy son.
By the time that I came to know Mr. Wentworth, his seven sons and three daughters were working the farm and running the family business, so Edgar had nothing better to do than wander the countryside and generally make a nuisance of himself. While his neighbors worked, he would stand around and brag about his new tractors, refrigerated milk trucks, bumper crops, and his money - never once lifting a finger to help a friend. My father was able to ignore him, but turning a blind eye to offensive behavior was not in my mother's nature.
Edgar generally stopped by our place in the mornings when he could help himself to Mother's fresh doughnuts or fruit-filled muffins. As I recall this particular day, my father and I were cleaning out the barn, as Mr. Wentworth prattled on at a safe distance, so as not to get dirty. I knew that he was about to face judgment when I saw my mother walking toward us. Her skirt tails snapped from the determination of each step, and she flattened her apron with a deliberate purpose. "I just put a batch of strawberry streusel muffins in the oven, so get them while they are hot," she announced. Mother then turned to address our lazy neighbor directly. "Mr. Wentworth," there was an obvious terseness in her tone, "it takes work to put food on our table, and only those who work are invited to take food off it. So, if you choose to join us, you'd better have dirty hands and a tired back. And you must know that I do not allow bragging or talk of money in my house." Her words were as sharp as the scythe that hung behind his head. He either was embarrassed or truly wanted the muffins, because he immediately picked up a shovel and loaded manure until he had broken a sweat. It was the first time that anyone had ever seen him work.
Her words may have been a bit tart, but the strawberry streusel muffins were a sweet reward. From that day forward, Edgar was quick to help out whenever he visited, and as long as there were hot muffins in the offing, we never again had to endure his bragging. Reverend Nash would have considered this a moral victory.
Like my mother used to say, "Building character in people is much like making pickles. It takes both sugar and vinegar, and using the right amount of each makes all the difference in the world."
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Farms, Inc., 2008
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