You Can Create a Pleasant and Unforgettable Memory by Following These Three Rules

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It was a small planting bed, not more than 20 feet wide and three feet deep. Located beneath the cantilever on the north side of the family’s newly built raised ranch, the moist topsoil glistened in the summer shade. “You’ve got to mix it in with the old dirt,” said my father.

You could tell the difference. The dusty brown dirt stood apart from the rich loam we had just imported from the nursery. We spent that morning doing the rough work. We dug the hard clay and turned it over. Actually, Dad did that job. The dense dirt proved too tough for me and my brother, then mere pre-schoolers.

Our father, aware of our physical limitations, knew precisely the kind of activity that motivates young bucks like us. “OK, boys,” he said, “after I turn it over you come in behind me and chop it up into little pieces.”

We hacked away with no abandon. It wasn’t work. It was fun. We got to chop up those chunks of solid soil into fragments so small you could pour them from a cup. As an added plus, we got dirty – and no one would holler at us for it!

We needed no encouragement, no instruction, for completing this task. We merely did what we were told and allowed our natural boyhood inclinations to take over. The dirt completely crumbled, we took a step back and rested on our tools. My brother and I sighed at the same time, turned to look at each other, and smiled that kind of satisfied smile you smile when you know you’ve finished the job.

Only the job wasn’t finished. Only this particular task was done. Normally, this kind of unexpected extension of work might have disappointed us, but our father surprised us. “Hop into the car, boys,” he said, his teeth grinning with anticipatory excitement. “We’re going to Blasdell nursery. We need to buy some topsoil.”

Honestly, we had no idea what “topsoil” was or why it was important. What we did know was we were about to go for a ride. Heck, we weren’t even in Kindergarten yet. What do you expect? At that age, getting in the car promised the same amount of excitement as riding a carnival ride.

We did know what the nursery was, just like we knew what a hardware store was and what a lumber yard was. Dad built our house only a year earlier, and we were old enough to watch the construction and play with some of the excess materials. He often took us to the various builder’s supply stores in the area.

My father spent the bulk of his career as a safety engineer, but, at the time, he wasn’t quite there yet. All this construction material around us posed a bit of a pickle. On one hand, he wanted to teach his sons the same way his father had taught him. On the other hand, there was all this construction material around us.

The first rule he taught us, then, was to listen to him. And not just to him. He told us to listen all around, especially at the builder’s supply. We were small. Someone driving a forklift wouldn’t be expecting any munchkins in their path. Imagine this as a defensive driving tactic – it was our responsibility to always be on the look out for the other guy.

The second rule my father told us, quite directly, quite seriously, and quite authoritatively, was to obey him. Though still young, between his time in the steel plant and his father’s construction business, he had years of experience working with and next to large equipment. When something happened, you didn’t have time to think. You only had time to act. Obedience wasn’t merely good behavior. It could mean the difference between getting the job done and going to the emergency room.

The best part of the day, though, came when we returned home with the new topsoil. Dad dumped the sparkling dark peat onto the arid earth we hacked up earlier. Now came the third rule: do.

This was a new lesson, a new task.

To appreciate the significance of this new task, you need to know this: For years we had watched our father work concrete. He would mix it all by hand. We stood silently by as he’d pour the brown sand and grey mortar into the wheelbarrow. Then he’d take his huge concrete hoe and mix the material. Soon, the two colors became one. You couldn’t tell this singular blend started off as two distinct ingredients.

As the sun shone high in the afternoon sky, we stood in the shade close to the house. We remained there as Dad walked towards the garage. He made a quick left turn and disappeared. We waited, watching. In a moment, he emerged with the heavy duty concrete hoe. “Boys,” he said, “it’s time for you to learn how to mix concrete.”

Imagine our excitement. Each of us wanted to be the first to do this job. Before we could, our father had to show us how. “You’ve got to mix it in with the old dirt,” instructed Dad. We didn’t think he needed to show us. We thought he wanted to have all the fun by himself.

Quickly, though, he relinquished the giant hoe. Kenny and I took turns having at it. Soon, the two soils merged into one common color. The job was too much fun. We didn’t stop. We didn’t want to stop. It was just too much fun.

My father let us go. He figured it kept us out of the way as he prepared the plantings. Besides, he saw we were having fun. And we were getting dirty. And no one would holler at us for that.

He knew precisely the kind of activity that motivates young boys.

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