It Takes a Village…
Mrs. Cog and I live at the end of a dead end private dirt road off of a dead end state dirt road off of a paved road out in the middle of nowhere. The two combined dirt roads are a little more than a mile long and the paved road is five plus miles from the center of the local gas station/grocery store/tourist stop huddled just off the Blue Ridge Parkway.
We think of our place as a slice of heaven. Others might think of it as isolated at best and the last place they’d want to live at worst. Needless to say, there is not a lot of traffic passing in front of our home. We get the post man six days a week, the UPS man when we order something from civilization and the FedEx man once in a blue moon along with the occasional curious local checking out what’s going on up our road.
So when there is a knock on our front door, it is an extremely rare event. There was that lady a few months back who was lost and looking for someone we had never heard of. She didn’t even have a street address, so we shrugged our shoulders and sent her on her way. Then there is the neighbor from down the road who stops by every few months to see if the damn Yankees have died and are stinking up the place.
You get the picture!
We converted our small dining room into an office, with me stuffed in the back near the big window overlooking our rear deck and the woods. From my perch I can glance up to my left and see out both the front door and the kitchen sink window. Because visitors are a rare event, when at my desk any movement out the door or window is quickly noticed.
Last week there was a barely perceptible rap on our door. I looked up and saw nothing, so I assumed it was something else and went back to work. Less than a minute later Mrs. Cog was in the kitchen telling me there was someone at the door. That’s the spouse’s signal telling me I should get off my butt and do something about it.
As I approached the door I saw no one through the window. I paused and looked at Mrs. Cog, who assured me via visual cues there was indeed someone there and I should answer it pronto. I did as instructed and pulled the door open. To my surprise there were two young children, maybe 10 or so years old, looking up at me from the front porch.
At the corner intersection where the state pavement ends and the dead end state dirt road begins sits a house. It had been vacant for several years until a young couple with several children bought it a few years back. We know them casually because I’ve helped them out a few times when they had new old house problems. Two of their children were now on my porch, shifting awkwardly from foot to foot as they stammered out their request.
It turns out they were looking for summer work, any work at all I might care to offer them. I was immediately taken aback because there was no car in our driveway. Which means these two kids just walked a mile on dusty dirt roads to inquire about potential employment.
When I was their age I had all sorts of income producing activities. Beginning when I was eight years old I had a daily paper route of more than sixty customers. During the summer I would enter full time work mode and always had something going on for at least a few hours a day in addition to the paper route.
I was born into a large family and we were poor, pure and simple. So any income brought into the house was split 50/50 with the household, mom specifically. It was just the way it was, the explanation being if you were not doing chores or available for other work because you were making money elsewhere, someone else had to pick up the slack. Because of this you ‘owed’ the household compensation for your keep, the amount being exactly one half of your wages and tips.
In practice we still did nearly all our chores in addition to our outside work. Bottom line, mom set the ground rules for permission to work. And as she often liked to remind us when we would argue some house rule or regulation, we lived under a dictatorship and not a democracy. I considered the monetary appropriation advance training for what mom used to call the real world.
I am now firmly past sixty years of age and do not remember a child or young adult knocking on my door looking for some wages for some work in thirty five or more years. It just isn’t done anymore, at least not where I’ve lived, for what I assume are a thousand and one reasons. During private conversations with Mrs. Cog I have bemoaned the declining (or lack of) work ethic among today’s youth.
Actually it’s worse than that. From the time I was old enough to hold a tool it was expected if something I owned broke, I would roll up my sleeves and fix it. Part of this ethic came from being poor. We simply didn’t have the money available to replace something that could be fixed. A portion came from the fact things were (in general) better made, thus more worthy of being fixed. But mostly, back then America had not yet gone full retard into consumerism so there was a cultural expectation you attempted to repair before replacing.
You know…silly things like thrift, hard work and self sufficiency.
I initially told the kids, a girl and a boy, that I had no work for them and I thanked them for their inquiry. If this were thirty years ago I might have reacted differently. But without first talking to their parents there was no way I was going to put them to work, let alone tell them I could or would.
After thinking it over a few hours about how to approach this, then talking it over with Mrs. Cog, I phoned the father and asked a few questions about the kids and their stated desire to work. Satisfied with his answers, I offered to pick them up in two days and put them to work for a few hours, then return them home. There was no discussion of what their compensation would be, but I planned to be relatively generous.
When I was their age, it was understood when I was away from home that any adult/parent I interacted with was a surrogate, standing in for my actual parents. We were to obey these adults as we would our own parents. Everyone looked out for everyone else, including their kids. Sure, there were a few bad apples out there. But the parental network knew who they were and we were told, ordered is the proper term, to stay away from the rotten ones.
We were a small community, a village if you will. And we knew we were all in this together and were stronger and safer if we acted with a common interest for the betterment of the group and the individual. There was no designated neighborhood watch because we were all the neighborhood watch. Like a herd on high alert when danger is sensed, I distinctly remember several times when strange cars or people were in the neighborhood and I/we were quickly whisked off the street/yard and into the nearest house. We were taken care of by other parents and our parent(s) were doing the same for various stray children within their grasp.
I have no statistics to illustrate how much safer it was back then. The opposite might actually be true. There is no doubt pedophiles still worked their evil, houses were broken into and people were robbed and assaulted back then. But that isn’t the point. It was the sense of community and safety that contributed to our quality of life, something dearly missing these days.
When Mrs. Cog and I decided to move away from the city, we purposely looked for a small community with strong roots to join. While we understood things had changes over the last few decades, we figured a farming community would more likely possess the qualities we were looking for over even a small or average sized town. And we found what we were looking for, though even this is slowly dying off because the kids want nothing to do with farming life. So most of them graduate and move away. What remains are counties here in southwestern VA with declining, and aging, populations.
There were a few reasons why I decided to employ the kids. They were polite and respectful, a quality almost entirely missing from the last few generations. This also reflects well on their parents, who clearly have taken the time to instill in them these most basic of social graces.
Unfortunately, these days we have reached the point where mentally and emotionally immature adults, little more than children really, are bearing and raising their own children. Basic parenting skills passed on from mother and father to child have eroded and nearly disappeared from the gene pool. Stupid nonsensical ‘reality’ TV shows, sitcoms and adolescent dramas have become the teachers of our youth. It is all downhill from here.
What really impressed me was they walked a mile to my place and a mile back in order to ask for work. To me this shows drive and initiative, something which cannot be taught…at least not easily. I do not wish to help those who do not wish to help themselves. It is a waste of time for all parties involved and only leads to hard feelings all around.
But, most importantly, it would be the height of hypocrisy to complain about the state of affairs with regard to the children, then when an opportunity arose where I could step in and help, to decline involvement and responsibility. Action speaks louder than words and here was my opportunity to do something more than just complain.
The morning came when I was to pick up the kids and I actually found myself a little excited at the prospect. The boy is nine and the girl is thirteen, though she is tiny for her age, smaller than the boy in fact. Since I didn’t know their physical capabilities, I decided to walk the property and cut down the low hanging branches and limbs with the loppers, then have the kids drag them off to the nearest entry point into the woods to dispose of them. I wanted to see how they responded to direction and tasks. They did well.
During those two hours, we talked and got to know a little bit about one another. We discussed how to work safely, to be aware of each other and everything around us while moving, grabbing and hauling. It was interesting watching them interact with each other when they thought they were out of earshot or not seen. The older girl was watching out for her younger brother, something I specifically asked her to do.
Quite frankly, they wore me out in those two short hours. But we accomplished a lot, much more than I could have if I had worked an entire day. So when I paid them I felt I had received good value for my money. They, of course, were tickled pink to have folding money in their hands. I made sure it was safely tucked into their pants pockets.
We made plans to do it again for two more hours next week. I then drove them the mile home and deposited them with their grateful mother. The gloves I gave them were too big, though they managed to use them. When I returned home I found some quality kids work gloves online and ordered them for delivery. They will arrive in plenty of time for next week’s work.
There is a saying that it takes a village to raise a child. I know Hillary Clinton was eviscerated when she said this some years back, though it was the context in which she said it that brought the most derision. But that doesn’t diminish the truth behind the words.
In this neck of the woods it is all about people helping other people as well as helping themselves. No one waits for the state to clear the fallen tree from the road. People get out of their vehicles, a chainsaw or two materializes out of a pickup bed or car trunk, the tree is quickly removed and traffic moves on. People know their neighbors and look in on them from time to time, particularly when they are older or ill.
While money is just as important to people here as it is to those in the cities and urban areas, it is not the primary purpose of being alive. It is a tool, just like that socket set used to once again fix that sixty year old Ford tractor. Around here people are more resilient and robust, are capable of thinking for themselves despite (or in spite of) what is often not more than a high school education at best.
The term conservative, as it was defined two or three generations ago, applies to many around here. The nanny state and its sucking tentacles are not welcomed in the same way and manner it is in the cities and urban areas. People still put in gardens, tend their property, keep some cows and chickens, grade and plow their own driveway and maybe even care for some of the state road that passes by.
This is not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination. Unless, of course, you are beholden to the nanny state in order to survive and thrive. One tends to support that which one is beholden to regardless of how detrimental it might be in the long run.
Judging from what I see, there is plenty of work around here to keep the kids busy for a few hours each week this summer. I plan on passing on some of my knowledge while learning a whole lot more by just listening. The boy tells me the pizza at school is top notch and he’s going to use his money to purchase “family stuff” like marshmallows and Oreos. The girl has a side gig babysitting down the road and is saving up to replace her damaged phone.
It should be a good summer for all involved.
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