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Doing It Right the First Time: Building Character Behind the Azaleas
“Make sure you get the roots or they will grow right back.”
by Barb Vitelli, Contributing Writer Monday, 18 January 2016
“Don’t forget the weeds behind the azaleas,” my dad reminded me.
I was ten years old and I hated weeding. I hated the heat, and how the backs of my knees were sweating, and how the bugs and twigs tickled my arms and legs. I wiped the sweat off my face and glared at the weeds growing around and in back of the bushes. It was a big job – an impossible job for a girl my size, I thought. I could hear my best friend, Eileen, calling me with our secret signal from one street down at her house. It was the signal we used instead of the phone to announce we were outside and ready. I wanted to quit and run to her house.
Today was my day to help my father in the yard. I thought Dad was showing me the simple importance of doing my part, but in the end, he was helping me see life’s larger compassions, and teaching me about building character.
He worked hard in his garden and in the yard, I thought; harder than I knew how. He tended his tomatoes and green beans, cut back bushes, dug out weeds. I could find all these jobs on a list he kept on his desk in the den. If I looked, and I often did, I would see his detailed plans for our yard. I didn’t think anyone could do that much. My father did it all.
I think he liked doing all that yard work, as his own father did. I had other things to do and I wanted to finish fast. “Don’t go so fast!” was the advice I always heard as a girl. I didn’t understand this advice. I couldn’t focus on the value of taking the time to do it right.
I looked at the insides of my arms, itchy and red from brushing against the bushes. “I can’t do this,” I wailed to myself. Feeling miserable, I knelt down and yanked out the weeds one by one.
I remember Dad’s voice: “Make sure you get the roots or they will grow right back.”
So much like my father, thinking carefully of the future; teaching me, I supposed, about the importance of doing something the right way. Perhaps he was remembering a day earlier, how I’d stuffed my clothes in a tangled mess into my drawers, and shoved my board games, pieces loose and mixed, under my bed. I’d been quickly cleaning my room before he came to look, and I didn’t think he would see the barely hidden mess.
His voice was kind, but firm when he reminded me: “You’re better off if you do the job right the first time, honey.”
Looking at the weeds, I jammed my shovel down hard in frustration, deep enough to pull out the roots, doing it right. I watched the worms wiggle through the soil and saw the pill bugs coil in defense as I attacked their dirt.
“Don’t go so fast!” was the advice I always heard as a girl. I didn’t understand this advice. I couldn’t focus on the value of taking the time to do it right.
At last I finished. I filled the bag, dragged it into the garage, and yelled through the screen door to my mother, “I’m finished, Mom. I’m going to Eileen’s!”
“Okay, but you better tell Dad before you leave!” she answered.
I stopped and groaned, hoping to escape without inspection. Did I do a good enough job? I wondered what he would think when he looked at the bushes to check my work. I wanted his approval, so I could be set free.
I looked in the back yard and saw him, bent over the garden, pulling weeds from his tomato plants. I walked over to him. “I’m finished, Dad.”
He turned to me, his face hot and sweaty, eyes in a squint against the sun. “Did you put the bag in the garage?” he asked.
“Yes, near the door. Can I go to Eileen’s now?”
He smiled. “Sure, Sweet Pea.”
Sweet Pea. Even at ten, I liked to hear his name for me. He didn’t check my work. My word was good enough and I was glad to be free. As I turned to leave, I felt a flash of shame run through me and I hoped that he hadn’t seen me at work, complaining to myself about what I suddenly realized was just a small job in the yard. When he looked, I hoped he would be pleased.
“Thanks for helping. Have fun!” he added. Then he bent back down over the tomatoes and returned to his work.
Released, I ran down the driveway, through our neighbor’s yard, and into Eileen’s yard. “Weeowweeee!” I called our signal, hoping she was still around.
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