Workers define the good life for themselves

Larry Gardner said owning a lawn care service is tough work, but far superior to the corporate job he left behind. (Adam Robison)

Larry Gardner said owning a lawn care service is tough work, but far superior to the corporate job he left behind. (Adam Robison)

By M. Scott Morris
Daily Journal

Larry Gardner is the first person to admit he often smells bad.

“A lot of days, I’ll get really nasty and go home in the middle of the day,” the 41-year-old Tupelo resident said. “I’ll take a shower and go back to work.”

He started Gardner’s Lawn Service in April 2012, primarily as an escape from his job as a manager at a travel center. The top-down structure had too many rules and regulations, so Gardner set out on his own.

“It was a pretty quick decision. It wasn’t something I wanted to do for a long time,” he said. “I was really just wanting out of the situation I was in.”

The transition was harder than Gardner expected, but there are no regrets.

“I’ve got to tell you,” he said, “I’m really happy about it.”

Congress set aside the first Monday in September as Labor Day in 1894. It’s a yearly acknowledgment of the nobility of work, but Gardner and others know working for a living isn’t the same as building a life.

Charlise Latour, 42, a Tupelo-based transpersonal psychologist, put it this way: “There’s no point having a pool and not being able to see it.”

She made a shift from the high-stress, high-reward corporate world to a more balanced approach.

“I was working 60 to 70 hours a week. If I went on vacation, I would work 90 before and 90 after to catch up,” Latour said. “I had six weeks of paid vacation. It almost wasn’t worth taking it after you did all the work.”

Her job as a senior project analyst for American Express had its good points. She was in a position to make important decisions, and her benefits and retirement packages were topnotch.

A health crisis became her pathway to change.

“I was 31 years old and had a stroke,” she said. “I had to look at my life and what I was doing to myself. I had to stop and say, ‘Was four hours of sleep a night a good plan?’”

Staying in place
Latour said she’s learned that change is good, even if it’s usually uncomfortable.

But change isn’t necessary for the good life. That’s something E.R. Files figured out in the late 1920s.

Files was a resident of Kirkville community near Baldwyn, and he liked to tinker around. He eventually built a better mousetrap, proverbially speaking.

Kirkville community resident Jack Hancock, who knew Files as Papa Files, said farmers in those days spread out too much cotton seed, so excess plants had to be chopped by hand when the stalks came up.

“Papa Files invented a cotton chopper,” Hancock said. “It was a single wheel implement drawn by a pair of mules or a pair of horses.”

Spring-loaded hoes were attached to the wheel, and they’d chop the cotton. The inventor filed a patent in 1927, and it was approved in 1928.

“He dealt with some implement manufacturer in Illinois, I think,” Hancock said. “When negotiations got to a point where he would’ve had to move up there, he thought it over.

“He went to his wife and said he had a good life at the farm with the little girls. ‘Who knows what would happen to us if we moved away from family and friends? I think I want to stay here.’”

Files knew what he had in Kirkville and gave up potential riches to keep it. And there’s more to the story.

Since she doesn’t have to work 60 to 70 hours a week anymore, Charlise Latour has time to indulge her passion for ballroom dancing. (Adam Robison)

Since she doesn’t have to work 60 to 70 hours a week anymore, Charlise Latour has time to indulge her passion for ballroom dancing. (Adam Robison)

“They were about to enter the Great Depression. He didn’t know it at the time,” Hancock said. “It might have been a very fortunate choice. Here, they were self-reliant, living on the farm. They might have gone to a northern city and faced the issue of living in the city during the Depression.”

Free time
Latour left behind a nice financial situation when she parted ways with American Express, but she said she’s happy with the trade she made.

Her current job involves working with couples going through relationship problems. If they stay together, great. If they don’t, she tries to help them make the transition as smooth as possible for everyone involved.

“The biggest thing for me is getting it where kids don’t lose parents when there’s a divorce,” she said.

For some, such work could seem stressful, but Latour finds it fulfilling, and her 20- to 30-hour week gives her time to indulge her personal passion.

“Most people need to dance. That’s all there is to it,” said Latour, a member of the Tupelo Ballroom Dance Club. “Dancing is what it’s all about. I dance just about every day of the week.”

Getting better
From April to October, it’s all about cutting and trimming yards for the aptly named Gardner.

“There’s no vacation. You can’t leave the yards. There’s no way to take time off,” he said. “A few weeks ago, it rained seven days in a row. I’m still behind from then. It seems like you’re always behind and trying to catch up.”

During his first summer, he didn’t make enough money to cover the cost of the equipment he bought.

The business has grown this year. He can picture a future where he has several crews working under him, but there’s more to do before he gets there.

He’s not making the same money he did at his old position, but if anything’s going to come down from on high, it’ll be rain, rather than rules and regulations.

“With this kind of job, if you work hard and put a lot of effort in, you are rewarded right there,” he said. “You don’t have to wait for somebody to notice you. It’s about what you do. That’s what I like.”

scott.morris@journalinc.com