ERROL CASTENS: Do things the hard way – at least occasionally

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

The main topic of conversation at the Coffee Clutchers convocation was how much work we all had to do, and how it was too hot to do any of it.
Bud complained about the Bermuda grass in his beans, and Henry started in about sagging gutters and rotting facias. Clyde said Abigail had an elbow-length honey-do list for him, and Chester said he was so far behind on canning vegetables that he might start freezing squash.
“Ugh!” we moaned in unison.
Then we got all philosophical, and Frank opined that not enough kids know how to work nowadays. (Those of us under 60 generally cringe when we hear “nowadays,” knowing there’s about to be a tirade.)
“They all ought to be put to work cutting grass with push mowers,” he said.
I was the first to disagree.
“A tractor-mounted tiller that cost most of a month’s take-home is proof that I don’t do things the hard way without a compelling reason,” I said.
Frank demanded to know what constituted a compelling reason, but Tiny interrupted before I could answer.
“It might be digging a couple of holes with a muscle-powered post-hole digger to save two trips to town and the cost of auger rental,” he said. “And I’ll sharpen a chain saw or a knife by hand to avoid letting a machine-wielding doofus destroy the temper of either cutting edge.”
“But miles of ‘bodock and bobwahr’ fences and thousands of bales of hay stacked by hand long ago cured me of any notions about the romanticism of labor for labor’s sake,” I said.
After we’d chewed on it awhile, though, our consensus was that people really ought to do things the hard way sometimes.
“Everybody ought to churn ice cream by hand, if only to appreciate the convenience of stopping at Baskin-Robbins,” Clark said. “Butter, too, even if it’s only a pint of store-bought cream shaken in a jar.”
“Every Southern child ought to sit in a porch swing and shell a mess of peas sometime, and stand in a chicken yard and shell an ear of corn using nothing more than fingers and palms,” Paul added.
Some items that came up are good skills for emergencies.
“All of us ought at some point in life to start a fire with friction,” Clyde said. “And I don’t mean fussing with one’s wife.”
“If I wrote the law, no able-bodied person would get a driver license without being able to change a tire,” Rob said. “A ragged chunk of angle iron dropped off a truck can deflate even the best radials, and cellphone towers can succumb to lightning.”
Bro. Earl (no relation) capped the conversation with his answer.
“I think people ought to solve problems the hard way EVERY time,” he said, pausing for effect.
“The hardest thing most of us ever do is to apologize and change. And most of us need to do it often.”
Errol Castens can be contacted at

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