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Cracker Barrel: Mama's rule

This past summer brought an uncommonly large number of visitors to our homestead, and with them came hours of talk. Much of the talk was about days gone by, especially about the growing-up years, and specifically about summer. There were, we all ...

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From an early age she made it clear that there were always plenty of jobs to do around our house. "If you get bored," she'd say, "just tell me, and I'll put you to work." Since we hated work even worse than we hated boredom, it didn't take long for us to figure out plenty of ways to amuse ourselves. PineAndLakes.com Illustration

This past summer brought an uncommonly large number of visitors to our homestead, and with them came hours of talk.

Much of the talk was about days gone by, especially about the growing-up years, and specifically about summer. There were, we all agreed, a handful of summer obligations that none of us escaped. At the top of the list was chores.

Various families had various ways of getting things done, but precious few kids dodged the bullet of doing chores. In our family, you started the morning with a bowl of Cheerios or Wheaties and segued straight on into chores.

Unlike the tasks that confronted farm kids, ours didn't involve feeding or otherwise caring for animals. Ours were mainly janitorial. Wash the windows, take out the trash, weed the flowers, bundle newspapers. Make your bed, cut the grass, shake out the throw rugs, sweep the floor. Whatever Mama decided had to be done.

To be fair, I don't recall such jobs lasting much more than an hour or two each morning. And once Mom passed judgment on what we'd done, we were free to go. Being a boy, that usually meant grabbing a cookie or three, slurping down a quick glass of milk, hooking my baseball glove over the handlebars of my one-speed bike and heading to the ballpark.

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On rainy days, which thankfully were few, the trick was to find some out-of-the-way corner of the house and just curl up with a Hardy Boys book or the newest issue of "Boys' Life" or "Field and Stream."

Then, too, there were days when the prospect of reading held no appeal, and we turned our attention to other pursuits. Stamp collecting. Shop work. Making things of plaster of Paris. Playing with our model trains. It seemed there were always more things to do than time to do them, which I believe might have been triggered by Mama's rule about boredom.

From an early age she made it clear that there were always plenty of jobs to do around our house. "If you get bored," she'd say, "just tell me, and I'll put you to work." Since we hated work even worse than we hated boredom, it didn't take long for us to figure out plenty of ways to amuse ourselves.

To this day it makes me uneasy whenever someone says they're bored. Dear Mama's been gone for many years, but I want to warn them to button their lips before she overhears them and puts them to work.

And to tell the truth, I can't imagine being truly bored for more than a few minutes. There's so much to learn and so many hundreds of things to do that boredom just seems like a ridiculous waste of time. I suspect it's more a habit of mind than anything else, and a bad habit at that.

Not that everything you do has to be productive. There's plenty to be said for kicking back and spending some time with a puzzle or a hobby or a movie or a book. Just going for a walk makes sense. Or putzing in the garden, or playing with a pet, or going next door to visit with your neighbor.

The main thing is not to violate Mama's rule.

Trust me on this.

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Collections of Craig Nagel's columns are available at CraigNagelBooks.com

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