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Teachings of My Father (Part 3)

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My father taught me how to work. He taught me the value of it. Yes, I am talking about physical labor, and we did a lot of it. But through that work, he also taught me the value of a good education, and how to work toward getting one. During the summer between third and fourth grade, my brother and I “helped” build our house. We mostly made sure the guys had water, tools, and nails, and so forth. But the one thing I remember most was “diggin’ ditches.” With a shovel!


When we made the foundation for the house, we dug a ditch. When we put in the sprinkler system, we dug a ditch. Underground electricity? We dug a ditch. Public sewer system? We dug a ditch. Gardening? We dug a ditch. Sprinkler pipe ruptured? We dug a damned ditch. And it wasn’t just that summer. For crying out loud! By the time I graduated from high school, I must overturn the top three feet of that property twice all because of “diggin’ ditches”!


We dug ditches and sometimes, I’m telling you, we did it just for the hell of it! I swear, the man was sadistic about it! And every time the three of us were out there diggin’ ditches, he would say, “You boys need to get good grades in school, go to college and major in law or medicine or engineering. If you don’t, you’ll be doing this kind of work for a living.”


“Yeah, right!” I thought to myself. (I wouldn’t dare say it out loud lest I get a bazooka in the face!) “Only morons like us would dig ditches by hand. I can’t wait til I grow up and move the hell outta here!” I “moved out” soon enough.


Or another one of his favorite tunes: “It’s all right if you boys dig ditches for a living, just get your degree so you can at least quote Shakespeare while you’re doing it.” I figure I have the best both: I DON’T dig ditches for living AND I can quote Shakespeare … well, somewhat, anyway. Apparently there was a method to his madness.


I was about three months embarked in my engineering career when my supervisor handed me a work order and told me to meet a line crew at a specific address. I was quite fresh in the industry and he knew I would learn a lot that day. There was an outage on a segment of the underground electrical system. It was a fault (a hole in the cable insulation) and it had been switched out of service for repair. The fault had to be found first, however. They used a device called a thumper. It is a large electrical storage device that dumps a huge amount of electricity into the line and through the fault. Using a sophisticated stethoscope, a person can hear the fault through the earth and work his way to it.


Suddenly, the foreman called me over and pointed out the fault. “Stand right here. You can feel it through your feet.” Sure enough! The energy was so strong, the earth was literally thumping! It felt like a large hammer knocking on the soles of your shoes. I was amazed! But before I could ask “How are we going to get to it?” one of the linemen already had a shovel in hand. The man was about to dig a ditch—FOR A LIVING!


My amazement gave way to an abrupt epiphany. The damned ol’ man was right! There are people who dig ditches for a living. And I could have been one of them.

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