I wandered into our backyard as a child, to see my father was digging a ditch.
I was about 6-years-old at the time, and from what I remember, the ditch was for a row of wooden fence poles.
He wasn’t a builder, but in hindsight it must have been the most cost-effective way to offer he and mum a barrier between them and the neighbours.
Not that the neighbours were unfriendly. In fact, that was probably the problem.
One taste of mum’s famous lemon meringue tart, and they thought the curd came from a tap, wanted to invite their friends, brought the dog and lined up at the back door like it was polling day.
It’s true a fence out the backyard wasn’t going to block the alternate route to mum’s tart, that being the front door. But it was a start, and dad loved mum enough to roll up his sleeves.
He got the job done, at worst sending a veiled hint to our friends at the back that the sweets were an invitation-only affair, and not to be abused by anyone.
These were of course, the days when people did invite others to their home. Not just family. Friends, acquaintances, work colleagues. They were all welcome, albeit not at once.
Come to think of it, there can’t have been much time for family with mum slaving away in the kitchen with icing sugar up to her elbows and lemon curd running from her top lip after she’d tried to scratch her nose with her forearm.
That’s how things were done. Even the casual arrival of “friends” was welcome.
If someone knocks on the door these days, we assume it’s a religious fanatic or someone trying to buy the house.
Nevertheless, I digress. The reason I remember dad building that fence is that he called me over.
I’d just finished a Vegemite sandwich and must have had some evidence still around my lips because dad said something about the dirt blending in with my face.
He threw me a crowbar. Not a shovel, because at the age of 6 I was in no shape to be moving mounds of dirt tow feet below the grassy surface.
“Here,” he said. “You work on that hole while I get this one over here ready for you.”
There’s lots of things wrong with that statement. First, how was I to interpret “work on that hole”. I was 6. I didn’t know how to “work”.
But I figured it out, didn’t ask any questions, and started spearing dirt with that thing as hard as my little muscles would allow.
Hindsight tells me I probably wasn’t much use to dad that day. That wasn’t the point.
As far as dad was concerned, it was one of my first lessons on work ethic, putting in a hard day’s labour for a positive family outcome.
We did it, because we did what it took to get the job done.
Mum wanted a fence, and dad was determined to build it for her.
I must say it wasn’t the best fence in the world, but it was dad’s and mum loved it. When he was finished, she ran out with a few plants she’d potted in the front yard, and as dad filled the holes, she ensured the plants were secure and watered.
Given the work ethic I see of young people leaning on shovels in parks, I’m not sure that type of diligence is allowed these days.
They’re paid $30 an hour to stare at someone in a backhoe shifting dirt until a supervisor decides it’s time to down smoko in favour of barking a few orders.
They queue up, each of six workers tag teaming to do the job of the one landscaper I hired to fix our yard recently.
Because that guy understood that his next meal and mortgage payment was coming from the job he did for me. The others were working for someone else and couldn’t give three farts what anyone else thought of their shoddy job, the time it took, or how much it cost.
Hey Wanda, did mum ever give you the lemon meringue recipe?