The new falcon herald logo.
General Articles

Joe’s lesson

A hot Arizona sun crept along its arc in a dazzling, too-blue sky. The sun was keeping a daily appointment with a certain shed, comfortably gray and weathered from countless days of sun and occasional rain. There, leaning against the shed, as if two old friends sharing old age, stood the shovel. The shovel’s head, burgundy red with rust, was dissolving slowly and silently into the earth. For years, there had been no call for the digging of holes; and, admitting the defeat of time, it was quietly becoming one with the soil. Above that head, the handle was gray and as deeply weathered as the shed it stood against. That ancient ash handle seemed almost artistic in the weathered exposure of its grain.Both shovel and shed belonged to an ancient cowboy, a man I admired. Joe was a cowboy from the very last of real cowboy days at the turn of the last century. Joe was in his 80s when I knew him. I was in my 20s. I knew him because of our mutual acquaintance and admiration for my girlfriend at that time.”If I were even 30 years younger, you’d have some trouble,” Joe told me. “He’s right,” I thought, “I would.” Even in his 80s, Joe was tall, blue eyed and handsome. Joe had built his six-section ranch from sheer grit and endless days of dawn to dark work. Joe had proven himself as “bona fide.” I was a 20-something still figuring life out. Yup, I would have had some trouble all right, but Joe wasn’t “30 years younger” and I wasgrateful for that.My girlfriend was the hired caretaker for a quarter-section dude ranch next door. Next door was about two miles away from Joe. We’d spent an idyllic spring, just she and me on that dude ranch surrounded by mountains and trees, and I was quite smitten. Now girlfriend wanted a garden and figured that her fellow could do a pretty fair impression of a rototiller. She was right, of course. I, of youth and high spirits, would have gladlydug to China for my lady. Her dude ranch’s tool shed was padlocked and she couldn’t find the key. How could I eagerly become her rototiller if we had no shovel?Joe said, “Sure, I’ve got a shovel around here somewheres. Have a look out back.” Joe happily entertained the girlfriend, and I was sent on a hunt. Rummaging around Joe’s outbuildings, I saw it there – camouflaged gray on gray leaning on the tumbledown shed. Smiling, I seized the shovel. Ominously it came up light in my hand. Dry rot, I thought. Stopped in my tracks, I cast an eye toward the ranch house and thought about my girlfriend. Smiling, laughing, vivacious, she and me; working in the garden together with the good, warm smells of springtime. Doubt fled from my mind as I trotted back tothe house with my prize.Later in the would-be garden, with a “crack,” the shovel warned me that this was not how it had planned to spend its final years. I heeded the warning, dug shallower and gently. I pulled from down low on the handle, avoiding great leverage. The garden patch was nearly all turned over when at last it yielded. One last “crack” and the rusty head, now with a shiny edge to its rust, parted company with the withered handle. “Well, thegarden is DONE,” I said with a smile. She caught the humor in my emphasis on “done” and laughed.”Joe, I’m sorry about the shovel, but it was dry rotted pretty bad,” I said as I handed him the pieces. Joe said nothing but just looked at me in an old cowman’s way with those piercing blue eyes. Facing him blankly, I said no more but inside I was squirming, uncomfortable.”It was dry rotted,” I said to girlfriend as we drove back to her dude ranch. And indeed it was. “It was all I could do to keep that shovel together to finish the garden,” I thought to myself. Soon, I was distracted by my girl. She talked liltingly, happily of cosmos and nasturtiums, corn and squash. I fell into silence and a vague out-of-sorts feeling. Joe had wanted to tell me something, but he wasn’t a chatty sort.Nearly 25 years had passed since that day I returned the broken shovel to Joe, and my redheaded 17-year-old son was vexing me. Some chore or task undone or done poorly, something borrowed, lost or broken – I can’t remember now. His excuses nattered around my ears.”Son,” I told him, “in the military I learned a phrase: ‘Sir, no excuse Sir!’ That doesn’t mean you take the fall for something that you didn’t do, though it might if circumstances warrant. That phrase means I am a man. I own my actions. I am responsible.”Today, everyone seems to be a weasel. From politicians and CEOs on down, people seem to think that if they can just do a little “weasel dancing” and shift the blame, all is good. But it is not good. We notice, all of us, even the weasels themselves.Talking with my son, I remembered that day with Joe and my discomfort. I told my boy the story and explained that my discomfort way back then was caused by a man trying to break out of the boy. “Boys make excuses, men take responsibility,” I’d said. “Owning up is the first step to making amends. If we don’t own what we do we lose humility and a chance to make it right. We may think we’ve won, by dodging responsibility – but we’ve lost. We’ve lost an opportunity to demonstrate strength of character and to cement a friendship.””There’s something more,” I told my boy. “Even if it was dry rotted, buy the man a new shovel. If you borrow it, you’re responsible for it. And beyond mere responsibility, look for ways to serve those that loan you things, because these people trust you. Such people are humanity at its best. They honor you with their trust – never betray it. If you’ve borrowed money, find that lender and press the loaned cash into his hand before it is due. If you’ve borrowed an item, return it better that you got it. Yes, it is worrisome to borrow stuff with the manly burden of responsibility weighing on you. Borrow carefully.”The other day at Home Depot I picked up four shovels on sale. Beautiful new shovels, shovels with varnished ash handles that will definitely fit my son’s and my hands as we do chores together around our ranch. I paused and looked at them, gleaming fresh in my cart and thought, “I wish I could go back in time. I wish I could make it right with old Joe.” But time has passed and that’s impossible now.Recently my now 18-year-old son borrowed the minivan. He brought it home with a broken mirror. Before I could even speak, he explained the broken mirror and said he’d pay whatever it cost to make it right.Thanks, Joe. Just your look on that day so many years ago taught me more than some folks ever learn. Maybe, just maybe, I have “made it right” with you after all?

StratusIQ Fiber Internet Falcon Advertisement

Current Weather

Weather Cams by StratusIQ

Search Advertisers