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Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Old Grouch

When I was a young man I once worked for a construction company.  I started as a laborer and worked my way up to being a carpenter.  The company was started by a man who was notorious as a real grouch to work for, he never hesitated to let you know if he didn’t like the way you were doing something.  His sons had taken over the company when he retired, and every one in the company including his sons called him the “Old Man” some even called him the old grouch. Everyone who had worked there for very long, even his sons, talked about how their father was such a stickler about people working hard and doing things the right way the first time with no excused mistakes. 

The company started building a large, expensive house one spring.  I was assigned to work as a carpenter on this one. This new house was out in the country just a couple of miles from where the old man lived.  Most of us who worked for the company were very intimidated when he started showing up every morning to observe us at work.  He would drive up just after we had started work.  He would get a lawn chair out of his truck and sit in the shade of a large oak tree in the front yard. He would sit there and watch with an occasional journey through the house to see what was going on inside.

Every day at approximately ten minutes to 10:00 A.M. he would get in his truck and leave, only to return at 10:00 A.M. with soft drinks and snacks for each man who was working that day.  He never asked what you liked and wouldn’t take money for the refreshments but simply sat with us as we took our morning break, saying little.  At 11:45 A.M. he would leave to go home for lunch, only to return around 12:45.  He would repeat his morning routine each afternoon.  He never asked what you wanted to drink or for a snack until after he had bought it the first time.  He would then ask if it was ok and if you told him you preferred pepsi to coke he would always get you your preference from then on.  After one break he would know and never forget each mans preferred drink.

One morning, several weeks into the construction, I was working in what was to become the living room in the front of the house.  I was framing the opening for the picture window.  When you frame a window you have a king stud which is the full length stud on each side of the window. Inside that you have the queen stud which sits on the window sill and supports the header over the window.  As I was measuring and cutting my pieces for the window frame I had cut the queen stud for one side of the window off too short, it happens sometimes even with the best carpenters and at that time I was still a beginner.  I laid that mis-cut queen stud aside, measured and cut another one.  When I placed it in the opening I found it was too short again.  Disgusted over making the same mistake twice, especially with the old man watching from the shade in the front of the house, I threw it aside and reached for another.  When I turned around to measure again the old man was standing with his elbows resting on the windowsill. I thought “Oh No”. He said. “ What’s the matter son?”  I said.  “I’m stupid, that’s what’s the matter, I cut two of these queen studs off too short.”  He smiled and said.  “ Son the man who doesn’t make mistakes is the man who is not doing any work.”  Without another word he turned and walked back to the shade tree and sat in his lawn chair.

I cut the stud right the third time. I have never forgotten the old mans words.  Over 40 years have passed but his wisdom still applies to you and me. The only way you will not make mistakes is if you do nothing, and in most cases that in itself will be a mistake. I have made a lot of mistakes, but I have also done a lot of work.  That day over 40 years ago I quit trying to make excuses for my mistakes and started taking credit for them.

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