LESSONS FROM THE CHAIN GANG, REFLECTIONS ON THE PAST, by Art Smukler

I belong to Plato, a group in Los Angeles devoted to learning. As the editor of the monthly newsletter, I was called upon to write my bi-monthly editor’s note. Given that today is Yom Kippur, a day of reflection, I thought it was a good time to share this story again on my blog.

Not too long ago, I decided to clean up and reorganize our backyard. We have a number of 50-year-old Spanish clay pots that were left by the previous owners and were sitting in the wrong places. Some of the pots easily weighed a few hundred pounds.

I did what any self-respecting psychiatrist-homeowner would do and called a half-dozen nurseries in the area. I explained the problem and most said they just didn’t come out to move pots. The one that said they could do it, wanted to charge enough for a weekend at a fancy hotel. So, the next morning I decided to do it myself.

First, I had to empty out all the pots. We’re talking about pots that stand over 4 feet high and 3 feet wide and filled with soil so old and hard that it felt like cement. Then I had to carefully move the empty pots, that still easily weighed over a hundred pounds, to their new location. It took almost two days of hard physical labor. A lot of shoveling, lifting, sweating and grunting.

Why does any of this matter? Gardeners do it every day.
Well I don’t and most of you don’t. This was the first time in many years that I did this kind of work.

It brought to mind my teen years and the many hours I spent working for my Uncle Bill in his auto accessory store. I was assigned to the “chain gang” in the dank basement, where I put together heavy links of chain to make snow chains. Hour after hour I’d work alone, measuring, hauling boxes of uncut metal chain, and cutting and crimping them together. Sweating and cursing to myself I’d work hard, knowing I’d be paid at the end of the day and would always have a hot lunch with the other workers, hosted by my uncle at the neighborhood Puerto Rican restaurant.

Then I’d return to the basement and the chains, wondering what my lot in life would be. Would I be doing this forever? What was going to happen to me when I grew up?

Well, sweating outside in my own garden brought back these poignant memories. I miss my Uncle Bill. I appreciate all the opportunities he gave me to learn the value of hard work and how it would help me for the rest of my life. I miss how he would sometimes come down to the basement, look at what I’d accomplished, and smile.

When parents don’t give their children the opportunity to work hard and earn their way, but just give and give without value for value, they aren’t helping. In fact, they are creating a person who often turns into an entitled, selfish individual. Hard work for fair pay should be the rule rather than the exception. Lunches should be earned.

I was also very fortunate that my uncle wasn’t simply a nice guy. He was also someone who enjoyed listening and doing his best to be helpful. He rewarded hard work with respect and love. It helped me raise my own family and become a good psychiatrist. It helped me become a person who starts a job and finishes it. It helped me become a member of Plato who enjoys the challenge of hard work and enjoys the profits that hard work produces.

Most members of Plato are retired or thinking about it.
One major advantage of retirement is the chance to remember the past. To reevaluate and do some of the things that time and the need to support yourself and your family didn’t allow. Enjoy and savor your memories. The past made us who we are.

Another recent experience that brought all these memories back was getting together , for the first time in many years, with my first cousin Larry, Uncle Bill’s son. He is a caring, thoughtful, retired judge. Who better to judge others than a man raised by a man who could always put himself in another man’s shoes?

If you enjoyed reading, Inside the Mind of a Psychiatrist, you might also enjoy Dr. Smukler’s novels, Chasing Backwards, a psychological murder mystery, Skin Dance, a mystery, and The Man with a Microphone in his Ear. All are available as paperbacks and eBooks.

This entry was posted in Psychiatry, Raising Children, Self Examination, Uncle Bill's Place, Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to LESSONS FROM THE CHAIN GANG, REFLECTIONS ON THE PAST, by Art Smukler

  1. Richard Palmer says:

    Nice reflections. Your Uncle Bill played an important role in your life.

    Dick

    Like

  2. Dan Rudin says:

    Always enjoy reading your thoughts.

    Like

  3. emacaine says:

    Such a good writer.

    Like

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