Working man hands

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I recently read a Des Moines Register article about Virgil Storm, an 87-year-old Iowan who has been operating a sawmill for 48 years.

A 15-year battle with prostate cancer has finally forced the stout, old farmer to call it quits.

"My back's bothering me a little bit," he told Kyle Munson for the story. "My knees and legs are getting weak. But I keep working, and in general I feel pretty good."

This is coming from a man who was given a six-month prognosis in February. His cancer has spread to his bones, mandating his retirement.

The story really resonated with me.

First of all, ol' Virgil reminds me of my grandpa Milt. Grandpa didn't run a sawmill, but he did farm until the age of 62. He likely would have kept working longer, but before his "retirement," he too had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. It didn't slow him down, as he continued to maintain the acreage and help other farmers.

But like Virgil, the cancer spread to his bones and the prognosis became more serious. My parents sat me and my siblings down to tell us what they had known for years: grandpa was dying of cancer.

It was hard to believe.

Grandpa was not only a hard worker -- more importantly -- he was a smart worker. He always tried to do things the most efficient way and could fix anything from garage door openers to his grandchildren's toys.

He also had a fair share of creations, such as the whole-hog cooker and smokers -- converted water tanks -- he used for a family-run catering business.

Though his life ended 12 years ago, at the age of 69, his legacy lives on.

My dad picked up on that work ethic and ingenuity, passing it onto his kids.

In recent years, my dad has been laid up a few times with surgeries. However, he never seems to be laid up as long as he is supposed to be.

About a month ago, I went down to the Century Farm to help dad with a few things since he was not supposed to be lifting.

He followed the doctor's -- and my mom's -- orders pretty closely while letting me do most of the "heavy lifting," showing me easier ways to do things throughout the day.

Physics have never been a strong suit for me, but I've learned how to manipulate things like levers, levers and pulleys to my advantage.

Dad has always said, "If you use your brain, you won't have to use your muscles as much," or something like that.

Before I got into the "cushy" job of journalism, I worked in a northwest Iowa plastic factory where I was told by veteran factory workers, "Work harder, not smarter," which is basically the same concept.

The work ethic instilled in me by my grandpa and my dad is something I will maintain no matter what my profession.

If I had to wrap up everything I have learned from them into one symbol, it would be what I call working man hands.

These hands are open not to receive but to give.

These hands are not smooth, but rough with blisters, scabs and scars from a life of work.

These hands are dirty from doing the not-so-pleasant jobs without expecting reimbursement, or even recognition.

Of course, I work with my hands differently than grandpa did -- pushing a pen and pressing keys on a keyboard -- but I will still hang onto the work ethic he and dad instilled in me.

Even though grandpa has been gone for 12 years now and I don't see dad as much as I used to, I will continue to honor them as I strive to serve others anyway I can with working man hands.

I encourage others to join me in the endeavor.

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  • I believe the correct terminology is "work smarter, not harder". This is where the levers and pulleys theory comes into play (for instance).

    -- Posted by Dick Butkus on Thu, Dec 2, 2010, at 8:05 PM
  • Well having good body mechanics helps so your back doesn't hurt either and then your body won't go to crap earlier on in life.

    Working with those type of chemicals when your a Farmer doesn't help with getting Cancer either. Weither cancer is genetically/environmentally caused.

    -- Posted by SystemofaDown on Fri, Dec 3, 2010, at 6:32 AM
  • Thanks for catching my type-o Dick. I can't believe I glazed over it when I proofed it and I just now noticed that you pointed it out. I did mean "work smarter, not harder," but apparently inverted my thoughts. It's a good thing I don't mind laughing at myself and my mistakes from time to time.

    -- Posted by Gabe Licht on Thu, Dec 9, 2010, at 10:32 AM
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