My oldest son was 13 years old when he told me in no uncertain terms that he would have nothing to do with picking grapes in a vineyard. That was the beginning of the problems between him and me.
I explained to him that this vineyard was an organized Welfare Farm. That the recipients of the raisins will be poor people, some of them desperately hungry, and that this is the least we can do when we’ve been so blessed to live a life of plenty. I was shocked to hear him say that he didn’t care for anyone but himself, and that he’d run away before he made a trip to the vineyard to work in the dust and heat of the San Joaquin valley for poor people he didn’t know.
True to his word, he did run away. He ran out of my reach. He ran down the street. He ran for a mile. And then he walked back to his mom’s house. His mom had no such requirements for a young man to serve other people. His mom would let him sit in his room and relax, while others stepped up and did the work he would have done if he had gone with us.
As it was, my second son (who was seven) witnessed the tension between his brother and me, and quickly volunteered to go with me to the vineyard. Although he was a bit young to be doing that kind of work, we went together. I put a grape harvesting knife in his right hand, a glove on his left hand, and together we went to work, toiling away for the benefit of people we will never meet.
It’s been eight years, and a lot of rough road since that landmark day. I can see the scenes of our lives pass by since then – so many days of heartache, of struggle, of a few precious wins, and many deflating loses. My eldest son’s life has few highlights anymore. He’s 21 years old. A high school dropout. Unemployed. No intention of ever applying for a job. A drug addict.
My younger son is now 15 years old. He is a typical teenager in most respects, and of course, he tries my patience at times. But he is a young man who has never missed an opportunity to work with me at the vineyard on that one day a year we harvest grapes. He gets up with me at 5:00 on a Saturday morning so we can be in the vineyard by 6:00. When we finish our assigned rows, he’s right at my side as we help others who are short-handed. And when we finish, he and I can look each other in the eye and feel like we accomplished something. And we did it together, like a team.
What is it that makes individuals like my sons so different? Is it genetic? Is it the way they were raised? Can it be as simple as the difference in their spirits – that soul that entered their bodies as babies?
I don’t know the answer to those questions, but I feel like it has little to do with work ethic, or respect for parents and their rules. I think the attitude is all about selfishness.
As I get older I see selfishness as the root of so many problems in our families and our society in general. Youth are constantly being told to “be yourself” or “do what makes you happy.” In the 1970’s, when I was a teenager, people used to say, “Do your own thing.”
But that’s certainly not the attitude that made this country great, or enabled us to live an economic life that is so much more comfortable than most other countries. When my father was young, no one cared if he liked his vocation or not. He just went out and worked – and did his best to provide for his family. If he did blue-collar work, or if he worked in an office, it made no difference. It was all about working hard and providing for your loved ones. How did we fall so far from that ethic in just two generations?
To combat the disease of selfishness today, our church manufactures opportunities for youth to be in the service of their fellow man. Teenagers are expected to do service projects on a small scale every month, and once or twice a year they will do a full day of major service for the community (like tree planting, graffiti removal or something like that). And then, twice a year they go to the raisin vineyard to prune vines or to harvest grapes.
With this service training as a background, by the time LDS youth are young adults they have learned to respond quickly when others are in need. Young women can step up to offer childcare to those in a pinch or can quickly whip up a casserole for a neighbor in a time of crisis.
Young men are called on once a month or so to help someone move. By the time an LDS man is 40 years old, he may have helped 50 families move. If he owns his own pickup truck, the number may be closer to 100.
Some families will be totally prepared, with boxes packed, carpets cleaned and the kids sent to grandma’s to be out of the way. But most families will not be pre-packed. Sometimes I’ve had to do dishes before I could pack them. Sometimes I’ve had to do laundry before I could fold and pack some stranger’s items. And yes, I’ve picked up couches and found moldy food underneath.
But I tell my younger son the same thing my mom told me, “Hands are washable.” That was code for: Quit being a baby. Get back to work.
I’m thankful my mother taught me to be a good worker. And I pray both my sons will put their own wants aside, and learn to serve other people.