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“Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go…”

by Richard Mason | November 21, 2020 at 8:30 p.m.

Yes, that’s from the Disney Movie Snow White, sung by seven little dwarfs, and sometimes I feel like one of ‘em. It seems my life has been work, work, and more work, but the funny part about it is, I enjoy work. I can’t just goof off. There is something in my makeup that makes me want to work, and I don’t have any doubt where that comes from. It’s from my mother, who was the hardest working person I have ever known. She quit high school to start working, and as I watched her, up until her health failed in her late 70s, she never stopped working.

When I was in my teens, we were living on a small farm near Norphlet. She got a job as a switchboard operator for the Samples Department Store, and years later, as she worked tirelessly, she moved up to the head women’s wear buyer at the El Dorado House, the top ladies fashion store in south Arkansas.

She was Donna Axum’s chaperone to Miss American and considered the leading women’s fashion authority in South Arkansas. I have a picture of her in jeans when we lived on the farm holding a slop bucket for a large hog to eat out of, and another one in Atlantic City when Donna won the Miss America pageant. Yes, the folks who only knew her as the fashion queen of south Arkansas shake their heads in disbelief at her sloping hogs.

So yes, I grew up working alongside of my mother at our farm and it carried over. I have her genes, and I get bored easily if I’m not working. However, there are jobs that stick in my mind, and let me just tell you, some farm jobs are worse than others. The one I remember vividly has to do with chickens. I was fourteen when I went with mother to Downs Store in Norphlet to pick up a big box with 100 chicks in it. It would be my job to take care of them by keeping a warm light burning in the coop and feeding them. That was the easy part. What came next was a lot tougher.

After eight weeks the chicks had outgrown their small coop and were in a bigger holding pen. They were what are called fryers, and it was time to dress them. Momma and I started early, and after filling our big black wash pot with water and lighting a fire under it, my job started.The water was boiling and my hatchet was razor sharp. My job was to take every one of those 100 fryers out of their cages one at a time, and after using the hatchet, dip the dead fryer in boiling water, and then pluck off the feathers. Then I would hand the chicken to momma who would dress it and put it in cold water. As the chopping and plucking boy, who was part of dressing a hundred fryers, I can tell you the first twenty aren’t that bad, but as the afternoon passed, and we were up in the seventies, it was really grim, and when I grabbed that last chicken out of the coop I yelled “Yes!” as loud as I could.

Mother liked to tell this story about the chicken dressing. When we finished and before I cleaned up (since this is a family newspaper, you don’t want to read why I had to “clean up”), she looked at me, nodded her head, and said, “Richard, you were a big help. What can I fix you for supper?”

I answered, “How about fried chicken?”

Yes, I have worked in a number of varied jobs starting when I was ten years old cleaning our neighbors flower beds for 35 cents an hour. Then I moved up to the job of Norphlet Paperboy starting at five a. m, and in the winter I set a trap line in Flat Creek. I would run the trap line after the paper route and before school. I would skin the catch that afternoon and take it to the Norphlet fur buyer. That’s when Danial Boone and Davy Crockett were wearing coon-skin caps with the tail hanging down in back. Heck, coon hides were bringing $3.50 apiece.

Then it was off to college where during the five years that it took me to get a master’s degree, I worked in the college bookstore, the University Museum, and ended up being the student manager of Bough Commons, the dining hall… all at the same time. Summers brought refinery work in the maintained gang and an offshore job hanging off the side of a drilling rig 80 feet over the Gulf chipping off rust.

After college, I worked as a geologist for Exxon, then took a hardship allowance job with Esso Libya where my pay was doubled. Two years later I was back in South Texas working for Exxon again and two years after that, I quit and opened my own office as an independent geologist. I’ve never stopped working.

I know all that work sounds as if I am a working fool, but I’m not. There are millions of Americans who can identify with hard work and my experience, while a little unusual, is typical of most Americans.

When we lived in Libya, we had a chance to travel to most of North Africa and almost all of Western Europe, where I observed quiet clearly that the American work ethic is American. I never visited a country whose workers could compare with American workers. At 6:45 Vertis and I meet our Downtown Property Manager to start our day, and as we drive into town the traffic is steady. Folks are up and going to work. However, we have visited numerous countries where, if you are on the street before seven o’clock, you are by yourself. Numerous studies around the globe have shown Americans work longer hours and take fewer vacations than any of the western European counties.

But it’s not just working longer hours, it’s being more productive, which has made our country an economic powerhouse and has raised our standard of living. Being productive simply means producing more goods or services per working hour. That translates into increasing our GNP (Gross National Product), which in turn makes our citizens more money and raises our standard of living.

The digital age we live in today gives us the opportunity to further increase our productivity by adopting digital changes. We should embrace these opportunities because they allow us to produce more and thus increase our standard of living. You are holding a good example, as you read this paper on your iPad, of how to embrace the digital change. The digital paper you are reading has turned a statewide paper into a worldwide paper. I frequently receive email comments om my column from states on both coasts and Canada. The paper is now available anywhere in the world where an internet connection is available, and going digital has not only preserved the Democrat Gazette, it has made it a better paper with more colorful content and more subscribers.

Richard Mason is a registered professional geologist, downtown developer, former chairman of the Department of Environmental Quality Board of Commissioners, past president of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation, and syndicated columnist. Email [email protected]


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