Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Building Character

In our home when we turned 6 years old, we were no longer allowed to watch cartoons. 

Instead, we were instructed to 
“put your coat on, go outside and build character.”

Build character???

A few questions:
Which character: Chip or Dale? Or Strawberry Shortcake? 
What do we make it out of? 
How big should it be? 
Do you want me to build it in the front yard or back yard? 
Can David come down and help? 
Can we use the staple gun if Dad holds it with us?
Have you seen the ladder since Christmas?
All these questions run through a six year old’s head when they’re thrown out to the back yard instructed to build something they can’t even spell - let alone define. 
Turns out, building that character deal took longer than anticipated.
It was a hot week in July when Mom and Dad tore the shingles off the old roof of our house. Our very beautiful, convincing mother told us that the child that picked up the most scrap was somehow ahead. Laura, Luke and I fought for every last shingle and square nail that composed that old place. When the scrap was turned in, we each received $.71 for our efforts. Kind of a big deal in 1988. 

Hard work pays off. 

I added a little piece of that character in Kindergarten when Mrs. Baker put my name on the board for talking during our alphabet lesson. Unfortunately, Kristen Sparks went down with me, and all she whispered were the kind words, “Thank You.” 

Always apologize, but make sure it happens during recess.

I have to look back on our childhood and raise an eyebrow; we’ve eaten a lot of friends. More than once I’ve seen Ricky the Rooster running headless around the back yard (1980’s, folks).

 I can remember about every time I gave a 4-H steer one last head pat. My first year of 4-H I showed a Holstein steer from Granddad’s back farm; he weighed in at 1549 lbs. at the county fair. Trying to stay unattached, I named him Big Mac the first day I saw him; the last day I saw him, I couldn’t talk through my tears. 

Dustin Thornburg sat me down on the showbox and taught me an important lesson: That steer is a production animal. He was created to feed and provide protein to the greatest species on Earth: humans. Big Mac is doing exactly what he was created to do. 

Realize purpose and reason...and move on. 

Lindsay and Big Mac - 60 lbs.vs.1549 lbs. 

In junior high our hay tedder broke the morning that rain to was arrive several hours later. By 10 a.m. dad had all of us, strategically placed around the hay field, manually flipping moist hay over with pitchforks so the warm sun would dry it in time. I’ve never been so mad and sore in my life. I’ve also never thanked God so much for modern technology and a capable family. 

Every able body should work. 

In 2000 I had to ride down to a rival high school, in my cheerleading uniform with the Athletic Director, to return a piece of the football field that I and a few others thought we needed in Tiger Territory. We were wrong. A handshake, eye contact and honest apology never meant as much to me as it did that day. I realized I had brought shame to my family's name. It’s strange, I’ve been to that tiny little town in Union County a hundred times since then, and only when I took that trip with Mr. Michael did it take 18 hours to get there. 

Set an example, folks will watch and maybe follow. 

I’ve realized sometimes it isn’t the final result, but rather the path getting there. 

I've realized as much as I sat around and protested about our lack of cartoons, it was the best thing Mom and Dad could have done for us. All three of us can change a tire, make a hearty breakfast and perhaps most importantly, write a Thank You note. 

As it turns out that character thing has been a pretty tough thing to build over the years, and I even consider myself handy. 
Funny, looking back between the Smurfs, Popples and Mighty Ducks, Mom and Dad never did tell me which character I was supposed to build.


  1. Good story! You can say you made the grade

  2. Great post! You are a very talented writer! Anytime you want to freelance for Farm World, just let me know! :)

  3. Big Mac looks huge and the post was great!


  4. I completely agree that the ride to Union County did feel like 18 hours! Maybe even more :) Love your posts! - Laura Oyer

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  6. Character building was the catch-all phase in our barnyard for things nobody wanted to but it didn't matter because it had to be done anyways. On cold winter days like today the automatic water fountain would freeze over and before school I would try to thaw it but most times before it was all said and done I had to carry five gallon buckets of water to my 4-H steers. Which was a balancing act considering weight of the water sloshing out as I tried not to trip over my borrowed carharts. Funny how I hated those two words, but now I know it is those two words that defines the diligent person I am today.

  7. Girlfriend, I am printing this and going to make my kids read it over and over. Well, when they can read of course.