Thanks for nothing, Mr. McManus

10 10 2008

For TST this week, I did my best to channel one of my favorite authors from high school. I still remember hearing Jonathan’s giddy laughter leading up to one of Pat’s big payoffs while John and I steered the canoe through the languid bay.

I hesitated putting this up because I’ve heard you can lose certain copyrights to written materials by posting them on blogs. However, I don’t think I have to worry about any useful material being seized (or created, for that matter) from this blog for a while yet.

So, in other words, I wanted to see how well I could echo one of my favorites.  Some of this is near plagiarism, but it felt good to write; it was mildly less satisfying to read, but sharing is caring.

(note: stealing and pillaging is also caring, but only if you don’t get caught.)

Good Old Mr. Oberman

Growing up, I always hated summer. Maybe it was the hot and muggy weather, or maybe it was the constant pile of chores my parents forced me to do, but every single June, about a week after school ended,
I could always count on my life taking a turn for the worse. However, until I turned twelve, I never really knew what a miserable summer was. That was because, while all my other friends were riding their bikes and playing video games while staying up late, my parents forced me to go work on a farm.

Don’t get me wrong, farms are great. it’s just that this one was run by Old Mr. Oberman. Sure, at first, he seemed like a great guy. When my mom dropped me off for my first day of work, he greeted us politely and even joked around with my mom a bit.
“This is Robert,” My mom said, “I can’t promise he’ll actually work, but if you starve him long enough he might accidentally do something useful.”
Mr. Oberman smiled, but didn’t quite laugh as much as my mom did.
“I’m sure he’ll work out just fine,” he said, with a weird smile on his face.
As my mom got into her car and pulled away, I got my first taste of Old Mr. Oberman’s real sense of humor.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING, STANDING AROUND LIKE ZIS!” bellowed Mr. Oberman into my ear. “YOU VILL WORK UNTIL YOU BLEED OUT YOUR EARHOLES ON MY FARM! GRAB ZEE SHOVELS AND START DIGGING NOW!”

After I got up off the ground, I decided it was best to play along with his whole “slave labor” game until I got to know him a little better.

As time went by, though, I really began to respect Old Mr Oberman.  During my summer on his farm, hardly a day would pass without his coming over to me to offer some helpful insight.
“Well, kid,” he’s always begin, despite the giant iron nameplates he asked us to wear around our necks. “You dig me three postholes in the past hour, and it’s barely 95 degrees out here.
Are you trying to build me fence or just fill my field with potholes?”

“Gold old Mr. Oberman,” I thought. “One of these days he’s gonna kill us with his jokes and his cattle prods.”
“I ask you a QUESTION, kid!” screamed the jolly old man, practically shaking as he tried to hold back his laughter.
“Well gee, Mr. Oberman, I s’pose I could dig just a tad faster without these shackles around my ankles,” I said, knowing how much he appreciated a good joke.

“Oh, zee chains are giving you trouble, eh?” Growled Mr. Oberman with what I knew was a twinkle in his red eyes. “Well, I have just the thing.”
And would you believe it? Old Mr. Oberman got out a pair of horseshoes and tied them around my arms! After that, each time I stumbled into a hole I was digging because my arms hurt too much to move, I thought of old Mr. Oberman and smiled.  He really knew how to crack me up.

Of course, it wasn’t all jokes and fun on Old Mr. Oberman’s farm. He was a man who expected great things, just like my Grandpa Abraham did. And, just like Grandpa Abe, Old Mr. Oberman was always willing to tell you a story or two about how hard it was in his day working in the “camps” as he called them. (I guess he was a camp counselor or something); and, just like Grampa Abe, Old Mr. Oberman always had a wink and a rock to send your way if you stopped digging his postholes for even a second. I remember the first day I decided to take a break mid-morning because my heart was hurting, and Old Mr. Oberman didn’t miss a beat. “VAT! VAT ARE YOU DOING??” *wham* Right on target with one of his trademark stones! “DIG ZEE POSTHOLES, YOU LAZY DUMKOFF! DIG DIG DIG!!”
Boy, if anyone knew how to motivate you, it was Mr. Oberman. I guess I owe him a lot for all he taught me.

The work sure was hard, and the scars may never go away, but I’ll never forget the lesson about the value of hard work I learned at Old Mr. Oberman’s side on the day we buried Jimmy.

It was a hot day outside, but Old Mr. Oberman always found time to give us a break on special days like these.

As the cardboard coffin tumbled into the pit Jimmy had dug just a few short days before, Old Mr. Oberman leaned in way close to me and whispered, “Zat vill be you next week if you do not dig more of my postholes, eh?”

I only wish Grandpa Abraham had eluded the police long enough to meet Old Mr. Oberman. I think they would have been the best of friends.

However, it turned out that Old Mr. Oberman wasn’t quite as great a guy as I thought. On the last day of summer, barely a week before the government shut down his farm and all the trials started, my mom came to pick me up and I heard something that stung even worse than my broken wrist that still hasn’t healed.
As I walked over to the car, I caught the end of their conversation, and I was horrified.
“So, how’d he do today? Manage to get one of his feet off the ground yet?”
“Ha, no ma’am, but around 2:30 I could’ve sworn I saw one of his hands flinch. We may be able to get an honest day’s work out of him yet!”
The nerve of Old Mr Oberman, I thought. After all I had done for him and all we had shared together, he won’t even tell my mom about how many postholes I’ve dug!

I guess those eight funerals over the summer didn’t mean as much to him as I thought.

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