A Test Of Stamina


Tuesday December 3rd, 2013 – Island Lake, IL

One of the most memorable lessons my grandfather ever taught me has been on my mind in the last few days. I was probably around ten years old, and I did something to really piss Gramps off. I can’t remember now what I did, but it was as angry as I can ever remember him getting at me.

As my punishment, he went over to his work bench area of the basement which looked like the pilot episode for the TV show ‘Hoarders’ and he filled several old coffee cans with an assortment of randomly collected nuts, bolts and washers. Then he cleared off a space on a big wooden table a few feet away, and dumped everything into a big pile. Then he told me to start sorting it all out.

I was to put the washers in one coffee can, the nuts in another and the bolts in a third. Any and all other things I found like screws, nails or hinges were to be sorted out as well and put in a pile to be separated into cans later. I could tell it wasn’t a joke to him, so I didn’t try arguing my case.

I lowered my head and went to work. He wouldn’t let me have a TV or radio on, and for about the first half hour or so he stood there without saying a word and watched me so I wouldn’t slack off. I was intimidated for the first several minutes, as he’d never done anything like that before.

All kinds of questions were going through my head, but Gramps wasn’t about to let me off the hook and I knew it. I don’t know how I knew it, but I did. And at that moment, I decided I’d not let the situation get the best of me and I made up my mind I would stand there as long as it took.

That could have been an hour, a whole day, a week or ten years. I made up in my mind I would not cry, bitch, try to weasel my way out of anything or quit. I really had no choice, as he was five feet away watching my every move. He was in the driver’s seat, but I wasn’t going to let him get the best of me. I put everything I had into that moment, and nothing else in the world mattered.

I can remember Grandma calling us to dinner, but Gramps never told her what was going on. It was odd to see Grandma in a good mood and Gramps pissed off, as it usually was the other way around. We finished eating, and Gramps and I went back to the basement where I kept on sorting until I went to bed. I actually finished off the first load, and he had to go back and make another.

Sure enough, I got up the next morning and I was told to go right back and start working again. I did it for probably an hour, and Gramps came over and told me I’d had enough. He lectured me about making better decisions, and warned me if I screwed up again I’d have to keep doing this.

It was years later until we talked about this incident again. “You stubborn bastard, you totally took me by surprise,” he said. “I didn’t think you’d just shut up and do it. I expected a couple of minutes tops, then we’d talk it out. You wouldn’t back down, so I wanted to test your stamina.”

We laughed about it then, but it wasn’t funny at the time. I was backed into a corner, and chose to not let anything defeat me. I sucked it up and did what I needed to do – pleasant or not. That is exactly the same position I find myself in today. I’ve had all kinds of piles to sort out of late, and it reminds me of those nuts and bolts. If I can get it in my head I’m going to just plow through as much as life can give me, I’ll be ok. That’s not as easy as it sounds, but it’s the only way to win.

My grandfather wanted to teach me a lesson, but we both ended up learning something. Focus gets results.

My grandfather wanted to teach me a lesson, but we both ended up learning something. Intense focus on anything does achieve results.

The 'University of Gramps' during my childhood had many unorthodox courses, but the lessons I learned last to this day.

The ‘University of Gramps’ throughout my childhood had many unorthodox courses, but the lessons I learned stay with me to this day.

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