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Al Jones


It’s another overwhelming day. You know the kind… when no matter how hard you paddle, you can’t seem to see your way to shore. It’s not the first time I’ve experienced this, and there’s no doubt in my mind that it won’t be the last time.

I might cuss under my breath on days like this, but I don’t panic. I learned a very valuable lesson, many years ago. No matter how big the task, it’s not going to get any smaller by wrenching your hands and feeling sorry for yourself. I learned that lesson as a 16 year old kid, back in 1979.

My mom needed something for me to do. I had a part-time job, but when I wasn’t at school or working, I had a tendency to get myself into trouble. I don’t think I was a bad kid… I just had poor judgment when left with time on my hands. We didn’t have a lot of money, so mom had to find something that didn’t cost much. That was the year I joined ‘Moose Squadron 604’… Air Cadets. The uniforms were free and it kept me active and most importantly, supervised. Mom didn’t ask if I wanted to join… she told me.

To be honest, I didn’t like it much at first. I wasn’t used to such structure. Only a few kids came from my school, as the squadron had kids from all over the city. But over time, it kinda grew on me.

Every kid needs some sort of goal. Without a goal, good luck motivating them to do anything. The carrot held in front of our noses was the opportunity to fly in a glider. You know, those planes with no motors that take flight by being towed into the air by another plane? Yup… that was the carrot. But there was a catch.

None of us could afford glider lessons, but we could earn lessons for free via the Canadian military. All we had to do was put in fencing around Currie Barracks that summer. It doesn’t sound bad when you say it, but we quickly learned that some tasks are much easier said than done.

Over 2,000 yards of fencing needed to be replaced around the perimeter of Currie Barracks. That meant, digging out old posts, replacing with new metal posts and stringing eight-foot-high chain link fencing between them. It was hard work, and that summer was a hot one. After our first day, we looked over what we had accomplished. It seemed like nothing compared to what was left. I remember going home tired, with sore muscles and blisters.

Day two, a couple of the kids didn’t come back. At first, we all thought they were sick, but they never came back at all. The rest of us continued. As we got to know each other over the weeks to come, we developed a work rhythm.  We learned that some of us were better at certain tasks than others. The taller kids were better at stringing the chain link while shorter, huskier kids like me were better at digging. We had a couple kids that were somewhat frail in build, so they would run water to us and run back and forth with tools. By working as a team, we accomplished more.

Each day, we would look at how far we had gone. The goal the next day, would be to beat the previous day’s distance by one section (8 feet). There was constant chatter while we worked. Complaining was almost non-existent. I say “almost” because we had a few days of rain that added completely different challenges to our task. When the job was finally completed, we actually finished two weeks early.

We all received our glider lessons, but that wasn’t the best thing we received. You see, folks, you take young men and women and put them in a situation where they depend on each other, and you’ve taught them social skills. You introduce them to hard labour and you give them good work ethics. You reward those young people for their hard work only after it’s been completed and you teach them delayed gratification. They also build muscle, stamina, strength of body, and character. These are the rewards that last a lifetime.

Our children will have overwhelming days, just as we do. It’s important that they learn how to deal with obstacles, challenges, and controversy. They need to learn, just as we did, that every undesirable task is still a task that needs doing. And that callouses on hands are to be respected, because they provide proof of accomplishment. Most of all, nothing gets done without someone digging in to get it started.

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