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The Words of My Father: The Paperhanger

Credit Where Credit Is Due

Welcome to a new series! From time to time, I’ll be writing about favorite sayings my dad was fond of saying. Fifty years after his death, his words still reside in my brain. They pop up at the strangest of times, unbidden and yet welcomed, the warm fuzzies spreading over me when they do, and I’ll be sharing them with you in this series of articles.

Credit for this series is due to my friend Zulma, who suggested it last week. Zulma, thank you! As always, I would do well to listen to my friends.

My Dad!

My Dad!

The First Time

I must have been ten or so. I do remember I was cleaning my bedroom, picking up toys, that sort of thing, and Dad walked in to deliver this jewel: “Bill, you’re busier than a one-armed paperhanger with crabs!”

Let that one sink in for a moment. A one-armed paperhanger would be quite busy, but one with crabs? I’m not sure I even knew, at ten, what crabs were, other than crustaceans found at the beach. What did crabs have to do with hanging wallpaper?

Dad thought it was quite funny, so I joined him in a good laugh, me not wanting to insult him by not laughing at his joke, but it took a trip to the library one day, months later, for me to discover that Dad was referring to pubic lice. Suddenly, the humor was considerably lessened with that information. Suddenly, the idea of a one-armed paperhanger, already struggling with his work, having to continually scratch his privates, well, let’s just say that pearl of wisdom has stayed with me most of my life, for good reason. How can you possibly scrub that vision from your mind?

Eleven-year old Bill

Eleven-year old Bill

More Than a Silly Saying

Anyone who knew my dad knew that hard work was hard-wired into his DNA. There is no hyperbole when I say he was the hardest-working human I’ve ever known. As I’ve mentioned many times, he dropped out of high school his sophomore year, packed a bag, and “rode the rails,” illegally jumping on box cars, riding the train from town to town throughout the Midwest, looking for work during The Great Depression.

After the war, he moved his little family out west, to Tacoma, Washington, and then spent the next twenty years working a manual labor job for a sand & gravel company. No matter the weather, no matter how he felt physically, he was up at dawn, off to work, and I literally do not remember that man taking a day off from work in all the time I knew him, not until the first of his two heart attacks forced him to bed, but then only for one week and then he was back to work.

Home each night, eat dinner, and then outside working on the lawn or landscaping or whatever, finally collapsing into his easy chair for a couple hours of television, more times than not falling asleep in that chair, exhausted, only to do it again over and over and over.

So for that man to tell me, even in a joking manner, that I was busy cleaning my room, well, that was a badge of honor for my young self. It meant my father, who I adored, approved of the work his son was doing.

It meant the world to me!

A room in need of a paperhanger

A room in need of a paperhanger

And It Stayed With Me

I got my first job when I was fifteen, working in the local bowling alley part-time, evenings, low pay but free bowling tossed in as a bonus, and I remember how proud Dad was that his son had a job and was doing that job well. And then for four years after that, summers and Christmas vacation, I worked in a fruit & produce warehouse, hard, physical labor, and you could just see on Dad’s face that he was beaming, so happy that his son was respected in the workplace, that his son had learned the value of hard work, the pride that comes from doing a job well, taking no shortcuts, giving an honest day’s labor for an honest pay.

I’ve worked, now, for fifty years, longer than my father lived. I’ve had tough jobs, lumber yards, cleaning pig pens, loading blast furnaces, and I’ve had easy jobs, but I’ve always remembered the importance of working hard, taking no shortcuts, giving an honest day’s labor for an honest pay. And many a night, after work, I have come home and done chores around the house, around the property, and fallen asleep in my favorite chair, because, well, that’s how I was raised.

An Interesting Side Note

It should be noted that there was no grand plan associated with working hard, not for my dad. He was a pragmatist, with a sprinkling of realist, although I’m quite certain those words were not part of his vocabulary. Dad did not believe that a man can be anything he wants if only he works hard enough. He did not believe his son could achieve any dream if only he applied himself properly. In fact, I firmly believe Dad knew the cards were stacked against the lower middle class, right out of the chute.

Dad had two goals regarding his son, and they were quite simple: he wanted me to have a better life than he had, and he wanted me to understand the intrinsic value of working hard. There is pride to be taken from working hard, from doing your best. There may not be awards or rewards. There may not be cheering crowds. But there is self-satisfaction, and that meant a great deal to Dale LeRoy Holland, and he wanted it to mean a great deal to me.

The Good and the Bad of It

I do believe there is great value in working hard. I believe there is great value in being known as a good worker, someone who can be counted on to deliver, but I also believe, now, that moderation is important. I had to learn that on my own, without my father for guidance.

I have learned there must be balance in life. I have learned, and this took me years to admit, that man is not known simply by the job he performs, but also by the relationships he makes, and nurtures, and by the quality of his day-to-day existence, not measured simply by sweat and toil. It’s a lesson my dad never learned. He died, three days short of his fiftieth birthday, incomplete and resigned to that fate.

I do not say that with remorse, for my father never wanted anyone to feel sorry for him. He was a shining example of Thoreau’s belief, that men lead lives of quiet desperation. He knew he had molded the life he lived. He knew he was restricted in his movements forward, and he was resigned to it. You work hard, you play hard, and you die. Life according to my Depression-Era father.

Final Thoughts

Would he be proud of me today? I think so. He was, after all, a pragmatist and a realist. I don’t think he believed, for a moment, that his only son would end up famous or rich. I think he truly believed I would have a better life than he had, and he would be happy to know that I had. And he would be beyond proud to know that I had worked harder than a one-armed paperhanger with crabs because, well, that is a thing to be proud of.

Thank you, Zulma!

2021 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

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