“When I give I give myself.” (Walt Whitman)


I spent the first 16 summers of my life at my grandparents place in Minnesota. They put all they had into a dozen cabins called Portview Resort and kept it going for 50 years. My admiration for their work ethic and dedication to their customers affected me in ways I’m only now starting to fully appreciate. Given the recent disaster on the East Coast and the country’s continuing inability to work together, I thought about one particular story from my childhood that might be instructive for all of us. Here goes.

It was a hot day, in August of 1964, but nothing that a few hours of swimming in the lake wouldn’t cure. After lunch was over, I was headed for the beach when my Grandpa stopped me. “Guy, how would you like to help me chop some wood?” he asked. I really didn’t see much need for chopping wood on a hot day but I knew better than to say no. “Sure Gramps, how much do we need?” is all I asked. “Oh just enough for all the cabins to get a fresh supply, but I’ll help you with the big logs.” he responded. This was now going to be a monumental task and I just had to ask,”Why are we doing this on a hot day?” His answer was plain old common sense, “Because wet wood won’t burn and it’s going to rain tonight.” Now he really had my curiosity raging, “How do you know that Grandpa?” He just pointed at the clouds building in the west and licked his finger to get the wind direction which was already blowing hard with a little teeth to it, “It’s going to storm tonight and get cold and all the cabins are going to want a fire first thing in the morning. We need to make sure they have plenty of dry logs and kindling and you’re going to help me, right?” There wasn’t any point in arguing with his prediction because I had already agreed to help and frankly cutting firewood was always one of my favorite chores. We got done and still had plenty of time for a swim so I didn’t mind too much even when he made me go around to all the cabins and remind the customers to close their windows and bring in their laundry off the clothes lines. All I had to say was, “Grandpa says it’s going to rain hard tonight so please get ready.” Nobody questioned this piece of sage advice because they all knew how well prepared Grandpa was for everything.

He was right on target with his weather forecast and that night we had a big storm. I was trying to sleep through the thunder and pounding rain on a daybed in the living room but not having much luck. Around 5 A.M. Grandpa came out of his bedroom dressed in his work clothes and started a nice hot fire in the stove. I was just awake enough to ask him what he was doing up, even earlier than usual. He said, “Those old boys from Illinois are going fishing this morning and I’m making them breakfast before they go.” I dozed off for another hour as the storm finally passed over. I woke up to the smell of bacon, pancakes and coffee and the reassuring murmur of grown men in the kitchen talking about the storm and where the fish would be biting. The last thing I heard was one of them telling my Grandpa, “Hey Mac, don’t cut up that tree till we get back, we want to help.”

As soon as they left the house, I got my turn at breakfast with Grandpa. He said, “Eat all you want, we have a long day ahead of us.” I knew what he meant because this wasn’t my first storm. My jobs were simple but strenuous. First and foremost, my cousins and I would have to bail out all the boats. We had a handheld bilge pump and plastic scoops and a huge sponge but taking care of a dozen boats was messy work especially when it’s cold, windy and slippery. After that we had to clean up the storm damage and gather up all the wind-tossed belongings. It was lunch time before we got done with our work and finished playing in all the giant puddles on the road. My Grandma was always good about giving us treats when our work went above and beyond. As we dragged into the house around noon, soaking wet, freezing and tired, she was ready with a big hug. Her apron smelled just like all the ingredients from the peach cobbler that was still in the oven. (I still think about that day every time my wife makes peach cobbler. Carol, are you listening?)

After we finished lunch, there was still the problem of the tree that had fallen down that night. Luckily, reinforcements arrived just when we needed them and we all made short work of a huge mess. After an hour we had a nice big woodpile that just needed to dry and a brush pile that Grandpa would have to burn in the winter when it was safer. I was always amazed at how much the customers pitched in when there was work to be done. They were paying for the pleasure of staying there but it just seemed like they took pride in keeping the place up, so storm cleanup was just part of the fun. Of course, Grandpa knew how to say, “Thank You” and the Grain Belt beer flowed freely for the adults, while the kids all had ice cream bars and sodas. On the occasions when the power went out, we were especially blessed because that meant we all HAD to finish off the frozen treats before they melted.

I think, more than anything, my grandparents treated their customers like family. They made sure the customers had firewood on the cold mornings, dry boats for fishing, clean sheets and cabins, fresh vegetables from the garden, treats for the kids and genuine hospitality for everyone. And the funny thing is, the more they tried to make people feel welcome, the more those same people responded with kindness of their own. The storms of life didn’t tear us apart, they just brought us together with a common purpose, to get things back to normal as soon as possible.

The reason this story still resonates with me is just this simple; when we put our common cause first we can accomplish anything and everything. If we just start believing in each other and helping each other with all our problems we can overcome hatred, fear, ignorance, prejudice, selfishness and every other kind of storm that comes our way. The only thing we can’t do is wait for the government to make the first move.

My neighbor Donna still kids me about the day her tree was blown down in a storm and I was standing in her yard, first thing in the morning, with my chainsaw ready to start cutting. They had just moved in and she had to come out of her house to ask my name so she could thank me for helping. All I saw was a tree that desperately needed my chainsaw skills but I guess I should have introduced myself first. If we want to make America great again and solve our national problems, let’s get to know our neighbors and find something to agree on, like where to put the firewood or what kind of beer we’re going to drink after we get the job done. It isn’t any more complicated than that and just imagine how awesome it will be to tell FEMA, “Hey we’re already done here, but you can join us for a beer.”

©Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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