"Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go ..."
That's a song from the 1937 Disney movie "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." Sometimes I feel like one of 'em. It seems my life has been work, work, and more work.
Luckily, I enjoy work. I can't just goof off. That comes from my mother, who was the hardest working person I have ever known. She quit high school to start working, and until her health failed in her late 70s, she never stopped.
When I was in my teens, we were living on a small farm near Norphlet. She got a job as a switchboard operator for Samples Department Store, and years later moved up to head women's wear buyer at El Dorado House, the top ladies' fashion store in south Arkansas.
She was Donna Axum's chaperone to Miss America in 1964 and was considered the leading women's fashion authority in south Arkansas.
I have a picture of her in jeans, holding a slop bucket for a large hog, when we were living on the farm, and another photo of her in Atlantic City when Donna won the Miss America pageant. Folks who only knew her as the fashion queen of south Arkansas shake their heads in disbelief at her slopping hogs.
Working alongside my mother at our farm carried over. I have her genes and get bored easily if I'm not working. There are jobs that stick in my mind, and let me tell you, some farm jobs are worse than others.
One has to do with chickens. I was 14 when I went with my mother to Downs Store in Norphlet to pick up a big box with 100 chicks in it. It would be my job to take care of them by keeping a warm light burning in the coop and feeding them. That was the easy part. What came next was a lot tougher.
After eight weeks the chicks had outgrown their small coop and were in a bigger holding pen. They were what are called fryers, and it was time to dress them. Mama and I started early. After filling a big black wash pot with water and lighting a fire under it, my job started.
The water was boiling and my hatchet was razor-sharp. My job was to take every one of those 100 fryers out of their cages one at a time, and after using the hatchet, dip the now-dead fryer in boiling water, pluck off the feathers, then hand it to Mama, who would dress it and put it in cold water.
The first 20 aren't that bad, but as the afternoon passed and we were up into the 70s, it was really grim. When I grabbed that last chicken out of the coop I yelled "Yes!" as loud as I could.
When we finished and before I cleaned up she looked at me and said, "Richard, you were a big help. What can I fix you for supper?"
I answered, "How about fried chicken?"
I have worked in a number of jobs, starting when I was 10 years old cleaning our neighbors' flower beds for 35 cents an hour. I moved up to paperboy starting at 5 a.m, and in the winter set a trap line in Flat Creek. I would run the trap line after the paper route and before school, skin the catch that afternoon and take it to the Norphlet fur buyer. That's when TV's Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett were wearing coonskin caps with a tail hanging down in back. Coon hides were bringing $3.50 apiece.
Then it was off to college, where during the five years it took to get a master's degree I worked in the college bookstore, the university museum, and as the student manager of dining hall Bough Commons, all at the same time. Summers brought refinery work and an offshore job hanging off the side of a drilling rig 80 feet over the Gulf, chipping off rust.
After college, I worked as a geologist for Exxon, then took a hardship allowance job with Esso Libya where my pay was doubled. Two years later I was back in south Texas with Exxon again. Two years after that, I quit and opened my own office as an independent geologist.
When we lived in Libya, we had a chance to travel to most of north Africa and almost all of western Europe, where I observed that our work ethic is uniquely American. I never visited a country whose workers could compare with American workers.
We have visited numerous countries where, if you are on the street before 7 a.m., you are by yourself. Numerous studies show that Americans work longer hours and take fewer vacations than any of the western European counties.
It's not just working longer hours; it's being more productive, which makes our country an economic powerhouse and raises our standard of living.
The digital age gives us the opportunity to further increase our productivity. You are holding a good example as you read this paper on your iPad of how to embrace digital change, which has turned a statewide paper into a worldwide paper.
I frequently receive email comments om my column from states on both coasts and Canada. Going digital has not only preserved the Democrat-
Gazette, it has made it a better paper with more colorful content and more subscribers.
Richard Mason of El Dorado is the author of 29 books. Email him at email@example.com.