One of the most important things in my life is my family. I love my family and I want the very best for them. I have felt ever since the day our first son was born that one of the greatest gifts I could give to each of my children would be to teach them how to be hard workers. I have seen common people climb to uncommon heights in all walks of life just by being hard workers. They are not smarter than the other people, they just work harder.
When my children became old enough to walk, I started helping them learn to work. I tried to find jobs for them to do that were not easy. I knew that would help them learn to do a task, even if they did not want to. But how many times can a child mow the lawn, do the dishes or clean their room in one day?
Living in a subdivision of a city did not make it easy for me to find "HARD" work for them to do. Hard work like a farmers kids do, because I read somewhere that they did a study and found that farmer's children were more likely to succeed than the children of parents of any other occupation. The second most likely group of children to succeed were ones who had a paper route as a youth. Both those jobs for children indicated to me that hard work would enhance my children's chances for success in life.
I could see that if they had to do something like get up at 4:30 a.m. to milk cows or deliver papers, even if it was cold and snowing, they would learn a lesson I could not teach them any other way. But how many cow-milking jobs are there in the city? And though more likely, how many paper-delivery jobs are there in one neighborhood?
When my oldest son was about 12 years old, I had the good fortune of meeting a neighbor who had a huge empty lot behind his house. The empty lot was about a full acre. And he had water irrigation rights for it, because you can't raise a garden if you don't have water for it. Boy, that was like finding a goldmine for me. I could see now how we could plant a huge garden and have animals also. My children could actually become little farmers. It truly was an answer to my prayers.
That summer we all pitched in and tilled up the weeds and made ditches for the water. We planted more garden than I ever knew could be planted by one family. We bought some goats, rabbits and chickens. We were in the farm business right in the middle of Salt Lake City, Utah. I was thrilled beyond measure. Too bad my kids were not so thrilled. It was a lot of hard work. I know they were not as happy as me about the whole thing. But I saw it as the golden opportunity to help my children learn to work.
We lived about one mile from the garden. So we let the children walk or ride their bikes to the garden every day. I did not want their mother to have to start a mother's taxi thing for them every day. Each day they were expected to work for two hours in the garden before they could go out to play.
We assigned each child a specific job. They were each about two years apart in age so some were able to do harder work than others. There were three main jobs that needed to be done every day. One was to weed the garden, another was to water the garden and third was to water and feed the animals. Each child had a job that would help them learn to work, but not be too hard for them to do. At least I thought the jobs were not "TOO" hard: but they certainly were not easy.
My oldest son Gene was assigned to take care of the chickens. Now I grew up on a farm and so I knew a little bit about chickens and how to raise them. There are four fundamental principles that you have to tend to if you want to get any eggs to eat.
First you have to give them the right amount of food every day. Second you have to make sure they always have water. Third, you have to keep the eggs gathered every day. If you leave eggs in the nest then they will stop laying eggs, because the hens will start to sit on the eggs to try to hatch them. And fourth you have to have a place for them to lay the eggs where you can find them. If you do not do that, the chickens will go lay the eggs in the grass all over the garden.
We knew the chickens would need a place to sleep and lay eggs, so we built a chicken coop where they could roost at night and lay the eggs. All Gene had to do every day was go to the chicken yard, feed the chickens the correct amount of food, make sure all the water trays were full, and gather the eggs from the nests. I guess there was one other duty he had to do. He had to get the eggs home safe with out breaking them.
Gene was probably the hardest worker of all the kids. He even seemed to like to work, especially when I would work right along with him. We had a lot of fun to gather at our garden. All of the children worked hard even the very young ones.
There was one small problem with the hard work Gene did. He was a great starter on a job but he always had a hard time finishing a job: it was simply a bad habit he had. For him staying with the job until it was done was a difficult task. One of the things I loved about our garden was that I knew it would help me teach Gene and the other kids to be hard workers, plus learn how to finish a job once they started it.
The harder I tried to teach that concept to Gene, the more it seemed to not work with him. He would go to the garden every day: he never missed one day. But every day when I checked up on his work, I would find that he had either watered the chickens and feed them but forgot to gather the eggs, or he would gather the eggs and water them but forget to feed them. He just could not seem to remember to do all three chores every day.
Now when you have a chicken that lays eggs for you, it will not lay one egg every day. A hen will normally only lay one egg every day and a half. We had twenty one chickens and they were laying an average of from fifteen to seventeen eggs a day. As you can see we really had them humming, that's why I checked on his job every day. If he missed one of the three things, I had to do it for him or they would stop laying. But I could not teach him to do all three every day for some reason. Try as I might, he would miss one of them quite often.
One day I was standing in the chicken yard looking over our little flock thinking again about the solution to the problem, because he missed feeding them the night before. I was determined to find a way that I could help him learn to be consistent every day. Then the most wonderful idea came into my mind. An idea that I had learned about 20 years before from my aunt and uncle in Star Valley, Wyoming.
They had taken a little plot of ground on their farm and had actually deeded it to their son Roy, who was about my age. We were about ten years old at the time. It was not a big plot of ground. Just a little garden-sized piece of land about 100 feet by 100 feet.
After they deeded the ground to Roy, he started a garden on it. He would make money from it by raising vegetables. Then his parents would purchased the vegetables from him instead of buying it from the store. Roy could could spend the money he got on anything he wanted. I remember the great pride Roy took in the money he had earned: "IT WAS HIS." And he could buy anything he wanted to with it.
They lived way out in the middle of no-where in Wyoming, so the nearest big department store was the Sears and Penny's mail order catalog. We spent hours looking through them trying to decide what to buy. And need I mention there was not a weed anywhere in his garden. So as I stood there in the chicken yard that day, when that childhood memory came into my mind, I said "Why not?" Why wouldn't that also work for my son? I decided to try it.
When Gene came to the chicken yard that evening, I told him about my new wonderful plan. I said I was going to give him the chickens. They would be his very own chickens to own and we would buy the eggs from him every day. However he would have to take the money he made from selling us the eggs and buy chicken feed for the chickens to eat each week. Whatever money was left over would be his to keep. He could spend it any way he wanted. I was amazed at how excited he was about it. You could see the dollar signs dingling in his eyes. He just knew that he had found a way to make his first fortune.
Days came and went as usual for all of us at the garden that summer, except for Gene and the chicken yard. I was so thrilled at first. He never missed a task. Eventually I was able to quit checking up on Gene every day to see if he had done what he was supossed to do. Each time I would check his work all three jobs were done, just as I had hoped. He never missed. They were his chickens and he took even better care of them than I had done.
We put a little chart up on the refrigerator door at home. Each day when he brought the eggs home he would put them in the refrigerator and mark on the chart how many eggs he had gathered. We paid him a little more money than regular store prices for the eggs so he was sure to make money doing it. He was doing really quite well financially for a 12 year old.
Each week I would go with Gene to the feed store and help him buy one sack of feed for the chickens. That was just enough to last until the next week. He had more money to spend than any kid in the neighborhood could even hope to have as a 12 year old. I was thrilled beyond words at how well it was working.
After several weeks of successful work with the chickens, I began to notice a strange occurrence on the refrigerator door. The chart had a long list of numbers that went something like this: 18, 18, 17, 17, 17, 16, 16, 16, 16, 15, 15, 14, 14, 13, 13, 12, 12...... It was easy to see egg production was going down a little every week. Not a lot but a little each week.
I said nothing to him about it, but I knew what was happening: he was not out of feed at the end of each week like he should be. But they were his chickens and I wanted him to learn the lesson well in having ownership of his own chickens. It was like he had his own little business and we were both very happy.
As the weeks progressed, the numbers on the chart on the refrigerator door continued to go down. One week end when it was time to buy feed again I went over to the chicken yard to take him to the feed store. I could tell that he was not very happy to see me when I entered the yard.
I asked him if he was ready to go to the store to buy feed for the chickens. He told me we couldn't go. I asked him why. He said that he did not have enough money this week from the egg production to buy feed. I already knew he wouldn't have enough money because there had been so few eggs gathered that week, but I wanted to see if he knew why he did not have the money.
I asked him why he did not have enough money to buy the feed this week and he said he did not know. He said that the chickens had just not laid enough eggs, so he did not have the money. I asked him why the chickens had stopped laying and he said he didn't know.
Gene said he had feed them every day and they never missed a meal. He said he had watered them every day and they never lacked for water. He said he had gathered the eggs just like I told him every day and never missed. But for some reason they had stopped laying eggs. He said he could not figure out why the had stopped laying eggs.
Then I had an experience I will never forget the rest of my life. I asked him if he had cut down the amount of feed he had given the chickens. He got such a shocked look on his face when I asked him that question. It was like he did not think anyone would ever know what he had done.
I remember well his looking down at the ground and nervously kicking little rocks with his foot. Finally after a long silence, he looked completely away from me and said yes he had cut down the amount of feed he had been giving the chickens each day. When I asked him why he had cut down the amount of food, he said he thought if he gave them less food that then he would make more money. Then I had an experience that I will never forget.
I called him by his name so he would look back at me. I wanted him to look me in the eye, which he did. I then asked him if he thought he had been fooling me. He was almost in tears when he said he thought he had fooled me. And then this powerful impression came into my mind and I heard the question in my mind. I asked him, "Did you fool the chickens?"
I was just stunned at the question in my own mind. I was dumbfounded at the significance of it. The very thought of it. You can fool every one else, but you can not fool the chickens. It literally changed my life from that moment forward.
I have seen literally thousands of applications of that life's lesson from the chicken yard that day. Every where I go I see people trying to fool the chickens. At work I learned very quickly that as a manager, I do not have to watch my workers. I can tell when they have been working. I know when they take two hours to do a fifteen minute job. I see over and over in life that you can't fool the chickens.
I have seen many of my friends try to be unfaithful to their marriage partners. I have seen lots of friends try to be dishonest and get away with it. And they have, some of them, for a while. They thought they were fooling the chickens by deceiving those around them, at first. In some cases I even saw that they had been successful in fooling themselves. But in the end they found out you can't fool the chickens.
I guess it is the same lesson that was taught in the old saying, "What goes around comes around." So this is not some new lesson of life no one ever heard of before. I just learned it in what seem to me to be a profound parable of life. You can some times fool your parents or spouse. You can fool or lie to your church or community leaders. Your employer or your friends can some times be fooled for a while. But I know for certain, from many experiences in this life, that when all is said and done, you can not fool God.
This experience I had with my family and the family garden has shown me once again that my wife and children have always been and will likely always be my greatest teachers. So in years after I die, if you are ever in the Hyde Park, Utah, I invite you to go to the city cemetery. You may get the surprise of your life, because I have made my children make me a solemn promise.
It is a custom these days to have the names of all your children written on the back of your tombstone. So I have made them promise me that when I die they will put a special inscription on the back of my tombstone below their names:
"YOU CAN'T FOOL THE CHICKENS."