From Chicken Soup for the Father & Son Soul

One Saturday Morning

There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved.

George Sand

Saturdays were workdays at our home, unless they fell on a holiday or other special occasion. There were few exceptions. By the time I was a teenager, I had developed a strong dislike for weekend workdays. My perception remained unchanged until one Saturday morning.

We had two types of jobs around the house: chores and projects. My father usually assigned the chore to me and picked the project for himself. I learned long ago that there was a big difference between the two. Projects were more technical and required a certain amount of expertise, while chores required little more than hard labor. Projects were exciting and fun, while chores were boring and dismal. Trimming our plum tree was a project; picking up the fallen branches was a chore. I could recognize a chore anywhere.

After breakfast, I received my assignment for that Saturday, hauling scraps of wood—obviously a chore. These wood slats were the remnants of a previous workday involving a tattered fence. Dad would build a new fence later to replace it, which of course would be classified as a project.

Today’s chore seemed simple enough: remove the slats blocking the driveway and stack them on the woodpile in the backyard. My strategy was to throw the wood over the front hedge onto our lawn below and after lunch haul it to the woodshed for stacking. After I started on the wood slats, my father undertook the anticipated project of hanging a new screen for the front porch. The old screen had rusted out long ago and even the patches had holes that needed repairing.

Halfway into the pile of wood, I lost focus on my task. When the boredom kicked in, which often happened with chores, I turned my assignment into a game—tossing pieces of wood high into the air. While the slats landed in the yard below, I pretended to be a champion javelin thrower going for the winning toss. My final throw won the gold medal.

Meanwhile, my father worked diligently to finish his project. As he stepped back for a moment to admire his finished handiwork, a wood slat arched through the air, pierced the middle of the new screen, and landed at his feet. It dangled in a slow arc like a spear after hitting its mark. Dad’s face transformed into a look of utter amazement. He couldn’t believe the new screen had lasted only a few seconds before being destroyed. When I heard my name called in that familiar tone, I knew a problem had unfolded that probably involved me.

Rushing to the front room, I saw an incredible sight of impending doom. Mom held her right hand over her heart in shock. Dad had just taken the dreaded deep breath—he seemed to hold it forever—never a good sign. Then I saw it, a piece of wood waving side to side in the wind, forming a perfect bull’s-eye in the center of the screen door.

I was in unprecedented trouble, and the silence in the room was unbearable. Hastily, I considered my options: make up an excuse, plead guilty, or beg for mercy. Expecting a major scolding or worse, I just stared at the floor and waited. Making eye contact too soon might not be in my best interest.

Out of the silence, I heard a snicker, then another. Soon the belly laughs began. I looked up to see my father in a fit of hysterical laughter. Mom just stood there smiling, relieved. Dad should have grounded me for weeks, but instead he smiled, wrapped his big arms around me and said, “Ah, forget about it; I can fix it.” Dad was still grinning to himself as he cut in a patch for the newly destroyed screen.

That was our last workday for the summer. Enrolling in college and working full time gave me an exemption from chores for the next several years.

A month before I graduated, my father died. The doctors said he had cancer. I miss Dad so much: his grin, his strong arms, the look of mercy in his eyes. Sometimes the sorrow overwhelms me. Yet with the sadness also comes the joy, and the memories of that one Saturday morning when I discovered how much my father loved me.

Charles E. Harrel

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