Letters from Abner: Learning about hard work, from cotton fields to Burger Chef

Letters from Abner: Learning about hard work, from cotton fields to Burger Chef

From the time we were old enough to handle a hoe, my brother Gary and I spent much of our summers working in the farm fields around Lubbock.

My mom, Gary and I rid thousands of acres of cotton of weeds over the years. We worked 10 hours a day, five days a week and five hours on Saturday. Gary and I were not allowed to complain; we were not even allowed to slow down. Mom was a tough crew chief. We didn't ask for much. Gary and I would constantly scan the horizon looking for a thick cloud that could provide a respite from the hot sun. It rarely came. We worked hard and took a lot of pride in the before and after look of the fields we hoed.

We never questioned why we didn't receive any of the money we were paid. It was understood that we were helping out, and we expected nothing in return. That changed when I got my first "real" job.

I was 16 when I went to work at Burger Chef. I worked nights and weekends while I was going to school. Mom would pick me up after school and when I got home, I would change into my "uniform." Then, Mom would drive me to work. I would get off between 11 and midnight and Mom or Gary would pick me up. I would get home and do my homework before going to bed. It was not easy, but I was happy. Mom and Dad let me keep some of the money I made. That was a big deal because by this time there were nine of us in the house. I would have understood and if they had asked me to put all my money in the family general fund.

In case you are not old enough to remember Burger Chef, it was fast food like McDonald's and Burger King. But, we were different, too. For one thing, we wrote nothing down. The thinking was that we would provide faster service by not having to write down the orders. Girls would work the front and the guys would work the food line in the back. Since it was all verbal, there was constant chatter between us. Loud chatter. Three and two, no O on two! That was three hamburgers, no onions on two of them and two orders of fries. It was probably fun to watch. I didn't know; I was too busy making burger and fries. Our signature burger was the Big Shef.

I took a lot of pride in my first job and still have fond memories of working at Burger Chef. In addition to the money I made, the job provided life lessons. It taught me about responsibility and teamwork. And, because I had to juggle a job and school, it taught me time management. It also taught me about sacrifice. I gave up a lot to keep that job. I had to say "no" to my friends many times because I had to work. But, both my parents had instilled in us a strong work ethic as well as a sense of loyalty. Remember when I mentioned that we didn't complain about working in the farm fields? If we even had a thought about that, all we had to do was look at our Dad. He was given at week of vacation at work every year. He would spend it hoeing in the fields with us. Our parents were our inspiration. Thinking back on what how hard Dad worked to provide for us, my time in an air conditioned fast-food restaurant didn't seem like a sacrifice, at all.

I know that I am not in the minority among my generation when talking about my work experience. That is just the way it was for most of us. Now, we are taught in journalism to avoid "glittering generalities." So, I am careful to not say that most young people now are different. But, I have enough anecdotal evidence to say that it is the number one complaint of employers I talk to today who hire young people.

Sadly, I also have seen it firsthand. These employers often talk about a sense of entitlement displayed by young people. Again, not all, but many. I am not preaching here, just making an observation. I don't even know that it is a widespread problem. I hope it is not. When I speak to young people, I always tell them that I am giving them a little advice because I want the best for them.

I tell them not to constantly compare themselves to others because there will always be people who simply are luckier in life. But, I believe that it is all about increasing your odds. Thomas Jefferson did, too. He said, "I'm a greater believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it."

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