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The real price of free cheese

As my life draws to a close, one of my concerns is that we as a society take so much of life for granted, and many people continually want it to be easier by getting free stuff.

When we are born, one of our first memories is of taking a bath. The tub is full of warm water, which to us as a child, seems endless — Something in which we can play and splash. Something in which our toys float, as we laugh and giggle and believe that we actually control the world around us.

However, at my now rapidly advancing age, I clearly recall my first baths were not in a luxurious tub but rather in a metal wash tub that my mother filled with hot water heated on the stove. And for the sake of full disclosure, the water I drank and bathed in as a child didn’t come from a bright shinny faucet, but from buckets of water that my mother carried from a nearby spring that supplied non-chlorinated, untested water. No, I didn’t get here on a wagon train, but it was close.

I was several years old, but young enough to remember my father digging a ditch and driving a pipe under the railroad tracks that ran by our home to connect the spring to our cellar, to which he added a pump to provide us with running water. He also did that with a pick and a shovel and a sledgehammer. No back hoe, no drills, no permits and no government inspectors. While it may seem unbelievable now, at the time, it was equivalent to getting a big ladder and going to the moon.

While we are on the subject of water, I clearly remember as a child using a metal dipper to get water from a bucket that rested on our kitchen counter. While that may be unbelievable to some, wrap your senses around this. I also remember waking up on many winter mornings before my mother had a chance to build a fire in the kitchen stove and using that same dipper to break the film of ice that had formed on the top of the water. Now, it was not hard enough to skate on, but it was often cold enough in the house to form ice on the water in the bucket.

I also remember that our house sat about 200 yards from the end of the road. That meant that we had to carry groceries or any essential items those 200 yards to get them to the house. My mother and father knew to improve the life for our family, they would have to extend the road. While today you might consider seeking government help or having the job go out for bid, my parents’ approach was much simpler. One morning, they picked up picks and shovels and started digging. When they encountered large rocks, my father set dynamite charges and blasted through them. I remember dodging falling rocks when my father overloaded the charge occasionally. Still under the age of 10, my job was to carry water to them. They worked on that road every spare minute that my father wasn’t working elsewhere and my mother wasn’t baking, sewing, cleaning or planting a garden.

My parents literally carved a good life and made a good home for my brother and me out of what could have been considered the wilderness. Not because they wanted to, but because they had to. They pulled themselves and their family up by the bootstraps when they didn’t even have bootstraps.

As I grew up, I knew if you wanted anything you had to figure out a way to get it because no one was going to hand it to you. I knew the value of hard work because I lived with it every day and followed my parents’ example of not asking for help, but rather helping others. When I graduated from high school, no one ever told me I had to get a job. I knew to succeed, I had to do whatever it took. Both my brother, Ron, and I have been successful in life and we both often speak of our childhoods — never of the difficulties, but rather the opportunities to learn how to be responsible and self-sufficient.

One of the biggest dangers facing society today is the promise of a free lunch and the belief that others are responsible for you, your success and your happiness. Remember the mouse thinks the cheese in the trap is free when he goes to eat it. He just doesn’t understand the price he will pay to get it.

John Kasun writes from a comfortable home in Duncansville with running water and heat. However, he remembers how to carry water and build a fire just in case he ever has to.

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