Wisdom from an old carpenter


I was back in Minnesota last week. I lived there years ago but hadn’t been back for a while. Visiting old haunts called to mind some of the folks I knew back then, like the old Swedish carpenter I hired to help me rejuvenate an aging farmhouse. He was mostly quiet while he worked, but now and then he passed on a piece of wisdom that I’ve found useful.

“Funny thing,” he once said, “I’ve sawed this board off three times, and it’s still too short.”

He also did some farming, and observed philosophically that, “a bumble bee tends to be faster than a John Deere tractor.” He said he tried to outrun one once and “dang near ruined a half-acre of corn.”

He said one of the first lessons he learned as a farmer was to “always drink upstream from the herd.”

In getting along with other people, he pointed out that “you can’t unsay a cruel word,” and, “it don’t take a big man to carry a grudge.”

He quickly added that it was helpful to forgive your enemies. “It messes with their heads,” he added. Overall, on that subject, he observed that, “silence is often the best answer.”

One tricky bit of carpentry left us perplexed and without a solution. After repeated attempts, the old man stopped and rubbed his chin. ”Well,” he said, “I guess when you find yourself in a hole the first thing you need to do is stop digging.”

When the job was finished, I complimented him on his work and suggested that he probably had a lot of influence on his family.

He just shook his head. “Anytime you think you’re a person of influence,” he said, “just try ordering around someone else’s dog.”

Good advice, especially when I cut a board more than once and it’s still too short.


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