“You’ll really like leaf-blowing,” I said to our three sons this past weekend. “There’re lots of leaves to rake and blow out of the meadow and road ditch, so each of you will get a turn.”
I grinned, thinking about the famous “fence-painting” scene in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
Tom had been tasked by his Aunt Polly to whitewash their fence. Being young, he wanted to play instead. His friend Ben Rogers saw Tom painting and needled him for having to work.
The story in chapter two picks up here:
Tom contemplated the boy a bit, and said: “What do you call work?”
“Why, ain’t that work?”
Tom resumed his whitewashing, and answered carelessly: “Well, maybe it is, and maybe it ain’t. All I know, is, it suits Tom Sawyer.”
“Oh come, now, you don’t mean to let on that you like it?”
The brush continued to move.
“Like it? Well, I don’t see why I oughtn’t to like it. Does a boy get a chance to whitewash a fence every day?”
That put the thing in a new light. Ben stopped nibbling his apple. Tom swept his brush daintily back and forth — stepped back to note the effect — added a touch here and there — criticized the effect again — Ben watching every move and getting more and more interested, more and more absorbed.
Presently he said: “Say, Tom, let me whitewash a little.”
At the end of that day, a dozen boys had painted the fence for Tom and even paid him in kind for the privilege. How did he do it?
Mark Twain explained: “Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do. Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”
Most people view their work primarily as a source of income, a means to put food on the table and a roof over their heads and to purchase all else they think necessary. For some, work is mostly not fun. But Tom made whitewashing seem important and challenging.
Twain: “To make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.”
Though not obliged to help with chores, our sons had offered. Leaf-blowing was a new experience for them, and the results are visible and valuable for plant growth in landscape beds and water flow in road ditches. But, unlike Tom Sawyer and whitewashing, I really do like leaf-blowing.
Still, I did feel as if I’d pulled a little Tom Sawyer on our sons.
Thank you, Gerard, David, and Alex!
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