Sep. 15—The Old Man hummed to himself while he worked, no matter how hot and tiresome the labor might be. In fact, it seemed to the Boy, the more unpleasant the task, the more reliable the humming.
The Boy thought of this while holding the heavy end of a piece of ornamental wrought-iron railing. The Old Man had once worked in construction but had long since retired, leaving himself free to work for himself as a certified electrician and custom welder. His present job involved some cast metal railing being overhauled. It needed to be cleaned up, painted and reinstalled. The Boy had helped the Old Man retrieve the metalwork from a large home in Tupelo, then transport it to the milk barn that had been turned into a welding shop on the Old Man's farm.
The sections of railing had been cast in New Orleans, we were told, around the end of the previous century. Looking at the quality of the craftsmanship made me wonder which end. Carrying the railing down a set of outdoor stairs to the Old Man's trailer, I decided someone had melted down either the Monitor or the Merrimack and made railing out of the result, because each section weighed as much as a battleship. I also hoped we wouldn't have to take the railing back up the stairs we had come down once the job was through.
Work on the railing fell, as such things must, into the hottest week of the year. It was the kind of work that would make any unwilling student look forward to the pleasures and leisure of Algebra class, provided that was conducted indoors and with air conditioning. It seems likely now that was part of why the Boy was put on the Old Man's payroll during the summers anyway.
The heat had passed "unpleasant" well before sunrise and, as the clock approached midday, a stifled silence dominated the welding shop. It was too hot for wind to blow or for cicadas to call, but still the Old Man hummed on, tunelessly, quietly, happily. He smiled as he bent to look at something on the rail's underside, sweat dripping from his face like rainfall into the dust.
"How can you be happy right now, hot as it is?" the Boy asked, taking the Old Man by surprise.
"Why not?" the Old Man said. "It'll be just as hot if I'm not."
"No, I mean, you're enjoying this a good bit," the Boy said.
"Of course," the Old Man said. "Just because a job's unpleasant doesn't mean you have to hate it. Besides, whether you enjoy Life is entirely up to you. Life doesn't care whether you enjoy it or not, and nobody's going to come along and say, 'Ok, here's what you were working for. Now it's time for you to stop struggling and be happy.' You'll probably always struggle, one way or another. If you're going to be happy, you have to just do it at the same time along the way."
"I'd be happy if I knew we didn't have to tote this railing back up those stairs," the Boy said.
The Old Man looked thoughtful for a moment.
"Be happy about something else," he said.
Kevin is the weekend edition editor for the Daily Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.