I tell my kids a lot of stories, many of them true, plenty not so much.
There’s the one about the boys who had to dogpile on a big sheep to keep it still enough to shear because neither the shearer nor the sheep knew what they were doing (fact), and the one about the old ring that refused to stay lost (fiction).
Maybe I’ll hear them entertain their kids with these someday.
For now there’s only one story they can spin on their own well enough to hold a listener, having heard it so many times in so many versions that they know the bones and can dress them up with any flourishes that enter their heads in the telling.
It’s U. Utah Phillips’ tale about an angry cook who finds filth in the forest and bakes it into a pie, and it’s the only story outside what they learn in church that I expect them to live by.
The gist is that a guy gets a job building a railroad, sits down at the end of the workday to a horrible meal in the mess car and quickly learns that the job of cook goes to whoever complains about the food. Determined to escape his new role in the apron, he serves up the worst dish he can think of and waits for someone else to complain himself into kitchen duty. None of the crew complains because none of the crew wants to cook.
I don’t want my kids baking up surprises like that for me, but I do want them to remember the lesson of not complaining unless they’re willing to roll up their sleeves and do something about it.
The big one hews close to the literal lesson on the nights that he doesn’t care for what my wife or I cook. He usually doesn’t give us guff because he knows he’s welcome to whip up something from his small repertoire if he thinks he can serve himself a better meal that night.
But I hope my kids grow up to apply the lesson more broadly. They have good role models in the family orbit if they’re paying attention.
There’s the woman who makes time to wave signs on street corners to support progressive causes, and the man who crossed a thousand miles to see how he could help swing Washington to the right. One of our friends even filed to put his own name on the ballot when he didn’t like how his choices were shaping up.
And when my wife and I noticed work that needed doing in the organizations we want to be around for our sons, they saw us raise our hands to volunteer instead of complaining about it.
I think they’re catching on.
A couple weeks ago the family was watching a nailbiter of a youth basketball game that our team lost by one point in double overtime. With the contest that close you can imagine the cheers, groans and shouted tips washing over the players from the stands, but there was one voice that stood out over the others all through the game.
It was a mom from the other team who kept up a loud discourse on the finer points of calling a game for the benefit of a referee she wasn’t real happy with.
On the walk back to the car, I asked the little one what he thought of his big brother’s game.
His answer came quick: “That woman should sign up to be a referee.”
Yep, they’re learning the lesson of the pie just fine.
Richard Espinoza is a former editor of the Johnson County Neighborhood News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.