My mom – now nearly 91 – frequently quips, “All three of my children are workaholics.” (She has actually started calling us her “old people.” The three of us are now in our 50’s and 60’s.)
Although I don’t lay claim to the workaholic title myself, I can see what she means. We McAfees all know how to (as we say in Minnesota) “get ‘er done.” I suspect this hyper-competent, focused diligence has its roots in our parents’ Depression-era childhoods. Or the German heritage that runs through both bloodlines. Our parents’ home state of Iowa certainly has something to do with it as does the legacy of farming in both family histories.
Dad was a self-described pyromaniac who loved building bonfires in the backyard on summer nights. His passion for lighting wood on fire soon became a year-round affair. During the energy crisis of the 1970’s, my father decided to install a Ben Franklin stove in our small living room. Between the potbelly stove in the basement and the new one upstairs, we heated our Victorian-era house almost exclusively with wood during long Minnesota winters. Which brings me back to that workaholic thing.
Every fall Dad would go out to the forest to cut up fallen oak trees with his chain saw. He’d return home with the Ford truck groaning under huge loads of logs. When I was younger, we’d split the wood by hand out behind the garage. I remember a particular cold night out there when he let me brandish the heavy splitting maul with my spindly little-girl arms. I can still hear the satisfying “thwock” the frozen wood made as it split in two. Later Dad took to renting an automatic wood splitter.
On a certain day in November, we would gather friends and family to “get the wood in.” We’d slide piece after piece into the basement using Dad’s homemade metal chute. I was often in the basement, stacking the fragrant pieces in tight rows all the way up to the ceiling. I loved the complex puzzle of fitting each piece into its place while continually dodging the chunks of hardwood rumbling down the chute. We worked at a steady, swift pace all day long. Mom catered the affair with big piles of traditional comfort food: scalloped potatoes, meatloaf, homemade dill pickles, and gallons of milk. What I remember most about those days of hard labor was the deep joy of working so hard together. It felt more like dance than drudgery. We were “getting ‘er done” and it was grand.
A few weeks back, my 32-year-old nephew, Travis, was in town to participate in one of my voice workshops. In the short few days he was here, I witnessed the “get ‘er done” legacy continuing into the next generation. In between workshop sessions, he fixed my computer printer, located a standing desk online, redesigned the layout of my kitchen, and advised me on how to purchase a used iPhone….and a dozen other tasks, large and small. I recognized a familiar joy and drive in how he went about these things.
It looks like this family will keep on “getting ‘er done” for a long time to come.