Tag Archive | working together

Learning to Work Together

Danny and me looking down from the hay barn - when I was still too short to plant tobacco.

Danny and me – when I was too short to plant tobacco.

I remember when I was too short to plant tobacco. Oh, how I wanted to grow legs that would be long enough to reach the foot rests on the tobacco planter.

In early June when my dad pulled the tobacco planter out of the shed to get it ready for tobacco planting, my brother Danny and I would climb all over it. Our planter had originally been used with horses, and the seat for the person driving the horses was still on top of the water barrel. We’d scramble to see who could get to that seat first to pretend to drive the horses. The loser, usually me, wouldn’t really mind because then I would sit in one of the two planting seats near the ground. Every year I stretched my legs as far as I could to try to reach the foot rests. But I was too short.

tobacco planter w horses

The only significant differences between this tobacco planter and ours is that ours was pulled by a tractor instead of horses, and my dad sat on the tractor instead of on top of the water barrel.

Since I wasn’t big enough for the fun job of planting, I had the boring job of pulling plants. The way tobacco is grown, at least the way it was raised in Wisconsin back in the 1950s, is by first planting the tiny seeds in a tobacco bed. A steam engine came to the farm and steamed the garden patch where the tobacco would be started. After the soil was steamed, my dad built a frame for the bed, then he spread the seeds throughout the bed, and finally he covered the frame with a thin white canvas. Over the next few weeks he faithfully watered the bed through the canvas until the seeds sprouted and the plants began to grow. When the plants got to be six to eight inches tall, they were ready to transplant to the tobacco field.

Mom and Dad pulling tobacco plants

Mom and Dad pulling tobacco plants

On the mornings that we were going to plant tobacco, the whole family gathered by the tobacco bed.  We carefully removed the canvas and soaked the bed using watering cans that we filled from the metal tank near the bed. The tank had previously been filled with rain water or with a long hose from the pump. We placed a plank across the tobacco bed for every two people.  One person sat on each end of the plank and reached into the bed to pull out the biggest seedlings, one at a time, pulling carefully so as not to damage the roots. When we had a handful of plants, we carefully placed them in a bushel basket that was lying on its side. We tried to pull enough plants to fill as many bushel baskets as my dad thought we could plant that afternoon – sometimes a dozen or more. That job really wasn’t boring when the whole family, including some cousins sometimes, worked on it together. We raced to see who could fill up their bushel basket first – without sacrificing quality control. Mom and Dad kept an eye on that. The boring part came in the afternoon if the planters needed more plants, and I had to pull them by myself. Everyone else was busy doing the fun work, riding the tobacco planter.

Finally, when I was nine or ten, I could reach the foot rest! I was big enough for the fun job!

tobacco plant singleThe way the tobacco planter worked is that two people would sit next to each other behind the water barrel, close to the ground. As the horses (or tractor in our case) pulled us, the planter dug a single trench in the field, just the right depth for planting about a six-inch tall tobacco plant. About every nine inches or so, about a cup of water was released from the barrel into the trench. One of the people sitting on the tobacco planter placed a plant in the trench just when and where the water was released. The “shoes” of the planter then closed up the trench as the planter moved along. The tobacco plant was left perfectly standing as we rolled away. There was a rhythm to follow when planting so that the plant would be placed into position just as the water was being released.

The two people sitting on the planter took turns setting the plants. The person who sat on the left side of the planter, planted with his right hand. The person on the right side, planted with her left hand. (Pronouns are intentional. Since I’m a lefty, everyone was just as anxious as I was for my legs to grow long enough for me to be the lefty planter.) After planting each row, we lifted another big bunch of a couple hundred plants out of the bushel baskets that were sitting in the shade. We laid the plants on heavy canvas mats that both of us had on our laps. These plants would be used for planting the next row.

A freshly planted tobacco field.

A freshly planted tobacco field.

Of all the jobs I’ve had over the past sixty-plus years, planting tobacco is my favorite. I think it’s because of how much fun it was to work together, and to appreciate each person doing their part. I won’t say that Danny and I never threw clumps of dirt at each other when we planted together, and sometimes we glared at each other. But usually we concentrated on keeping the rhythm of setting the plants just right. We worked together well. It was also fun to plant with my mom. Mom and I often talked about what a wonderful time we were having working together outside on a beautiful sunny day.

Whenever I think about those days, I can still feel the warm sun on my back and the cool water on my fingers as I placed each plant just right. I can hear the click and then the short rush of water as it was released, over the steady drone of the tractor. I feel the rhythm of planting.

I remember one day I asked my mom what tobacco was used for. I understood the other crops we grew – what they were used for. I knew that hay was for the cows to eat. I knew that we took corn and oats to the mill to be ground into feed for the cows and chickens. But I didn’t know what tobacco was used for. Somehow, she avoided answering that question.

tobacco cigar patchNow that I know that the big premium quality leaves of our tobacco plants were used for wrapping cigars, I probably shouldn’t have such fond memories of planting tobacco. But I do. It’s where I learned how good it is to work together. That’s a very transferable life skill. I’m thankful I had the opportunity to learn that skill at an early age so I could use it my whole life.

And I’m really thankful that my legs finally grew long enough for me to learn that lesson.

Danny and I had to work together a lot. Here we are spending most of a summer day husking sweet corn for Mom to freeze.

Danny and I had to work together a lot. Here we are spending most of a “summer vacation” day husking sweet corn for Mom to freeze.

Working Together – Joy or Drudgery?

Chance Allies - David Allen, Tisha Brown, Lucas Koehler

Chance Allies – David Allen, Tisha Brown, Lucas Koehler

Last night Mim and I went to a fundraising concert for the jail ministry of Dane County. Chance Allies, a Madison group of three musicians – a female vocalist, a pianist, and a bass player, performed lots of jazz classics, mostly from the era of Cole Porter and George Gershwin. It was a wonderful evening.

Chance Allies - Tisha Brown singingTisha Brown, the vocalist, is a UCC pastor. Last night, she explained to the audience that she had an epiphany while on sabbatical a couple years ago. She has always liked music. For a few years she had even been a music major in college, playing a clarinet. While on sabbatical, she distinctly felt the Spirit telling her to use her desire to sing to accomplish good things. She responded by taking voice lessons, finding a pianist (David Allen – a pediatrician by day) to accompany her, and later adding a bass player (Lucas Koehler – the only full-time musician in the group) to add another dimension to their music. Their goal as a jazz group is to do as many fundraising concerts for non-profit and church-based organizations as they can. They brain-stormed to come up with their name – Chance Allies – which describes how the performers got together, by chance, and what their mission is, to be fundraising allies with organizations they want to support.

As a jazz combo, they play off each other very well. Naturally, the vocalist is the lead for most of the music, but she often turns the lead role over to the pianist or the bass for each of them to freely improvise. And when Tisha is singing, David and Lucas are creative in a totally supportive way to provide cool harmonies or smooth counter-melodies. Watching and listening to them work together so beautifully for a couple hours last night was a wonderful way to end the weekend. Plus, it was an added bonus to give support to the jail ministry. The chaplains work together well in their roles of counselor, advocate, and spiritual guide for the inmates of Dane County Jail. The chaplains need and deserve our support.

Marian Korth Family Portrait BW warmer 2As Mim and I were driving home from the concert Mim suggested, “Why don’t you write about improvisation and working together on your blog tomorrow. We just observed a great example of that happening.” Tisha, David, and Lucas are all great musicians. What makes them successful as a group is that they have so much trust and appreciation for each other’s artistry. They allow each other to freely improvise, and they work together to support the person in the lead as that position is rotated among them.

Can that model for working together apply in other work settings? When I look at how Mim and I work together in our different home-based businesses, I think it can. Mim is the lead in our assisted living business, Country Comforts Assisted Living. She is primarily responsible for addressing the physical and emotional needs of everyone who comes to live with us. I trust her completely in that role, and do whatever she asks me to do to support her. That may be going to the pharmacy to pick up medications, helping her make a bed, or building her a website, www.CountryComfortsAssistedLiving.com.

Conversely, when it comes to writing my books and my blog, Mim is in the supportive role.  She critiques every blog post before I publish it. She also proofs every version of my books before I move on to the next version. Sometimes she even gives me ideas to write about – like today!

Fortunately, Mim and I work together very well. My other work experiences have been mixed. Some good. Some not.

I think the three most important factors that determine whether or not a working relationship will be successful are respect, appreciation, and trust. When I feel that my co-workers respect my judgment in my area of expertise, appreciate what I do, and trust me to do the work – AND when those three factors are mutual among all co-workers, amazing things can be accomplished. That’s what we saw in the concert last night.

However, when any one of those three factors is missing – respect, appreciation, trust – not nearly as much, or as stunning quality work can be accomplished. And, even if some work is accomplished, no one feels very good about it. We all know we could have done better.

If you want to be inspired by watching three musicians work together very well, I encourage you to go to the next fundraising concert of Chance Allies. I may see you there. You can find their schedule on their website, http://www.tishabrown.com/events/.

Chance Allies - working together beautifully

Chance Allies – improvising and working together beautifully