The Old Man and Me
by William Szczepanek
When I was young, about seven years old, during one of those memorable Midwestern summers, my mother, my grandfather and I would take walks in the park on the weekend. One Saturday in particular sticks out in my mind. My mother and I walked from our house down Mulberry Street to meet my grandfather on the corner. He had walked from his house down Elm Street. We all then walked further down Elm to the open space called Marquette Park. In the park there was a small lagoon surrounded by a path that swung in and out of the trees. On this hot, humid day my grandfather and I decided to rest on a bench under some trees while my mother sat in the grass near the water enjoying the heat of the morning sun. My grandfather sat back on the bench smiling at the beautiful day.
“Grampa? Why do people have to go to work?”
I asked him, putting down the paper airplane I had made the
previous day and moving to a seat on the cool grass next to him.
Obviously shaken from his restfulness, he replied quickly, “Uhh, to make money, John”
“Why do people need money?” I asked, because it seemed like the right next question.
“To buy things. Don’t you like new things, John?”
“Yes, but why do you have to work to get things. Why can’t we just spend time enjoying things?”
Grampa scratched his head, sighed and then replied, “Because society today requires that you spend money to get things.”
“What if you can’t get any money?
“Then you can’t get things.”
“Yes, even food.”
I sat quietly for a few seconds pondering what he had
“That’s not fair,” I said. “Everybody needs to eat. So, if you didn’t do any work then you would starve.”
Grampa sighed again, this time more heavily. “Well. We generally don’t let people starve in this country.”
‘That’s good. So, I don’t have to work to eat?”
“Probably not, but you wouldn’t be happy if you didn’t work.”
“So you need money to be happy, Grampa?”
“No John, you can be happy with the things that God has given you, like a sunny day or flowers.”
“Why doesn’t God give us Xboxes for free? They’re a lot of fun. Doesn’t he want us to have fun?”
“God wants us to have fun, but Xboxes aren’t necessary for fun. Don’t tell Bill Gates that, though.”
“Who’s Bill Gates? Does he live near here?”
“He’s the guy who is responsible for the Xbox.”
“Does he have the money to buy an Xbox?”
“He has more money than just about everybody.”
“So, he must be pretty happy.”
“I think so.”
“So, he doesn’t work then,” I countered.
“Yes, he does.”
“Why does he work if he doesn’t need any more money?”
“He likes to work. I think.”
“How long ago did you work, Grampa?”
“Oh, I worked until I was 58. Then, my company didn’t want me anymore. You sure ask a lot of questions of this old man.”
“Why not? You’re really smart.”
My grandfather leaned forward and put his hands on his knees and looked to the sky.
“I guess they thought I made too much money,” he said.
“So, why didn’t you just get another job?”
“No one would hire me because they thought I was too old, or that I wouldn’t stay, or that I’d get sick.”
“But you’re never sick. And you’re 80 years old now.
“Yes, I know.”
“Why don’t you work like Bill Gates and do what you like? Can’t you get paid for watching TV?”
“No, not really.”
“Why do most people do jobs that they don’t like?”
“Because they need money to get what they want to be happy. It also gives them a sense of pride to contribute to society and provide things that other people need or want.”
“Why doesn’t Mrs. Fisher work?
“Because her husband died and she got a lot of money from an insurance policy when he died.”
“Would mom still have to work if dad died?”
“She probably wouldn’t, but don’t give her any ideas.”
“Who inverted work?”
“I don’t know. Probably some king who wanted someone to do what he didn’t want to do.”
I picked up my paper airplane and it caught a slight
breeze and sailed toward my mom. She moved her eyes from to
water toward me and said, "Don't pester your grandfather with so
many questions. He came here to relax."
"Okay," I replied, and quickly forgot my promise as I ran back to my grandfather. “Do people ever get to the point where you don’t need to work?”
“Yes, if you make enough money, you can retire.”
“So then the purpose of work is to work hard and make money so you don’t have to work later.”
“Well, why don’t you just not work to begin with?”
“Because then we couldn’t afford the things we like.”
“My friend Bobby’s father likes his job.”
“What does he do?”
“He’s a photographer?”
“Unless he’s really good, he can’t make much money at it.”
“He must be very good, because Bobby has lots of good, fun stuff,” I said thinking of his new cell phone.
“He’s very fortunate. What does Bobby’s mother do?
“She’s a financial analyst.”
“That explains it,” my grandfather replied with a grin on his face.
“But she’s always complaining about her job.”
“That’s understandable, too”
“Well, it seems strange to me," I said puzzled by his answers. " People do things they don’t like so they can make money to be happy doing things they like. If they just found something they like to do that makes some money then they could be happy all the time."
“That’s very true.”
“You must have made a lot of money to be able to not work for so long.”
“I did pretty well.”
“Why don’t you do something you like that will make more money for you. I’ll help you.”
“I’m doing what I want to do.”
“I’m here enjoying my time with you and your mother.”
“You can’t make money at that can you?
“No. But there is value in it. I just don’t get paid in dollars.”
“You know what, Grampa?”
“I’m going to study really hard so I can do what I like and make money at the same time, and then give money to people who need it to be happy. Then everyone will be happy.”
"That’s sounds like a great idea. But just know that some people are never happy, no matter what they have."
“Then I’ll give them jobs they don’t like so they’ll have a reason to be unhappy.”
John’s mom walked up to them. “Well gentlemen, have you solved the problems of the world today.”
“I don’t think so, Mom,” said John.
“No, but John here is making some good progress at it,” Grampa said with some pride.
I smiled as I walked between my mom and grandfather, feeling that I had a better idea of what I was going to do with my life. Grampa smiled too.
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