Our daughter, Annie, recently graduated from high school. For her and the dozen or so fellow classmates — such are the numbers at Griswold High School in beautiful Helix — it was a time of genuine celebration with friends and family.

For the second year in a row, we were lucky enough to have a contingent of some of my favorite relatives from the Willamette Valley come and partake of the festivities at the Helix Rodeo. The fact that they are related to the co-valedictorian of this year’s crop of students (yes, I am a very proud father) gave them reason enough to stay for an extra day or two over Memorial Day weekend, which, in my opinion, is about the most pleasant time of year in rural Eastern Oregon because it falls between our two seasons of mud and dust.

While they were in the area, I took my cousins on a number of “tours” to show off our Briar Patch (anyone remember Br’er Rabbit and the tales of Uncle Remus?). My cousins are all slightly older than me — a couple of them are even approaching that mysterious station in life I’ve vaguely heard about called “retirement” — and, hence, are in the stage of contemplation about what really matters in life. As we traversed gravel, and even dirt (there’s a big difference) roads through the rolling hills and sparsely populated terrain of my “neighborhood,” we exchanged opinions regarding success, well-being and happiness — important things for recent high school graduates to consider.

I always start with my personal three commandments:

  • Work hard.
  • Be honest.
  • Have fun — in that order.

In my opinion, we Americans are all too likely to focus too much on having fun before our work is complete. In fact, when I used to drop the kids off at school when they were too young to drive the 7 miles themselves, I simply admonished them to work hard and be honest and, barring unforeseen catastrophe or calamity, the rest would fall into place.

Strive for perfection — even though you’ll seldom attain it. Don’t be someone who doesn’t give a stinky large rodent’s posterior and leaves behind a sloppy job not well done that someone else has to fix or clean up.

Remember names of folks upon whom you depend and treat them with the respect they deserve. Foremost on this list in my experience would be the hired help who do the “grunt work” — the secretary who knows where everything is, and the neighbor’s dog, because he is an astute judge of a person’s true character.

If you go through a gate that was closed when you came to it, close it after you pass through. Sometimes, this might even mean using the fence-stretcher on the back of the flatbed. In short, leave stuff like you found it, especially if it’s someone else’s stuff.

Learn how to change a flat tire and send an email. For anyone who knows me, they will readily affirm that I am far more adept at the former than the latter. But, to a limited degree, even I have made an attempt to become minimally functional at tasks required in modern times — though not necessarily willingly. The inability of one to change a flat can be blamed on simple irresponsible parenting. In short, care enough about your kids to teach them things that are important.

While it is important to know when to keep your mouth shut, it’s best not to keep information or secrets from your spouse or your banker. Each of them holds your financial future in their hands and, if they choose, can make your life really difficult if they have a bone to pick.

Always carry matches and a shovel. In a more broad sense, be prepared. You never know when you may have to start a fire — or put one out.

Write things down, but don’t always keep score. I believe record-keeping is imperative; everything from when your grandparents were born to balancing your checkbook. However, don’t keep exact “tabs” on how many rounds you’ve bought the neighbors or vice versa. Most people have a pretty fair assessment of who (or who isn’t) packing their share of the load.

I would never purport this to be enough guidance to get through the next seven or eight decades after high school, it’s just some free advice. And remember, (usually) you get what you pay for.


Matt Wood, a community columnist for the East Oregonian, lives and farms

near Helix.

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