We are approaching Thanksgiving. This year, 19 years since my Dad’s passing, I will be thankful for the lessons that I learned from him.
I wrote about two of those lessons in previous blogs linked here. Getting the Iron Out Door – Lessons from Big D for Developers, Life’s Game Changers – The Power of Thanksgiving The second blog is about the day of his passing and the miracle of the Thanksgiving cows. This October for the first time in 19 years, I returned to the Land described in the blog where I thought the last lesson from my Dad occurred. But another lesson, equally as important was waiting to be discovered this year!
As discussed in the previous blog, my Mom and Dad left Houston for the Land in the late 90’s. It was out in the middle of nowhere in East Texas. I never kept the hand-written directions. So, I did not know how to get to it anymore, since it was before the time of Google maps and I did not have the street address. Until on a whim while on vacation in Tyler, TX, I found the new street address on-line! I now had the location and was close enough (still an hour away!) to drive to the Land on the way back home.
The land and the house that my Dad built looked much the same. I was a bit amazed at how well the metal house has stood the test of time for 20 years. The only thing missing were the cows. I walked around a bit and again thought about that amazing, last Thanksgiving when 10 new calves were born. Getting up to leave, I glimpsed the lake that he dug with an old rusty backhoe. And with that I left for home with what I thought was the last lesson still in my mind’s eye. Except it was not the last one!
I remember the first time my Dad started building the lake. He had just got the backhoe and had begun scraping out a ditch. He took my brother and I out there. Then pointing to a muddy gouge with a few puddles, he said proudly, “Look at my lake!”. My brother and I started laughing. Dad said, “Why are you laughing?”. My bother pointed out, “Dad, when you say lake it connotates images of water! This is not a lake. It is a puddle.” Dad just shook his head, climbed in his backhoe and said, “You will you see smart alecks”.
And we saw. A year or two later there was full-fledged lake. The next year there were fish in the lake and a dock. But Dad kept tweaking the lake up to the day he died. We wondered why he did this, since he proved his point and given us our initial lesson. Having returned to the land and now with the direct coordinates in hand, we were about to find out.
I sent my daughter the coordinates just before leaving from home. She fed the coordinates into Google Earth while we were driving back. The resulting aerial picture of the land and the lake floored me. The picture is above. The lake is more than a fair replica of the State of Texas! The lake was dug before satellite imagery or drones were available. My Dad through persistent sweat, determination, and will made a lake in the shape of the state he loved! He also left us several final lessons from the grave that are applicable for everyday life.
1. Plan with the end in mind. We did not know it until many years later, but my Dad had an ultimate vision for the lake. With each tweak and every plough, he was turning a mud puddle into a lake in the shape of Texas. The lesson for all of us is always start something with the end in mind. A clear vision gives you a clear direction and keeps you on course even when the going gets tough.
2. Don’t get discouraged. My Dad did not get discouraged even when his two oldest sons mocked his first efforts. There will be trials along way. Some rain must fall when building a lake. But drive on through the rain and stick to the plan.
3. Strive to the end. The weeks before my Dad passed away, he was still making tweaks to his lake to make it further resemble Texas. He was striving for excellence up to end. This is a lesson for us in our work. It is important that when we achieve some success not to stop. For the excellence of today is the mediocrity of tomorrow. Finish the race. Keep striving to the end to make your goal a reality!
4. Try and Try again. I will perhaps never know how Dad shaped the lake into the outline of the Texas! He did not have satellite imagery to guide him. But what he did have was a vision, determination, and the willingness to try and try again. He ploughed and experimented until he got the lines right. Sometimes a wrong turn threated to turn his Texas lake into one of Oklahoma! But he shifted his backhoe, back filled the wrong cut and soon he was on the right side of the Red River!
Happy Thanksgiving from the Land with one last message from Big D, communicated almost 20 years from his passing from this life to the next. I know he is up there in the heaven smiling down on a little ranch in Slocum, TX and a lake in the shape of Texas that started as little less than a mud puddle. May we all strive to the fulfill a vision as big as Texas!