As a child, I felt that growing up in Illinois was in some ways the worst of both worlds. Summers always felt Florida-hot and muggy to me, and I never perceived any difference between the winters in the Midwest and those at my grandparent's homestead in northern Minnesota. Hot is hot and bitter cold is bitter cold. Additionally, Illinois doesn't have the beaches of Florida, nor the pristine lakes and forest trails of Minnesota. We had cornfields as far as the eye could see, punctuated only by livestock pens.
It was summer, and on this particular hot, muggy day, I was nearer the hog pens than the cornfields. My job was simple. As part of a team of male family members, I was given a section of a shed to clean out. This particular shed was an eyesore ready to be torn down, and we needed to move its contents to the new shed that had been recently constructed nearby. My area of responsibility was crammed with recycled tractor parts, tools, lumber and some rusty old bicycles. I approached this task with all the enthusiasm of a kid going in for a tooth extraction.
As my brother, father and uncle each confronted a different section of the shed, I looked over my chore to determine how I could most easily get it done. I began by putting the assorted junk in armload-sized piles. I stacked these piles on a workbench, then struggled to lift the first mammoth load.
As I came around the corner, pieces of my load began to drop, leaving a trail of tarnished parts between the old and new shed. I saw my father and uncle watching intently with big grins spread across their craggy features. Since it was not my father's nature to treat farm chores with levity, I almost dropped the whole pile right then and there.
"Do you see what I see?" my father asked my uncle.
"Sure do, Bob," replied my Uncle Sam. (Yes, I really had an Uncle Sam.) "It seems young John here doesn't want to spend any more time than he has to doing this job."
"He all but said it out loud. He's got the lazy man's load," said my father.
I finished toting what remained of the armload to the new shed and dumped it in a pile in my assigned space. Then I walked back out to where my elders stood and demanded to know why they felt I was being lazy. Surely they could see I had struggled with a burden that obviously taxed every bit of strength my skinny arms possessed.
"No one called you lazy, son," chided my father. "We just noticed you're trying to minimize the number of trips you make, even if that means coming back to pick up the pieces you drop along the way. When your uncle and I were boys, people called that carrying the lazy man's load."
That wasn't a satisfactory answer. I felt humiliated and wanted to know what was wrong with a desire to minimize the time required to perform a distasteful task.
"There's nothing wrong with it, boy," he replied. "Now with this job, your uncle and I are enjoying the nice weather and doing a small, easy job that will give us a sense of accomplishment. If we hadn't done this today, we'd be with your mother and the other ladies on a shopping trip to town. So this is really our way of avoiding a chore we found even more unpleasant."
I still wasn't satisfied. I felt I had been maligned. Just because the oldsters were having fun moving all this nasty old junk in sweltering heat didn't mean I was wrong for wanting to minimize the number of trips I made with the stuff. The term lazy in my family was an epithet. It was almost as bad as being called a coward.
"Son," my father said reassuringly, "sometimes being the lazy man on a job site is not a bad thing. When I was in the navy, we would always seek out the laziest guy in the unit to assign a new or unfamiliar job to. We knew he would ultimately work out the quickest and easiest way to complete it. The lazy man is the one looking to meet the minimum requirements with the least amount of effort. There are many, many times when that's exactly what you want."