Wednesday, February 15, 2012

"Never Worked And Never Will" by Margaret Wise Brown

Blogger's Note:

I first read this story when I was in Grade 3. 

We just moved to my father's hometown to live there permanently. Since we didn't really know anyone there yet outside our cousins and relatives, for the most part I and my siblings kept to ourselves. 

In my father's family's old house where we stayed, there was a large shelf of old books. Those books, some already so old the pages were already so delicate they'd readily fall off if you just folded them, kept me company and provided a lot of afternoon and evening entertainment for a long time. 

It was in one of those books that I read the following selection - which had shaped my work ethic.

I hope it has that same effect on you.


Once upon a time, in the town we are now living, there was an old man who made things out of wood. 

He had a shop on a street in a small town where all day long he carved wooden ducks and wild geese for weather vanes and hunters' decoys and, also, for people to buy and hang up in their houses like pictures - flocks of wild, black geese flying across a white wall. 

All his life the old man had loved to carve wood. And so that was what he did. All his life he had sat in his shop with a knife in one hand and a block of wood in the other hand, carving wild birds. 

He would paint them the green and black colours of wild ducks and the wonderful colours of wild geese and hang them in the windows of his shop where people passing by could see them.

People from all over would come to his shop to buy the things he made and to talk to the old man, because he was a happy old man.

But there was one thing people from all over the world could not understand. Over the woodcarver's door was a large sign which said: NEVER WORKED AND NEVER WILL.

"How," said the people from all over, "can Jim Bailey carve wood all day and paint it and sell it and then say he 'NEVER WORKED AND NEVER WILL'?"

"Why," said the people from all over, "he works all day, and he has worked all his life carving wood, and he will work tomorrow. What does he mean?"

"It means," said Jim Bailey, "that I never worked a day in my life and I never will."

"But you work from eight in the morning until eight at night, every day, carving the wild geese out of wood. What do you mean?

"If you don't know, I can't tell you," said the old man. "I never worked and I never will."

And then the old man laughed because the people were so puzzled and he laughed some more because he was a happy man. Then the people from all over the world went away with the wooden ducks and the weather vanes they had bought, shaking their heads. "We don't know what he means. He works harder than any of us, yet he says, 'I never worked a day in my life and I never will."

Then the lazy children from all around came to the old man's shop to watch him carve the wooden ducks out of blocks of wood. When they saw his sign. NEVER WORKED AND NEVER WILL, they thought, "Here is a man like us. He doesn't work either."

But when the lazy children saw him carving wild geese out of wood from eight in the morning till eight at night, they said, "Jim Bailey, you do work. You make things. And you work all day. You work harder than we do."

But the old man shook his head and said, "Go away, lazy children. You don't know what I mean, but still I say, 'I never worked a day in my life and I never will.' And you wouldn't have to work, either, if you knew my secret."

But the lazy children from all around were too lazy to guess his secret, so they went off shaking their heads. They said, "The old man is crazy, We don't know what he means. The old man is crazy, he works all day."

Then the other children from all around came to the old man and watched him carve the wild geese out of wood and paint them the wonderful wild bird colours. It made them happy to see what the old man was doing, and sometimes he let them help him paint.

But they never asked the old man what his sign meant, because they were so delighted with what he was doing that they never thought of it as work. And that was how they knew the old man's secret.

by Margaret Wise Brown (1910-1952)

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