As a child, I did not understand the passion in my daddy’s face as he walked the fields, bragged about crop yields and took the tobacco to market. I could not comprehend the pride in my mama’s smile when she showed off a cake straight from the oven or displayed jars of freshly canned green beans.
Back then, I did not share the excitement Grandpa felt when crates of “dranks,” cartons of cigarettes and boxes of staples arrived regularly at his country store. I took for granted the sparkle in Aunt Gladys’ eyes as she pointed out the many fabrics in her various quilt designs.
While growing up on a big farm across the road from my grandpa’s country store – Lett’s Grocery and Filling Station – I did not know that I was surrounded by artists who naturally created masterpieces and by entrepreneurs who constantly celebrated their wares. The country store was in Buckhorn community, four miles from the closest town Broadway and the same distance from the family’s deep roots on the Cape Fear River. Family members were proud that our ancestors settled several generations ago and still owned land in Lee and Harnett counties.
My grandfather was Willie Puzie Lett, called Captain Puzie because he steered his ship, the country store, so proudly, and my grandmother, Verta Cox Lett, had died in 1951. The couple’s oldest daughter Gladys got married and had young’uns but came back home to raise them and eventually everybody called her Aunt Gladys or Grandma Gladys.
My daddy, Puzie Doyle, nicknamed Bud, was the fifth child and first boy so he was the apple of Grandpa’s eye. There were nine young’uns, but only Daddy chose to take over the family’s farm where he lived for 80 years, leaving only to serve in World War II from 1942 to 1946. Bud married Ruby Turner Knight, who grew up near Seminole, daughter of Alexander and Mary Ida Yarborough Knight. Both my parents and all four grandparents were natives of Harnett County.
Mama and Daddy talked often about their childhoods and how they learned that hard work and constant chores were a way of life on farms from their parents and grandparents. They were disappointed that I was frail and anemic and suffered from long bouts of asthma and bronchitis that required bed rest. They were confused about my obsession with writing and reading, however pleased that I made good grades at Broadway School.
As a teenager, I decided I wanted to write, sing, dance, dramatize and take my talents a long way from the family farm. I yearned to create and perform as far away from Broadway as possible. I left home seeking fame and fortune, pursued academic achievement, chased financial triumphs and longed for worldly success.
For more than three decades, I gained communications expertise through newspapers, magazines, television, public relations, marketing and speaking. I liked being in the limelight and found pleasure in the “citified” lifestyle. Eventually I realized that creativity does not require glamorous settings or demand big bucks to thrive. An aching in my soul drew me back to the country in 1998 where I focused on creating columns, articles and books and finding a unique voice as a writer.
Ultimately I discovered that expressing oneself authentically is a spiritual high. Creative self-expression is a pleasurable prize. Joyful work is the richest reward.
In “The Prophet,” Kahlil Gibran states: “To love life through labor is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret.”
My daddy, my mama, my grandpa and Aunt Gladys did not care about such fancy phrases, but their lives demonstrated that they understood this secret. These four role models, who were very different in talent and temperament, had one thing in common: Each chose the work best suited for their skills and dispositions and performed their tasks with love.
In honor of Labor Day, I encourage you to think about the importance of Work in the world while taking time to celebrate a break from tasks and tolls. I spell Work with a capital W because our Work is how we give to the World, whether as a parent, a homemaker, an entrepreneur, an artist, a carpenter or a company executive.
When we focus on loving labor, labor loves us and brings us bliss. Through writing I am feeling in tune with life’s innermost secret. What about you?
AlexSandra Lett lives in Sanford.