We spent the weekend working with the gardener again. We were joined by a neighbor, Paul, a round fellow, 75 years old – cutting firewood, splitting it, hauling it, stacking it.
Both Damien and Paul worked with cigarettes in their mouths. And both worked hard. Damien rarely says anything. But Paul never stopped talking.
“He’s trying to kill us both,” he said, pointing at Damien.
“Damien really knows how to work. He’s been working hard all his life. Well, just try to find someone like Damien today. Young people don’t want to work at all. And if they get a job, they expect a machine to do all the hard work. They don’t know what a shovel is. You’d have a hard time getting a young person out to help us do this work…
“Everything has changed so much since I was young. You know, I was here in Normandy when the Americans landed. I remember seeing them go by. I was only 10 years old. But it made quite an impression on me. They had so many machines…tanks…trucks…jeeps. I had never seen so many vehicles.
“When I was ready to go to work, I went to work as a gardener. We worked by hand… We didn’t have mechanical cultivators or garden tractors. We turned the ground with a spade. It was hard work…but I liked it.
“Then, I got into an argument with the boss. It was over nothing really. He told me to put up some cold frames…you know, for starting out the plants in the early spring. So they won’t freeze. Then, he went off. He was a rascal. He didn’t really do anything. He’d just tell us what to do and leave. And then he’d come back drunk later in the day and yell at us.
“So I put up the cold frames. And he came back and yelled at me:
“‘What do you think you’re doing… Don’t you know how to put up cold frames correctly… My old crew could do this right. They were great workers. How come you don’t know how to set up a cold frame?’ He went on and on. So I just took of my apron and threw it at him.
“‘Here…’ I said, ‘then let your old buzzards to it.’ And I started to walk off. And he tried to stop me. What was I doing…who did I think I was, he said. Then, he even offered me more money to stay – another 50 centimes per hour.
“You laugh. But that was real money back then. And then, we got paid by the hour. We worked by the hour…as many hours as we wanted… and that was all there was to it.
“And I’ll tell you something else. It wasn’t like today. If you’re starting out today, you have a hard time getting a job. You have to go to the right school and then get a trial period…and have the right training and get into the right program. And then, they interview you for days. Everybody is afraid to hire anyone because it so hard to fire them.
“It wasn’t like that when I was starting out. You could just walk onto almost any jobsite and ask. If they needed help, you could start working the same day. I did a lot of things – I drove a truck, ran a café, worked for a food delivery service. If I didn’t like the boss, I just quit. I always worked hard. Some bosses like that. Some don’t. And I never minded saying what was on my mind. So when I saw something that didn’t add up, I said so. And sometimes, I lost my job because of it. But it didn’t matter, because there were plenty of jobs for someone who was willing to work.
“It’s not like that now… That guy, what’s his name, George…you know, the one who comes to help over here from time to time. He’s on ‘permanent disability’ because he hurt his back. He can still walk. He can still talk. But he’s considered permanently disabled because he was a mason…and now he can’t carry heavy bags of cement. It’s ridiculous. He could just go do something else. He’s only about 40 years old. Instead, he does nothing – and we taxpayers support him.
“You know, they say that this financial crisis is going to be the end of capitalism. I don’t think so. I think it’s going to be the end of socialism…this kind of socialism we’ve had in France for the past 20 years. We can’t afford it. There are too many people not working. Too many rules. Too much interference. A third of the country works. Another third tries to stop them from working. And the final third does nothing at all.
“I think the financial crisis is going to put an end to it… we can’t afford it anymore.”
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