could I thank you for this

Disclaimer; much of the information you hear here may be speculative in nature. Any discrepancies between this account and the truth should be taken up in person at 126/21 Reindolf Rd. Abelempke, Accra. Please knock during business hours only.


My Dad taught me the meaning of elbow grease.

I mean, figuratively, sure. He modeled hard work, he expected it of us in return, he knew the value of a productive day.

But literally, too.

It’s a cold winter day, inside the garage the heater is on, and I find myself drawn to it, partly because it’s freezing, partly just because I want to be near my pop.

I’m not usually the one to help. That job typically falls to my brothers. I hide in my room, play hockey across the street, let the big kids help dad.

He’s putzing, farting around. Hood up on the Suburban, the smell of oil, and gas, and old baseball gloves, and hockey pads. All of it. Country 105 blasting Willie, Randy, Garth, probably all three. I’m lingering, trying to decide what to do with my day.

Clean the grease off this part

He asks, without really asking, handing over the oil-stained metal gear. I give it a half hearted try, not sure exactly how to do it. He sees me trying and failing, and encourages me to

put a little elbow grease into it!

I pause. Okay, I think.

He has a whole assortment of oils, lubricants, cleaning solutions. I begin looking around for the container.

I don’t see any elbow grease.

He comes over and realizes what I’m looking for. He sighs, exasperated, with a look that says

You don’t know what elbow grease is.

He shows me what it means with a single, greasy, silver gear.

And then, he doesn’t stop showing me what it means.

In fact, he always was showing each of us kids what elbow grease means, what it looks like, what it feels like. Why it matters.

Through my teen years and into college, I didn’t always exemplify the work ethic he modeled. But I’ve grown to value a day’s work, the feeling of accomplishment that comes from gettin’ ‘er done.

To be truthful, we owe that value to both our parents – mom was always hard at work – but today is Don’s day.

So today, as he enters his 9th decade, let’s pause together and look back at a few of the greasy moments.


Flash back to 1939. It’s cold, windy, wheaty where he’s born. The frosty prairies, a farm boy, cutting his teeth, learning to walk and then run through fields dotted with ice.

He was a precocious kid. Growing up alongside his three sisters. They tolerate him, just enough. He annoys them, just enough.

He brings a quick wit and a way with words to the schoolhouse. He’s a gamer, applying elbow grease wherever it’s needed.

In his middle school English class he opens the page and discovers a poem entitled

Ode to Spring

Without a second thought he pulls out his pen and scribes on the page, immediately next to the title


And a legend in puns and terrible plays on words is born.

He moves to the big city just in time to be a teenager. In time to discover drag racing and weightlifting. He wins Mr. Regina for his great bod, or so rumor has it. He’s devastating with a pool cue, a hustler, ready for the next chump who comes along.

Until, a sweetie from Hyas sweeps him off his feet. Which is impressive because he’s a stocky guy (Winner of Mr. Regina and all). They begin a courtship that lasts 50 plus years and counting. It’s not always easy, but they stick with it. They love each other. They create home.


A move West, Cowtown calls. A place where he and Eileen plant roots. One boy, then two. They buy a house, a labor of love.

He sticks with his job, getting to know pretty much the entire oil and gas sector. Seriously, walk through Plus 15s with Don and you can’t walk three feet without bumping into an acquaintance. These greetings and hellos fuel him, even though some days his job doesn’t treat him well.

But we know why he does it, without him saying. We matter to him. Family matters to him. Home matters to him.

Elbow grease.

2116 49th Avenue becomes a gathering spot. A place full of welcome.

They make the house into a home, evolving as the family grows. A basement remodel that accommodates a third child, the glorious daughter, and the fourth, another beautiful girl. The home has just the right number of rooms for them all.


He said to her.


She replied.

4 kids.

He said to her.

2 boys and 2 girls.

She replied.

Balanced, just right. Now, our work is done and our family is com

Hi Mommy and Daddy!

I say.

They make it work, somehow. The girls share a room, the boys move downstairs.

A window is too small. So he decides to cut out a bigger one. Just big enough for a hot tub.

The yard is a labor. The hill doesn’t mow itself, so he mows it. The deck won’t build itself, so he builds it.

The sidewalk won’t wash itself.

He’s a dervish, always on the move. Readying the yard, cleaning the steps, making sure it’s all just right for a party.


And so they throw parties, one or two. 30, 40, even 50 friends swing by, for no particular reason, because none is needed, apart from friendship. A few drinks, a blazing firepit, a couple guitars, and voices at the ready to belt out Amazing Grace, or Lord, It’s Hard to be Humble.

He’s the center of the action, making sure everybody’s comfortable, glasses full, jokes at the ready.

There are no complaints from neighbors. Because they’re all invited.

There are no complaints from us kids. Because we’re part of the fun.

There are no complaints from Dad, until the following morning’s fog.

But no matter how late or early the parties last, he and Lu clean up. All of it. Before hitting the sack.

See. Elbow grease.

Mom convinces him to buy a trailer. Just perfect for a trip down the California Coast. Seven of us in the Galaxie 500, trailer in tow.

We never said he was a rational fellow.

We survive the seventy-hour game of sardines. But upgrading to a Suburban was probably the right call.

If there’s one thing I recall about those nights in the trailer it was the endless debate over who was snoring.

I didn’t snore, it was your mother

Nonsense, it wasn’t me, you’re the snorer! she replies, aghast.

Mom, Dad, I’m here to answer this decades-long debate.

I know, because I was there.

It was both of you.


The Eighties bleed into Nineties, the family grows. Weddings, remodels, farewells to green shag carpets. Blowouts, stress. Yes, these happen, because real life is real life. And emotions are emotional. We welcome new siblings, new babies. Don and Lu become Grandpa Don and Grandma Lu.

It looks good on them.

Sleepovers, no-fart forts, plenty of fun. Kids move out, building their own lives. Branching out. Moving away. The home in Altadore, the city itself becomes too big, too much, too many.

So they pack it up, pack it in. Break camp to the north.

There are tears. and leavings. and beginnings.

And it’s only a matter of time until they know the entire town. A new home and a new garden.

He slows down. His ticker does too, fighting with him, scaring us all.

But he fights back. Survives. Keeps on ticking.

Elbow grease.

He finds himself reaching milestones. 50 years with his sweetie. 70 years on this earth. And suddenly, 80.

He’s officially a snowbird. Leaving the cold behind but never his email, his games, his CKUA. And most important, his Grandma Lu. To whom he owes all the patience and all the gratitude, because she’s still here. And through her he’s always tethered to home, no matter how far away he treks.

His legacy is here in the world. Many in this room, some nearby, others far. This little farmboy from Flintoft has made a difference in the world.


And so, birthday boy. You need to know some things.

Your kids, and your family, and you.

Your kids are not perfect, and neither is your family, and neither are you.

But that’s ok. Because we work hard.

Just like you.

We value one another.

Just like you.

We make time for friends, and family.

Just like you.

We are passionate.

Just like you.

We apply elbow grease to our problems.

Just like you.

We mess stuff up.

Just like you.

We get cranky.

Just like you.

But we care about the world, we love our children, we do our best to make the most of the days we have.

And we are loved.

Just like you.

Happy Birthday, Pop. Here’s to a few more together. Thanks for all the elbow grease.


Published by Radutti

Teaching in Ha Noi, screwing things up daily but surviving to write about it. ...everything's perfectly all right now. We're fine. We're all fine here now, thank you. How are you?

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  1. Happy birthday to your pop- I wish you wrote every day. Your words are poetic, tasteful, and easy to make pictures with in my mind. Keep writing, please.


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