“Pay Attention!”

“Pay Attention!” April 19, 2024

I’m Not Your Personal Servant!”

If you had asked me when I was a kid, I would have told you that I was a personal servant to my parents. No joke. I was born an only child to parents who were farmer-ranchers. There was always something to do. At the age of four, I still remember having particular jobs to do—collect the eggs, help wash them, and box them in cartons that would hold 144 (a gross), bring the laundry in off the line, and pick different produce from the track garden… These tasks weren’t given to me as a “teaching moment.” I was actually helping and contributing to my family.

Fast-forward to my junior high and high school years. I was expected to always be with my dad and help with whatever fix-it, build-it, break-it, or replace-it projects he had. We built a two-car garage when I was in seventh grade. When I say we built it, I mean 95% of it. We hand-dug the three-foot foundations, wired it, built, and roofed the entire structure. Then, after having a bricklaying friend show us how to lay six brick courses, we finished that.

Public Domain
With time, persistence, and yes… a lot of hearing “Pay Attention!”, a wreck can become a thing of beauty.

My first car was also an adventure of “do it yourself… with my instruction” from Dad. When I was 14, I got my first car, a 1964 Chevy Impala with a 327 engine and 4-barrel Holly carburetor. I still miss that car! Dad found it in the old farm field of the bricklayer we used to supply concrete lentils to (that we hand-made in our front yard for years). One day, I came home from school, and he was unhooking the chain after dragging the “new car” home behind his pickup. With a massive smile on his face, he proclaimed, “Here ya go!” Completely confused, I shot back, “What is it?” Excited, he said, “Your new car!” Looking at the chain still wrapped around the front bumper, and said, “But it doesn’t even run?” He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “It will by the time you are old enough to get your driver’s license.” He walked away, saying over his shoulder, “Now take the chain off, and I’ll help you push it into the garage.” Over the next year, we spent endless hours, weekends, and nights under the hood and chassis of the old beast. We tore it down to the bare crankshaft and rebuilt it from scratch, Dad yelling, “Put the light over here! Pay attention!” anytime the beam of light stayed even a little. That became the theme: “Pay attention!”

As life went on, I moved out of the house and into my own place, and now, a home with my wife. I’m constantly doing things I just “know” how to do. Over the years, I’ve repaired and kept alive a score of cars, created, and planted cantilever gardens in condos, built hundreds of pieces of furniture, and done any amount of cement work.

Pay Attention!”

For thousands of years, people have learned their skills, trades, and how to survive by paying attention. We learned how to kill and eat the wooly mammoth by watching—then doing. We first learned by watching how to cook from our parents—before Julia Child taught us how to cook in French fashion. We learned that eating this mushroom or plant is good for us and eating that mushroom or plant will kill us.

We also learn from the knees of our parents, grandparents, and elders how to be good, respectful people. We are taught from a very young age how to interact with people in the right way and, unfortunately, in the wrong way. The way we act as adults is mostly because of how we were raised. We become what we see, hear, and associate with. This puts a huge responsibility on parents and elders, whether you’re related or not.

My Curmudgeon Self.

I know I’m about to sound like the old man sticking his head out the door and yelling to the neighbor kids, “Get off my lawn!” but here goes… Our society today is in trouble, in large part due to our attitude of not paying attention to others around us. We are very indulgent when it comes to what our kids are watching and playing. There have been proven correlations between watching murders and indiscriminate violence on television and in movies and the rampant public violence in youth. According to Violence in the Media and Entertainment (Position Paper) | AAFP , by the time a child hits the age of 18, they have viewed 200,00 violent acts on television. Now for some, it may be all right. They are well-adjusted individuals who have people to guide them and tell them that these things are wrong. But what about those that don’t?

Public Domain
Getting my first BB Gun was a rite of passage. But it came with consequences.

A Little Story

When I was nine years old, I got my first BB gun. Yup, I was like Ralphie in the movie “A Christmas Story.” Mom was apprehensive, and Dad warned me about the responsibility that came with gun ownership. So, what’s the first thing almost any boy with a gun is going to do? I went out, and I shot something. I shot a perfectly beautiful cardinal out of an apple tree. Now I have to admit, it was a great shot. It was a perfect shot at about 40 yards that killed the bird instantly. My dad saw me shooting and saw the bird drop to the ground. He immediately came out and confronted me about shooting the bird. He said, “Help me understand. Why’d you shoot the cardinal?” I didn’t know what to say. “Come on, why’d you shoot the cardinal?” I sputtered and stammered and probably said something like, “I don’t know, maybe cause it was a moving target… I don’t know” He went over and got the dead bird. He held it gently, almost reverently, and showed it to me. “Now, this bird will never sing again. He won’t eat any mosquitoes or any bugs. He won’t have baby birds or ever do all the things cardinals do. Now, before you answer, think… Pay attention! Your actions have consequences. Your actions don’t only affect you, but everyone and…” he held the bird up. “…everything around you. So, do you think you’ll continue to shoot whatever you want just because it’s a moving target?” I shook my head no.

Public Domain
Cardinals are beautiful birds that are necessary to our environment. But they are also an easy target to shoot at.

The memory still comes back to me anytime I see or hear a mass shooting in the media. Now that I’m much older, I’m glad for all the moments I swore I was a slave to my parents. I’m glad I received the knowledge of right and wrong my family and friends poured into me. I’m glad I can do things that I would have otherwise not known how to do unless I’d had a guiding hand teach me the right way to do things and pay attention.

About Ben Bongers KM
Ben Bongers was an international operatic tenor and practicing sommelier for 30 years based in San Francisco, CA, and Europe. He has written monthly articles for trade magazines in wine and singing over a long and lustrous career. After becoming a semi-full-time caretaker for his parents, he earned an MA in Gerontology (the study of aging and care) and was asked to publish in an eldercare textbook in 2020. He has written several books, all published by EnRoute Books and Media. His first novel, THE SAINT NICHOLAS SOCIETY, has won many awards, and his other two, TRUE LOVE—12 Christmas Stories My True Love Gave to Me, and THE FARMER, THE MINER, THE ARTISAN (a children’s book) are both up for writing awards. Ben is a Knight in the Order of Malta and helped start an overnight homeless shelter at his San Francisco, CA parish. Today, he is a Permanent Diaconate Candidate in Kansas City, MO. You can read more about the author here.

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