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White Beads of Corn and The Great Things of Life

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SAMUEL WHITE, father of that great New Yorker essayist, E. B. White, once wrote to his son: "When fretted by the small things of life ... look up and out on the great things of life and beholding them say - surely they are all mine."

My father seldom wrote to me, even when we were separated for four years by several oceans. And he was not given to philosophical musings, not even in his most inspired moments, so I doubt that I would ever have received such sage advice through the mail.

But hindsight leaves me in no doubt that my father shared Samuel White's attitude toward life. In the 20 years that I lived under his roof, I never once saw my father fret over the small things of life. I never saw him angry, frustrated, bitter, or tearful. I never heard him shout or plead.

Even though he had donned an infantryman's uniform in two world wars, lost one of his sisters at an early age, and reached his 40s before he could afford to buy his first car, he never failed to look up and out on life. He made the great things of life his own; and most important, he made them mine, and the rest of the family's, too.

It is only now, decades after leaving that parental nest, that I have discovered - gratefully - that the great things of life are often small things that simply have been respected and nurtured; and that I was experiencing the great things long before I recognized them.

During my childhood, my father never "treated" us to anything. He didn't need to. Our experiences fell into two simple categories - duties and joys. And there were plenty of both.

There was no room for debate over duties - no alternative, no escape. The discipline was so firmly established that we scarcely noticed it was there. It was never questioned. Seldom did it have to be enforced. It just existed - like the flowers, and the wind in the blue gums, and the stars that knew their place in the firmament.


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