A Pocket Full of Rocks

You wouldn’t think a pocket full of rocks would have any value.  However the phrase as I came to know it had its basis in a time when a pocket full of rocks kept our family financially cared for.

My father was pretty good at pitching a baseball.  Back in the Homesteading days in North Dakota, neighboring farmers would get together and form a baseball team.  My father was a better than average, dare I say good, pitcher.  In fact I will, because that’s how I remember it now.  He was accurate and fast and could put it where he wanted to.

I remember that when I was a kid, he still had some of the mitts and bats, and we would play with them.

During the 30s when the Dakotas had no rain, and thus no crops, and thus no income, the farmers had to look elsewhere to find income.

At that time they were building a highway just a few miles away from our farm.  My Dad got a job moving dirt with his horses and a Fresno road building machine.  The machine was designed to be used like a modern day front end loader crossed with a grader.  One of the neighbor farmers with a large family like ours also got hired on.

The highway construction company had a policy that forbade using whips on horses.  However they also had a quota to meet for the amount of dirt moved.  Because our neighbor was unsuccessful in getting his team of horses to work hard enough, he was unable to meet the quota and was let go.

Every morning my Dad would hitch up his horses to go to work on the highway, and he would fill his pockets with small stones.  (There was no lack of small stones around there.)  During the day while he was working the horses, if they weren’t fulfilling their potential, he would take a small stone out of his pocket and whip it side-armed at the horses back side.  And he always hit his mark.

A side-armed throw kept his hand from moving up around his ear.  He was never found out for pitching rocks at his team.  My Dad was able to keep the horses moving, and thus keep his job, until the construction project moved out of our area.  I guess you could say it was a great motivational tool.

Many years later when I had my own business and was hiring men, there were mornings I contemplated filling my pockets with rocks……