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Enjoyment of Results Often Depends on the Process

Kevin-Tate-170Kevin Tate | V.P. of Media Productions

Dark water swirled into the glass handle on the lid of the percolator as the Old Man turned three eggs on the stove. The heel and a few slices of bread lay dominoed from the end of a Sunbeam bag on the kitchen table.

Daylight was hours away as we waited for the arrival of the third of our party, the Old Man’s brother-in-law. I leaned on my elbow and watched the old coffee pot work, listening to it thump and complain.

It was far too early to talk.

The Old Man smoked Salem cigarettes as he had for decades in a pattern that was more rhythm than chain. He shook one from its green pack and lit it now as butter sizzled in the pan. This would be our fourth trip to Grenada in five days, each a daylight-to-dark effort followed by hours spent cleaning fish once we were home. I was tired of being sunburned and tired of thawing blocks of frozen catalpa worms, and I was especially tired of the tedium that set in while fixing trotlines that were broken or cut.

Gordon Lightfoot asked, “Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?” Well, it doesn’t go to two old geezers and a kid with a johnboat, a paddle and a trolling motor trying to untangle opposite ends of a broken line of hooks across a current on a Mississippi lake in August, I can tell you that much. As I sat at the table, I wondered how many of our lines even then lay in pieces on the lake bottom, curling back onto themselves and tangling more with each passing hour. Headlights splashed across the kitchen window and I sat up. Soon the other of the Old Men joined me at the table.

“Coffee’s about ready,” I said and he grunted approval.

“Why don’t you get a drip coffee pot?” I asked the first of the Old Men.

“This one makes better coffee,” he said.

I could scarcely credit that. Basically the same kind of grounds went into both of them and the same kind of product came out. If you wanted the end result stronger or weaker, I figured, you’d add more or less coffee and there you’d have it. Mainly, the drip maker would have it ready to drink in a couple minutes instead of listening to this old thing clatter and wheeze for the better part of eternity. I pointed this out.

“It’s better coffee because, this way, I appreciate how much trouble went into making it,” he said. “Sort of like how the geometry teacher wants you to show your work on the test.”

That stung because, in math and much else, I was better at puzzling out a good guess than I was at actually learning how to render the precise solution. This was because, once I got close enough to see the end, my enthusiasm for finishing the work went away.

“If you get the right answer,” I said, “what difference does it make how you got it?”

“Because there’s more to enjoying life than being right,” he said. “There’s enjoying the fact you earned it. Earning it means it’s yours because you made it yourself, and you don’t have to wait for some other fellow to say, ‘Go ahead,’ when you’re ready to take it in.”

Later, as we were repairing trotlines, what the Old Man had said finally hit home. Of course, having a good pot of coffee to think about it on helped, too.

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