The other week when I was on a mission trip, I ended up push mowing a lot of yards – most of nine to be exact. The weather was hot and muggy, the sky cloudless. With temperatures in the high 90’s, you might think I drew the short straw, but the truth is, mowing those lawns gave me a great deal of time to reflect, and my thoughts naturally gravitated to my dad. Dad was a farmer, a gardener, and a lover of all growing things. He had definitive thoughts on how things should be done and naturally imparted his wisdom to me as well as the rest of my siblings. Dad loved his lawns and gardens, his home, Linden Farm, and his hometown, Orient, New York, and spent many dedicated hours keeping yards, gardens, monuments, the church yard, and the cemetery pristine. Nothing made him happier than to hear compliments about the beautiful landscapes of these places.

“Keep your lines straight and you’ll be able to follow them all year,” were some of the words of advice that Dad shared with me when I began helping him with the lawn mowing. The second statement, which was actually an addendum to the first was, “Look up. Find an object to focus on as you push the mower across the yard and aim straight for it. Then you will keep your lines straight.” He applied a similar premise to planting the garden. “Take the extra time; make the extra effort to make your garden exceptional.” The rows must be straight and must be wide enough to run a tiller between them. Therefore, you must consider how much each row would spread out – the difference between flowers such as zinnias and giant marigolds, and vine plants such as pumpkins and squash. To facilitate his straight rows in the garden, dad had two sticks with string, long enough to reach from one end of the garden to the other, wrapped around them. He would put one stick in the ground, then carefully unwind the string to the other end and put the other stick in the ground. Then he’d mark each end with rocks. Finally, taking the pointed corner of a hoe, Dad would draw a line from one end to the other. This process would continue until all the rows were marked. Dad was a firm proponent of the adage to do things right the first time.

At the time, I’m sure I only applied these lawn mowing and gardening rules to well, exactly that, mowing lawns and gardening, but as I mowed the lawns on the mission trip, my mind wandered back to Dad and all of the wise and wonderful things that he imparted to me. I realized that they applied to not only yards and gardens, but they were also lessons about life.

“Keep your lines straight.” Follow the truth. Do what’s right. Take care of each other. Take care of those who need help: the elderly, the disabled, those who are just down on their luck. Don’t focus on yourself. Be good to animals. How many times did he say about a dog or cat, “All he wants is a little kind word (and maybe a dog biscuit!).” Dad always carried dog biscuits in his pockets, and whenever he made visits to other farms, the dogs came running. They knew they’d get a little kind word and a dog biscuit. Take care of the earth. You’ll get out of it what you put into it. Work hard. Study hard. Make your own way based on your own merits.

“Look up.” Look forward. Move forward. Keep your eyes on the goal. There’s no point in looking back. If you make a mistake, when you turn around, you’ll be able to see it and fix it; that is, if you are looking up. Regrets over past mistakes should not control your life. Fix them, yes, but don’t spend the rest of your life bemoaning them. When you look up, you see what’s coming. Then you have time to adjust your line, your thinking, your choices or your goals to make things right. When you look up, you can see who is in front of you and have a chance to make a positive impact on his or her life. When you look down, all you see are your own feet.

“Take the extra time and make the extra effort.” Take pride in your work. Re-do the assignment if it’s messy or substandard. Mow back over the part of the lawn where the lines aren’t straight. Volunteer to go the extra mile. No matter what “collar” you wear – blue, white or pink – do the best you can do. No matter what tools you have to work with, do the best you can do. No matter what co-workers are doing, do the best you can do. When people put their best effort into anything, they can make a difference in the way others perceive them and their jobs, but more importantly, they can make a difference in how they perceive themselves and their jobs. Dad was a farmer and worked part time at a gas station, a blue-collar worker through and through, and was highly loved and respected by everyone who knew him. He took the extra time. He made the extra effort.

Mowing all the lawns didn’t allow anybody to move home sooner, it didn’t help the sheet rock go up any faster, and it didn’t help the doors and trim go on any straighter. However, it did take another thing away from the “to do” list that the homeowners faced, and when they came back to visit their homes and saw the progress, it allowed them to feel a little better about what they were seeing. And maybe, just maybe, they could feel a little better about their lives. And yes, Dad, I did keep my lines straight; I did look up, and I made an extra effort to make life a little better for someone else.

More by Julie Terry Cartner.