“It’s been a pretty good life. I worked a lot.” — Gail Albert Hopson, July 2007
Today my Father would have been 88. He often said he would live forever because he would never stop working. “When people retire, they die,” he said. True to his word, he never stopped. But he wasn’t as invincible as his family assumed. Suffering from a broken heart after my mother passed away, he dropped dead at the age of 79 as he chased some stray cows.
I awoke this morning thinking about this extraordinary man. Today, the twenty-first day of December, is his birthday.
I learned many things from my father. Most significantly, he taught me about the rewards of hard work and the incomparable satisfaction that accompanies a job well done.
Growing up on a family dairy farm in the 60’s and 70’s, my cousins, siblings and I were constantly given new challenges and opportunities. I enthusiastically embraced every task, picking up rocks to clear fields at the age of eight, irrigating, cutting bull thistles, bucking hay, becoming a relief milker when I was 13, and running my own milk route when I got a driver’s license at age 16. I followed my Dad’s example, taking pride in my work.
My grandfather, Carl Hopson, saved money working as a carpenter on several dams constructed in the West in the 1940’s — Bonneville, Hoover, Grand Coulee and finally Shasta, which took him and his family to northern California. When my Dad was a teenager, Grandpa bought a farm near Anderson, CA in the shadow of two volcanic peaks, Mt. Shasta and Mt. Lassen. It is a beautiful plot of pasture land with a meandering creek, a hillside covered with majestic oaks, and two small lakes.
A dreamer, my dad knew at an early age what he wanted to do with his life. “When I was a sophomore in high school I got the idea that I wanted to sell our own milk,” he said in an interview a month before he died in 2007. “I remember old George Tyler, my ag instructor, came out one day. We’d bought some heifer calves from the coast and I got to talking to him. He wanted to know what I planned for the future. ‘I want a herd of sixty Jersey cows and I want to sell their milk in bottles.’ That’s what I wanted to do, so I did it. By the time I was twenty-four I was married, had a house, a child, and a milk route; we were in business. Within a few years seven trucks were going out every day except Sunday. It was hard work. But you can work and have a lot of fun. Those were great years.”
My Dad taught me the importance of work. Even now, nine years after he left this earth, his legacy lives on as I try to follow his advice: “Everyday get something done, even if it’s small.”