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When I was a teenager, I spent a good bit of time with a tough New England farmer and woodsman.  He worked a farm that had been in his family for over 100 years and managed a woodlot that kept a community in firewood for many New England winters.  With the exception of 3 years in the Marine Corps, he was in this town his entire life.  That life was a 24/7/365 endeavor with his family and his profession.  He was exemplary in both.

I asked him once – as young men are inclined to do – how he maintained his incredible strength; he was a rock hard specimen until the day he died at 81.  He told me that he played a few sports as a kid but that manual labor and “farm eating” kept him fit.  He believed in red meat, vegetables, water, oatmeal, strong coffee, one beer a week, and 8 hours of sleep a day.  He confided in me that he liked to do some pushups and a few pullups in his barn – and I did them with him sometimes as I grew to manhood.  His style of cardio was splitting and stacking wood (he could split 3 cords a day well into his 60s) and walking his fenceline (the classic New England stone wall) with his dogs every day.  He told me that his standards of fitness were his ability to work a full day and that “a man ought to be able to take his shirt off in front of his woman without her bursting into laughter.”  He added that “being outside keeps you young.”

I was a pall bearer at his funeral and spoke at his Memorial Service which was attended by the entire community.  I stated that he was the strongest and most complete man I had ever known.  I still stand by that statement.  He was terse and focused in his work; loyal to those in his sphere; and a husband, father, and friend to many – including a teenage boy who worked for him.  Among several possessions of his I have is an anvil that he could pick up by the horn.  It is 110 pounds.  He would do it in his barn every few days – just a quick detour and a lift.  No show, just action.  I asked him why.  His response – like his ethos – was direct.  “Buddy, that is MAN STRONG…. just something to keep me going.  It just sits there, waiting for me to shake hands with it.  When I can’t pick that guy up it will be time to retire.  My handshake is my word, and my word is my bond.  Both should be strong.”  Then, back to work.

He was MAN STRONG until the day he died.  A challenge – and a path – for all to endeavor….

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