My family had a large piece of land in our little town, maybe eighteen miles from the Lincoln Tunnel and New York City. We had a nuclear Italian family, as my paternal grandparents lived with us. We also had a large garden, almost a mini-farm, because my family simply copied what they had in Italy in my hometown in New Jersey.t Dad!

My grandfather also built the chicken coup (yes, we had fresh eggs every morning before we could spell cholesterol), the wine cellar, the front and back porches, the retaining walls along the garden, and most of the inside of our home, which was a three- story dwelling like in the old country. And we grew everything imaginable in that rather large garden, spending all spring and summer preparing the soil, planting, and picking.

When it was time to pave the large driveway leading to the detached three-car garage, my grandfather was in charge of that too. I was a young boy then, maybe just five or six years old. So when the truck came with the gravel as the foundation for the paving, I was sitting on the back porch watching all this as my grandfather keenly eyed their every move. One thing about my grandfather was that he looked like a Marine drill instructor, with a face that seemed to be hewn from rock and strength like Superman. My grandfather seemed gruff, but he had a soft heart too, which was not too noticeable, if you know what I mean.

As I was watching the laborers dump the gravel for the foundation, the foreman signaled that enough gravel had been dumped. With that my grandfather brought out a ruler to measure the depth of the gravel, with the foreman looking on studiously. My grandfather straightened up and looked the foreman in the eye and said, in Italian of course, that there was not enough gravel. It was short by an inch or two, I forget which. And that started World War III.

My grandfather and the foreman began a typical Italian discussion that regular people call an argument. I sat there bemused, having seen a number of these encounters by now in my early age. And then I heard my grandfather say something that I have never forgotten. As the foreman tried to convince my grandfather that this amount of gravel would be sufficient, my grandfather rebuffed him with this comment: “There’s only way to do the right thing.” Needless to say, more gravel was then laid that met my grandfather’s expectations.

I have heard that phrase resonate in my head many times over the years. I hear it when I’m tired and want to take the easy way, and when it would be easier to settle for less than the best in my work, my relationships, and in my service to God: “There’s only one way to do the right thing.”

There was only one way to do it right, and that one way is never easy. But it does pay off.

 

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