February 20, 2019

The Counting Habit

I am a “counter.” I count stuff.

For example, I know that it takes twenty shovels of gravel to fill my wheelbarrow and ten wheelbarrows to move a ton. I know that there is always an even number of rows of kernels, (between twelve and sixteen), on an ear of sweet corn, and twenty steps between each floor in the building where I work. I also know there is always between fifty-five and seventy-two people in the early church service. The thing that I didn’t know is that this counting obsession is hereditary. My mother counts things too, as did her father before her. So don’t think of me as weird, think of me as fulfilling my destiny; I can’t help it.

I’ve always been aware that I did it, but only recently found out about my ancestors. I was talking to my mother about my fourteen tons of gravel that took 142 wheelbarrow loads to move. She asked how I knew the number. It’s easy to stand in one spot and count the number of shovels full it takes to fill the wheelbarrow. It’s not quite so easy to fill a wheelbarrow, wheel it away, empty it, stop for a beer, come back a few minutes later, and fill it again without losing track. I could have just counted the empty beer bottles, but then I would have to keep my “break” and “lunch” bottles separate. I decided, instead, to drop a stone into a tin can each time I filled a wheelbarrow, and when finished, I counted the stones in the can. I did notice that as the day wore on, it became increasingly difficult to get the stone into the can.

My mother was reminded of the time when her father gave a bushel basket of potatoes to each of my two aunts. At the time he said, “I know that one basket looks more full than the other, but I guarantee they both have the exact same number of potatoes.”

To which one aunt replied, “Then why did I get all the small ones?” In this case, Grandpa would have been better off being a little less fair.

Mom also counts things. The habit comes in handy when she’s knitting and crocheting, but after fifteen years you would think that she would know there are four steps up from the ground to her porch.

This counting habit is not as unimportant as you might think. If you eat your corn like a typewriter, it’s very important to know how many rows to eat during each pass so that you don’t end up with stragglers. Twelve and sixteen divide equally by four so there is no mess involving leftover rows. I suggest a three-four, three-four pattern for those ears that have fourteen rows. It’s not practical to count the number of Cheerios or blueberries in your breakfast bowl, but there’s nothing wrong with knowing how many slices of banana are in there.

Successful gardeners are counters as well. Knowing exactly how many seeds are in a packet guarantees that you don’t run out of seeds before you get to the end of the row or end up with leftovers. It’s also important to know how many tomatoes came from each plant or cucumbers per vine, so you’ll know which variety to plant next year. How can you decide any other way?

Counting things while driving also has advantages.┬áIf you are ever cited for an unsafe lane change, you can tell the officer, “My turn signal blinked eleven times before I changed lanes.” Knowing this information will impress the officer with your attention to detail, and you must be exonerated.

Being aware of how many times the “walk” sign on the corner blinks before the traffic light turns from green to yellow will allow you to properly plan your approach to an intersection and avoid those nasty tickets for running the red light.

You must agree that a “counting complex” is less weird than you might expect. I’ll bet there are a lot of people who do it, and don’t admit it. I wonder just how many there are. Maybe I should count them.

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