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A Little Advanced, Applied Math

By Philip N. Ledoux
October 31, 2005

The analogy using marriage in post 22425 (educate-yourself Forum), triggered some memories that others might appreciate. Kind of like “funny math” but when considered it is “math of the highest order”.

As I grew up, my parents never argued that I know of. I doubt if the marriage was idyllic to the extreme; they must have had problems of some kind, but never a word was uttered in my presence. A tad difficult to maintain, but it helped me grow up respecting women, marriage and that 'something special' that cannot be defined. I also happened to be the “letter writer” for my parents, and became privy to “things” that few of my contemporaries were privileged to experience as a result. My parents came from large families, which were common after the turn of the last Century; my mother’s family being much the larger. Although my maternal grandparents were nearly illiterate, they owned their own home and some acreage that supported a cow, pigs, etc. and it also supplied enough wood for the winter when sweat was invested. In their old age, they couldn’t care for themselves and their children didn’t help (one
tried unsuccessfully), and eventually ended up at our “County Farm” equivalent of convalescent care facility. My grandmother was not able to rise from a chair unassisted, and my grandfather had “hardening of the arteries” meaning that he was something like an Alzhymer’s patient today; many was the time that either father or I had to go miles and miles to find him, he could walk you to death..

My mother was torn between helping her parents and the burden of helping and its hazards. So I was asked by my mother to write a letter to a preacher man in our local newspaper which today we would refer to as “Dear Abby”. The advice that came back in the mail was that if my grandparents were taken into our home, especially with a pre-school child in the family, plus the special condition of the parents and the attitude of my aunts and uncles, it could easily ruin the marriage. As predicted, it almost did ruin the marriage; I remember it well; but this story isn’t about marriage difficulties and their specifics. The importance is that the marriage was severely tested to the breaking point, and a few splints were needed in the process; but it survived.

Now to the interesting part – special math. In offhandedly educating me about life’s problems and pleasures, while milking the cows; my father was rather serious and gave me the following lesson in mathematics. By this time I had completed college trigonometry; yet I was going to learn real applied basic math.

In my youth I was given a bull calf as a 4-H project. (4-H is the farm equivalent of Boy Scouts.) Not understood by me but part of a farm boy’s education, the animal was neutered. Finally, unbelievably, after “years of waiting” (actually about 9 months), off to the fair I went with my Prize Steer. To be truthful, a neutered animal on a dairy farm, especially a neutered bull, is useless, except for table vittles. So, the day came when I had to part with my Prize Steer who became steaks for someone’s dining pleasure. Then came the day of reckoning, the day of dividing the spoils, the second biggest event in the annals of my Prize Steer.

My father was a scrupulously honest man, yet was an excellent teacher. So, the evening after the sale, after supper at the kitchen table, my father took out the money he had been paid by the cattle dealer for my Prize Steer. I don’t remember the amount of money involved, but I do remember the math. My father declared that seeing that he did all the work of making the hay, buying the grain, and supplying the barn, he should get one half of the proceeds. He turned to my mother, who agreed and approved; and then he turned to me to see if I too agreed and approved, which I did. So, father then counted out the money, then counted out exactly one half, which he put in his pocket. Then he reminded me of our before hand agreement that the profits would be divided 50-75; which a “learning” young boy quickly had agreed to. Being reminded of that, I wondered what that would come to (how many airplane models, ice
cream and books that could buy?). The next words I heard was: that’s 50% of the deal, now we have to figure out the 75% part. 75% minus 50% equals 25%. So father counted out half of the money on the table and gave that to me, which incidentally is correct math and the terms of agreement. And then with a quizzical, impish grin asked me, what should we do with what remained? I was thinking of how many ice cream cones were going bye, bye and I heard “I know what we can do! Your mother needs to buy cloth to make you some shirts with, and I need some too, we’ll give it to your mother, and that would be fair to everybody.” Harumph. I imagine I had some kind of wet eyes, but knew better than cry, because I was supposed to be a man when I had entered the show ring with a Prize Steer.

Through the years father and I had laughed over the 50-75 situation, which gradually had made more and more sense to me. We’d often see someone who kind of got screwed in a deal, and father would say – another 50-75 situation. Or someone having to put in more sweat than others on a job and father would comment simply “50-75” and sometimes he and I were part of such a job, and father would wink with a smile “50-75” (he was as strong as 3 men!).

Oops; back to the marriage and milking the cows. With a far away look in his eyes father commented that marriage was a 50-75 proposition. When you really worked hard at making a marriage really succeed, you just knew you were putting in 75% of the effort, but if one was capable of standing back and looking reality in the face, one was only putting in 50%. So, never invest less than 75% of the team effort when you get married. Needless to say, chores got done late that night.

Philip N. Ledoux

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