In the country song "Voices," Chris Young sings about the voices he hears whispering down through the years.

Dad tells him to work that job "but don't work your life away." Grandma says, "If you find the one, you better treat her right."

The tune's been around a while, so I don't hear it all that often anymore, but, when it comes on, I always turn up the radio in the pickup, because I identify.

My grandmother had a lot of rules, many of which I live by to this day.

"Whatever money you make, always put away 10 percent … because you never know," she said.

That was a pretty tall order when I was a kid and making ends meet on a 25-cents-a-week allowance. I mean, even with penny candy and 10-cent comics, an entire quarter doesn't go very far — much less 90 percent of it.

It's probably what contributed to my frugal (some would say cheap) habits.

Although I did become wicked good at math.

Another of Grandma's rules: "Always eat cake on your birthday."

I personally prefer pie, but I'm still following her cake rule 60 years later — and passing it along annually to everyone I know. It is, she said, very bad luck not to eat cake.

Granddad had his version of that rule: "Eat dessert first … because you never know."

I guess it was a lot like the money-saving rule. It occurs to me now, they both must have been perpetually worried about stuff they didn't know.

Or maybe Granddad, a fairly dour old Dane, simply had a powerful sweet tooth. A devout dunker, he always had oatmeal cookies with his morning coffee.

Another of his bits of wisdom: "Don't use a 6-foot ladder to climb a 10-foot wall."

Beyond the obvious do-it-yourselfer advice for a good way to avoid tumbling to the ground was the real message: "Be ready for anything … because you never know."

I thought it was a little like that Boy Scout motto to be prepared, which always seemed to involve tying knots and carrying around a clunky knife that could be used to perform about a million different tasks — all badly.

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Mom and Dad had advice that was more down-to-earth: "Don't touch that or you'll hurt/burn/cut yourself."

I don't know why they were so worried. It was the '50s, the height of the baby boom. What mattered about a little collateral damage? There were kids everywhere; my immediate neighborhood could, and often did, field two full baseball teams.

Bruises, burns and cuts all heal, and it's a good thing, too, because I wasn't very good at taking their advice. I climbed trees, pounded nails, made gunpowder (and the cannon to load it into), hunted other children with BB guns and played on construction sites.

But I never cut myself with my Scout knife, something I'm not even sure it would have been possible.

Yeah, like Chris Young, I hear voices all the time.

Mostly, I listen.

(Send your questions to HouseWorks, P.O. Box 81609, Lincoln, Neb. 68501 or email houseworks@journalstar.com.)

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