It’s a good time of year to ponder the past and remember things to be thankful for. As a kid I had experiences that shaped the man I became. In some cases I knew that was happening, and in some cases I didn’t.
One experience in particular helped me learn about myself. I was 9 years old and spent most free hours at the riverbed near my house. I had a BB gun pretty much permanently affixed to my right hand, which left the other hand available to hold the ever-present fishing pole. I’m pretty sure it won’t surprise any of you to know that’s the way I grew up.
One day I heard a noise and a yelp of pain 100 yards away from where I was hunting alone. I investigated and found another kid just a little older who had wound up in a tough spot. He was making a fort (a favorite pastime of many of us) and had dug too far under a large boulder. It had subsequently shifted and rolled onto the kid’s leg. I didn’t know if the leg was broken, but I did see that the boulder was too heavy for me to move even using a branch for leverage. The kid was stuck.
I noticed his BB gun resting against a bush a few feet beyond his reach. It was a brand-new beauty — the kind I had been wanting. He saw me looking at it and his eyes grew wide as he realized I could easily take it and walk away. Neither of us spoke for a long while. Then I whispered to myself, “Well, guess you’re never going to be a robber.”
I handed the kid his BB gun, told him to defend himself with it if need be while I went for help. I soon found some grown-ups to move the boulder. The kid was bruised but not broken, and the two of us became friends and developed a great trust between us.
Here is the story of a much different set of lessons, taught to the tune of a hickory stick.
In my preteens and early teens I spent many a day working on an open party fishing boat owned by a friend of my family. The work was long and dirty, and sometimes I was very cold and wet. I didn’t get paid even one red cent, though I did occasionally get tips. I was yelled at, bossed around and got my hind end spanked or my shoulder backhanded if I didn’t do things right. But I was taught how to work so as to be proud of the results, and I was allowed to fish during a hot bite. Those were both great rewards.
Maybe it was a bit brutal and maybe by today’s standards I could perhaps have sued the guy for child abuse and child labor law infringement. Looking back now, those were defining years, and I sure wouldn’t trade those experiences. By the way, my parents did know about how I was treated and they let me decide for myself whether I wanted to keep doing it. They were ready to back my decision, either way.
I did stay with it because I knew I was gaining valuable lessons the old-school way. Those lessons are still paying off for me.
— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help.