It is 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 would become.

There was one experience in particular helped me learn about myself. I was nine 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.

One day I heard a noise and a yelp about a hundred 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 boulder which subsequently shifted onto the kid’s leg.

The leg was not broken, but he was just stuck, and I could see that the boulder was too heavy for me to move even using a branch for leverage.  

I noticed his BB gun resting against a branch 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 moment. Then I whispered to myself, “Well, guess I’m 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 grownups 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. I come from a time when kids were responsible for our own actions. The penalties were painful, and the lessons were lasting.

In my preteens and early teens, I spent many non-school days working on an open party fishing boat owned by a friend of my family. I worked in exchange for riding the boat for free.

The work was long and dirty, and sometimes I was very cold and wet. I didn’t get paid 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.

I was taught how to work diligently and to be proud of the results. The best part was that 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 captain for child abuse and child labor law infringement. Looking back now, those were defining years and I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything.

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 chose to 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 to learn more about the organization and how you can help. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.