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.