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Each of us has a past that if kept secret or too private is of less use to us and certainly of little help to others. One of the main gifts we have for others is held in our stories. When we open that book and let others in we are also opening and revealing more for our own benefit and understanding. Personal experience is the basic stuff of life.
Most of us prefer to hear humorous human interest accounts. I’m no exception, plus I find these easier to tell because humor defuses the past and is usually not very controversial except for people looking for cause to be affronted. But then, the inclination of person seeing insult and harm in anything from piggy bank to pussy willow. Attempts to rein in humor to keep it nice or “civil” and “acceptable” miss the point and are sadly mistaken to think the results of a diet of grueling pap will be anyway useful, satisfying, or healthy. A regular shaking up of the notions we carry around is beneficial to a dynamic spirit.
It is impossible for me to forget my debut as a guide when at age twelve I was sent to run the motor and conduct family friends for a fishing trip down “the swamp.” I’d been there many times and did know the route. If I took a run and a leap at it I could get the outboard running, too. All was well, and I was bandy rooster proud being at the helm (which is at the stern in a fishing boat) for Ed and Little Lennie. Lennie was one of those who is called “little” because he was anything but. He outweighed and out-bulked me by a factor of at least six. Lennie was one of those friendly giants and I liked him because he always insisted on having plenty to eat and drink along. As captain I did not fish, a happy fact that made a hand available for the work of holding a pop bottle or doing justice to the nearby supply of chips.
Life was grand for this twelve year old who did so proud by the chips and pop he had a dire need to pee. This is not an easy thing to do on a boat so I aimed toward a hummock where I might be able to stand on a lump of soggy-terra. The passengers, however, balked at stopping for any reason and told me “do it over the side.” In other circumstances I’d have been less shy, but as captain I felt my dignity at stake. Such a small thing as that mattered far less to Ed and Lennie than the fishing. I was ordered, a thing possible when the captain is twelve, to throttle the motor back and stand to do my business. Standing a-kilter for modesty and keeping one leg against the steering arm I was managing when Lennie did a sideways lurch that sent me flying. In the circumstance I held the only thing available but it was of no use. The remainder of the trip was jolly with Ed and Lennie breaking into chortles every time the glanced to see captain drippy like a plucked bandy rooster all chicken skin while his clothes hung on the gunwales to dry.
The extent of humiliation felt that day is difficult to recall. More difficult yet is reckoning with the fact I most likely deserved that come down. You don’t know how full of yourself you are until pin meets balloon, and even then appreciation of the facts may be a long time coming. It is a humanizing and reality setting image to see my entrance into the world of woods and water-wise guide left me soaked to the skin sitting in underpants with an expression on my face that brought mirth to Ed and Lennie every time they glanced my way and afterward got me many an approving thump on the shoulder. To the proponents of bland pap I say there’s no lesson to learn from the story if you remove the sting of embarrassment and chagrin.
A rough time is apt to be more instructive and useful to a person than the happier circumstance of stumbling on good fortune. I learned the dangers of Minnesota “nice” and trust when I sent a sword for exam to a presumably reliable dealer in California. He got back to me promptly with a check of $125 for my trouble while assuring me the sword had no value. I found out how much I should not have acted on trust a little later when I learned that sword was valued at $7,000; more than my mortgage at the time. It is impossible for me to forget the circumstances of that event as it is difficult to admit so much ignorance and gullibility at age twenty-one.
Humbling experience and lack of forethought and consideration isn’t unique to me. In my rugged individualistic community was one who wanted to beat the system by parking a little van on local downtown streets to sell pie and coffee without the bother of high real estate taxes. It was an interesting plan but if you think about it the design is one limb short. If you stand on the street one hand has the coffee and the other holds the pie. Unless you mash the pie into your face you need a third hand for the fork. Then as a true friend, I found the solution and added area of revenue by selling, pie, coffee, and the coffee cup cap the customer would purchase as a place to keep their coffee while working on the pie. Of course you needed good balance and could NOT look down at your pie but had to keep it level with the mouth. But otherwise it was a grand solution to the shortage of hands. When he realized why I was laughing like an idiot our association was over. But, I think it was worth it. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see how the other party recalls this?