School was never a pleasant experience for me. Sitting still, struggling to understand the teacher’s explanations and especially trying to fathom math were very demanding for me.
Later in life it came out that I had a learning disability that made verbal input hard to grasp, but that insight came too late to help me in grammar school.
I didn’t learn to read in the first grade, I just faked it with my good memory. I’d listen to the other children read, then hold up my book and repeat word for word what they’d said.
Fortunately, my second grade teacher, Mrs. Kerr, caught me in this game and put me in the lowest reading group. That was great motivation to learn and I was very quickly back in the top group, really reading this time.
I am so thankful for Mrs. Kerr teaching me to read, equipping me for life. My parents were avid readers and now I could join them. All of us kids read constantly, giving us a wide range of input.
The year I was eight Dad called Andrea, Les and me into the kitchen. “Ok, kids, come with us! We’ve got a surprise for you!” He and Mom led us outside and around to the garage door. This was totally unexpected and we were excited!
“Here, line up and put on these blind-folds,” Dad ordered. We quickly complied, wondering what in the world this surprise could be. “Don’t peek,” he commanded.
We heard the garage door open and then some scuffling. “Whoa! Steady now!” said Dad.
“Oh, it must be a pony,” one of us exclaimed.
“Just wait,” said Dad. Then after a pause, “Ok, you can take off your blindfolds.”
We ripped them off, and there before us was something we had never expected: three bicycles! Wow! We were overwhelmed; we hadn’t even asked for them, but there they were! Dad happily pointed out which one belonged to each of us. “Yep, got these used from Goldbergs. They are in good shape and should last you a long time.”
He paused and looked at us, “They are yours, but you must each pay me back $15 for your bike. We will give you each a jar and you can save the nickels, dimes and quarters you earn; it will take a while, but you’ll get it done.”
Mom would have just given them to us, but Dad was always working at teaching us about life. We didn’t need new bikes; secondhand ones were fine. We didn’t need everything given to us; things had to be earned. Saving money gave us more choices in life; discipline paid off. We were being equipped.
In that same year I told Dad that two of my friends from my third grade class would be coming over the next day to play after school. “Great,” said Dad, “They can help us pick up rocks.”
Our farm had so many stones that you could walk across the pastures, going from one rock to the next without ever stepping on the grass. Whenever a field was plowed and then harrowed, we kids got to help pick up the seemingly endless supply of smaller rocks turned up by the machines.
The positive side to this work was that we got to drive the tractor, so I didn’t mind at all having to spend an hour picking rocks with my friends—being able to show them how I could drive a tractor was well worth it.
We learned a great deal from everyday life on the farm: carpentry, plumbing, mechanics, and electrical work. We learned how to fix machines, how to put up fences, build stonewalls and care for animals.
More importantly, there were the principles Dad taught us through this work: how to meet difficulties head on; how to size up a problem, find a solution and apply it; how to help each other; and how to do things without having the proper tool–I pounded a lot of nails using a rock because there was no hammer handy! That inspired my definition of a true Connecticut Yankee: someone who could do the right job with the wrong tool.
We also learned how to be faithful to our duties, how to follow through, how to work well with each other. It was such an equipping-for-life childhood; I wouldn’t have traded it for any other.
Picture: me at age 4 in 1950, sitting on Dad’s bulldozer