April 16, 2024



Have you noticed lately that everyone wants you to have an “Experience?” Turn on your TV and you’ll hear car dealers talking about your buying experience or your ownership experience or how nice your maintenance experience will be. The lawn mower guys want me to have the Dixon ZTR experience. We can now have a dining experience, driving experience, a vacation experience, a shopping experience, or if we buy the right organic foods, a Wellness Experience!

Whatever happened to good old-fashioned experience – the stuff you had to have to land a job; the stuff you needed to succeed in life? Remember when experience was the best teacher? It still is. All this reminds me of a few experiences I’ve had which I’ll relate to you in hopes that you can benefit from my experience, and not have to experience some of this stuff yourself, and perhaps cause you to remember some experiences of your own.

When I was just a little tad, my parents bought a swimming pool to put in the back yard. This was no big deal, just a plastic ring you inflated, then filled with water from the garden hose. I couldn’t wait to try it out.  One of the neat things that came with the pool was a repair kit to fix holes in the plastic. It also included the coolest tube of glue I had ever seen. The tube was bright silver and wonderfully gooshy.  Ignoring my parents’ instructions to leave it alone, I waited until they left the room and then set out to investigate the glue. It squished and squooshed and bent and mooshed until the bottom opened and glue squirted all over my new pants. My Mom came into the room to find me trying to clean the stuff off with a washcloth.

With typical parental curiosity, she asked, “What are you doing?’ I replied, “Nothing. I just spilled some water on my pants.”  My Mother, always the consummate detective, investigated. Her next official act was to call my Father (who was a mountain man, through and through) to intervene in disciplinary mode.

In true mountain man fashion, my Father spoke the words calculated to chill the blood of the most hardened juvenile criminal, “Boy, go out in the yard and cut a switch!” It was days until I could sit comfortably, and even longer until I was allowed to “experience” the joys of the swimming pool.

Several years later I took a liking to building things in the basement.  One of my finest creations was a birdhouse fashioned out of scrap lumber.  I’ll not dwell on the quality of this birdhouse except to say that in today’s world, any bird who decided to inhabit it would be whisked away by Family Services to undergo a sanity test and be enrolled in a twelve-step program designed to recognize and avoid condemned housing.

After applying the finishing touches of paint to my birdhouse, it occurred that I should clean the paintbrush. This was speedily accomplished with a can of turpentine. Now, I had to dispose of the used turpentine. What to do?! Dump it on the floor? No, it would stink up the whole house. Pour it down the drain? No, it would stink up the septic tank.

With all the inspiration of a genius struck by a great idea, I strode across the cellar floor and threw it into the coal furnace, which heated our house. I then learned that the smell of my burning eyebrows, eyelashes and hair would stink up the whole neighborhood and the blistered skin on my face would hurt for some time. As a fitting close to this experience, Dad sent me a formal thank you note on the occasion of his insurance premiums being raised.

My basement adventures continued. Somewhere, between electric trains and chemistry sets (remember the smell of burning sulfur?) I discovered the wonders of black powder. On a fateful day, my evil brain remembered that if you took the wires from the train transformer and touched them together, you’d get a spark! What did it take to ignite black powder? A spark! Do you have some idea of where I’m going here?

Without wasting time on elaborate detail, I’ll just mention I was astounded that a tiny pile of black powder could fill the entire basement with smoke. Then came the most amazing experience I think I’ve ever had. My Mother, noticing smoke oozing into the kitchen from under the basement door, opened the door and shouted, “What’s going on down there?” I replied, “Nothing.”

Incredibly, she answered, “Alright, be careful, honey.” She closed the basement door and went on about her business! I can only guess from a later prospective of being a parent myself that she closed the door, looked to the heavens, and may have asked, “Why me?” after concluding that if I was determined to kill myself, there was nothing more she could do to prevent it.

No summary of experience would be complete without an account of the Stupidest thing I Ever Did! As a kid, I’d noticed that if I hit a tennis ball on the ground with my tennis racket, it would bounce up high enough to catch it. One day I found myself out in the driveway holding a baseball bat. On the ground in front of me was a basketball. Basically a lazy kid, I briefly considered bending over to pick up the basketball but decided that entailed way too much effort.

The bat, rebounding from a good swat on the basketball, almost fractured my skull. I concluded that I had just done a really stupid thing.  but – and this is important – it wasn’t the stupidest thing I ever did. The stupidest thing I ever did happened many years later, telling my kids about that experience. From that moment on, I had absolutely no credibility when trying to teach my kids any lessons about their own dumb actions.

A typical conversation always ended, “Okay, Pop, I understand what I did was probably stupid, but it’s nowhere near as stupid as hitting a basketball with a baseball bat!” A wise man once said, “Experience allows you to recognize a mistake when you make it again.”  Some other wag offered, “Education is what you get from reading the fine print.  Experience is what you get from not reading it.”

See ya around.


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