Experiences of Life

Published December 13, 2012

When I entered high school as a freshman in 1968 I think America was in shock, convulsing so violently as a society, many thought our great country was going into full cardiac arrest with no chance of survival. It seemed nothing was the same nor ever would be again. The refrain “our country is going to hell in a hand basket”, was sung out so often one would think it had become our new national anthem! Or society and our culture were being challenged as it never had before (the Civil War might be the exception). So much change taking place with the many, many conversations, debates, and arguments. Who’s right, who’s wrong? Every thing is better, everything is worse. All I know as a certainty, for me, many times it was utterly confusing, depressing, and very discouraging. Other times it was absolutely mind-boggling exciting and very encouraging!

What a contradictory statement. Let me do my best to explain by looking into windows with pulled back curtains from my high school years. These personal observations and experiences are from many years ago but they did have a huge impact on my life.

I’ll start with the reminder that I was raised, educated, and mentored under a very religious, conservative, patriotic, and independent structure. I was taught from birth a love for God, Country, family, and independence.

Now put those values up against the counter-culture revolution I was being introduced to in my high school years. Here I was a teenager trying to figure out who I was, what I was to become. Impressionable but may be not as impressionable as others. The hippies, the flower children, free love, Vietnam, all new ideas, new rules (first new rule there are no rules), new ideals and ideologies, all challenging my foundational upbringing. It was very discouraging! I believe what made it l so discouraging was the difficulty I had in defending my core values. Peer pressure is indeed very powerful. The new norm was to be accepted or you were considered odd, different, and totally clueless. I can’t even begin to remember the number of attempted changes in my life trying to discover which path or life style was right for me. My biggest problem was trying to figure out exactly what was right in the new norm. That in it self led to discouragement.

The one thing that was to become my biggest encouragement was the fact that I was frequently acknowledged as a hard worker.

Due to the financial hardship my mother had when she was divorced, if there was any thing beyond the necessities I wanted then I had to earn the money to purchase them myself. So as early as ten years of age I began doing what ever odd jobs I could. I pulled weeds, mowed lawns, and washed windows. Many homes were still heated with firewood and many kitchen stoves used wood as the heat source so I also made money stocking the wood bins and cellars. I never seemed to have a lack of work for I received many referrals with the statement, “hire Dave, he is a hard worker”. I was very encouraged by those words!

One of the most interesting jobs was being the ‘Avon Product Protector and Bodyguard’. I was eleven years old and still afraid of the dark when I was hired for this position. There was a very kind single lady who supported her self by selling Avon products. Her largest and most profitable client base was the Indians who lived on the reservation south of town. I was paid the handsome price of fifty cents an hour to ride along with her as she delivered and sold her products. I was to stay close to the car and guard the products that had been preordered and purchased on her previous visits. Also, if she needed a particular sample that was not in her sample bag she would call out “Davey, hurry, run and bring me the catalog”. I ran as fast as I could so the car and its precious cargo would not remain unguarded any longer than necessary.

That’s when I learned to whistle through my teeth. In all honesty I have to admit it was my ‘Lady Boss” who taught me how to whistle. That a lady could whistle and I do mean whistle (a shrill whistle that could raise the dead) was pretty intimidating. But more fascinating was the fact she could whistle the prettiest songs and tunes I had ever heard. The car radio did not work so I am confidant that is how she kept herself and I entertained while driving. She explained to me that it was very important that I learn to whistle because that was to be the alarm if any one approached me or the car while she was busy with her customers. So with much practice and a lot of patience on her part I learned to whistle. To this day I am sure my whistle is puny when compared to hers.  As far as my body-guard experiences went, let’s just say I must have looked and acted very formidable. Not once did I have to protect the honor or life of my ‘Lady Boss’ nor did we ever lose any product! Nor did I ever have to whistle which is a good thing since my mouth was always so dry from fear it would have been impossible! When we finished the day she would always tip me an additional fifty cents for “your hard work”. But more importantly she would shower me with words of encouragement. Words such as, I couldn’t have done it alone, you are the fastest runner I have ever seen, and these wonderful, confidence building words, you are such a strong boy, thank you for protecting me and the car. Little did she know how my little knees shook or how fast I really could have run if any one had even looked at me in a frightening or suspicious way! Or maybe she did know and that is what made her words of encouragement all that much sweeter.

Being known as a hard worker and the great encouragement I received from that knowledge really caused me great angst, impatience, and frustration in completing my high school education. I had difficulty with little encouragement in trying to figure out who I was and finding my place in a changing society and culture. All the competing factions with the never-ending debates and arguments brought more discouragement than encouragement. There did come a time when I finally began to be encouraged when I was given the title, ‘hard worker’. I discovered who I was when classified as a hard worker. I was greatly encouraged by the idea that I had finally found my place. With that identity the opportunity for work that paid good money was ever-present. This new identity became my stability with an ever-increasing independent nature that grew stronger with every paycheck.

So work is what I pursued. High school soon became a distraction. I felt no motivation to graduate and I saw no need for higher education. My attitude was who needed it? After years of being rewarded with paychecks for my hard work I simply saw no need to apply myself in school. Instead it became an obstacle to my working full-time and getting on with my life. Distraction and boredom with high school became the normal. The likely hood of graduating became more tenuous.

I was fortunate however in that I had a few teachers who continued to encourage me and enforce with in me the importance of a diploma.  With their guidance I was able to apply for and be accepted into a new program for struggling students. This new program was a work release that allowed those who had an employer to attend four hours of school and then be dismissed to go to their job. The program expected the students to maintain a grade average great enough to meet the graduation requirements. It was not a very high bar and I just squeaked by. I was allowed to participate beginning my junior year. Needless to say my junior and senior year seemed to take forever. I felt they would never end. I did graduate and I moved on to a life of steady work.

Next posting I will reveal when and from whom the greatest encouragement came and how it changed my life.

Be encouraged, be an encourager! Dave

(Rev. David Larsen – Chaplain Compassion Nevada)

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