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March, 2012

How Hard Could It Be?

by Larry

Too often the words above have preceded exasperation. With luck, I may acknowledge a Murphy's Law kind of comedy in such situations, but, willy-nilly, the episodes take on lives of their own and cannot be avoided. We might as well decide early to just apply ourselves to them with little let-up or recompense for the foreseeable future.

When I was quite little, my dad wanted a valet and let me know it would be my honor to serve him in that role after he had gotten home from work. All I had to do was change his socks for him, take off his day shoes, put on his slippers, and get the regular footwear ready for him to use the next day. Simple, right? Turned out, whatever way I did it on my own was incorrect, so I must learn to do it his way, just so. Besides the obvious, this included polishing, buffing, and shining his day shoes to a sparkling reflection. The valet routine took up extra time from then on for quite awhile.

Larry (in uniform) at about age 3, around 1947
Later I was told I was now to get the responsibility for looking after a young sister at times. One added duty sort of led to another, and before I knew it, in addition to starting to baby-sit neighbor kids when I was nine, I was tending a lucky seven siblings in my free time. How hard could it be? Yet, as anyone knows who has looked after kids, things do not always go according to plan. I would not trade in my sister or any of my brothers. Still, these were not the best circumstances for learning to love each of them as I have come to do.

Even talking did not come particularly easily. For a few years, it seemed nothing I said was quite as Dad would like it, and I would need to start again, and again, and again, etc., before completing even one sentence. "The King's Speech" movie captured well the terror a young lad can feel in these settings and helped me understand why stuttering had been in my own history.

When I started school, Dad was pleased, seeing himself as a teacher, especially in math. He liked to quiz me on what I was learning and to supplement the official pedagogy with his own instruction. A straightforward answer was not satisfactory. Explanations needed to be elaborate, and I must get them all right or start over and present them precisely as was wished. I confess that on occasion I imagined having a dumber father, who might have left one alone to fend for himself in the halls of learning. Other kids seemed relieved on leaving school for the day. I felt good on getting there.

From early in my teens, I had yard work and a paper route and hence spending money, but in high school spent $6 once on a practice SAT exam. Dad grilled me half the night on why I thought so extravagant an expenditure was justified, then took all my money and made me give him anything else I made, so I would not be tempted to be this rash in future. After that, leaving home, and as early as practicable, became my driving ambition. Being on my own, I figured, could scarcely be worse. I might make mistakes, but I could profit from them and do better later. How hard could it be?

With the benefit of many more years, I see now that Dad was doing the best he could and truly wanted what was good for me, that extra responsibility from a young age had its later rewards, and that our challenges, even with getting along with others, are seldom the big deals they might appear when we are tired or stressed.

Indeed, life can be filled with fun, humor, many personal rewards, and much joy if we take things more as they come and are grateful for existence one moment at a time. In fact, truly, how hard could it be?

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