Tutored by the Masters

Published online: Mar 15, 2022 Below the Surface Tyrell Marchant, editor
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This column appears in the March 2022 issue of Sugar Producer.

Earlier this winter, a nasty wave of COVID (of course) combined with a swell of regular old flu and threatened to overwhelm the school district where my kids attend school. For a couple weeks in January, almost a third of the district’s teachers were home sick. So shorthanded were the schools, they went so far as to put out an emergency call for parents to substitute for out-of-action teachers (and out-of-action subs). I wasn’t involved in any of the decision-making or anything, but it felt pretty a little precarious there for a minute or two.

I’m knocking on every piece of wood in the room as I type this, but we seem to have weathered the storm none the worse for wear. The episode did, however, make me appreciate our educators and our dependence on them a little bit more. It also set me to thinking of all the cherished instruction I’ve accumulated from a life filled with wonderful and caring teachers of both the formal and informal variety.

If I really stop to consider it, countless people have taught me countless invaluable lessons throughout my life:

Put your napkin in your lap. Keep your hands up on defense. Don’t spend it if you don’t have it. Always keep sunflower seeds in the car. Put the toilet seat down. Save a hard copy and a digital copy.

John Steinbeck, legendary author of such American classics as Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath, once shared this high praise for the great teachers of the world, famous and otherwise: “A great teacher is a great artist, and there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts, since the medium is the human mind and spirit.”

I tend to agree with Mr. Steinbeck; the ability to transfer knowledge is indeed one of the most vastly underrated skills a human being can have. And the best teachers, of course, are the ones whose lessons leave you knowing more than facts, figures or techniques.

Slow down driving over pivot tracks. Keep your eye on the ball. You can watch a chick flick and still be manly. Wear a shirt and tie to weddings. Don’t turn off the TV just because your team is down by 30. Drink lots of water. Floss every day.

Mrs. Archibald, my high school English teacher, taught me that until I got published, I hadn’t earned the right to begin a sentence with a conjunction, but it was fine if a preposition is what it ended with. Just down the hall, Mrs. Woodhouse taught me that, in life as well as business, there truly is no such thing as a free lunch.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Say “I love you.” Open the door for the ladies. Don’t turn your back on a crazy mama cow. Be a generous tipper. Proofread everything twice. The prettiest girls don’t need makeup. Close the gate.

My dad drilled into me the wisdom that free throws win ball games and that outdoor chores are best done early in the morning. From Mom I learned the importance of making the effort to get cleaned up and go to the church for a funeral or wedding reception.

A tall tale and a lie are two different things. Educated doesn’t necessarily mean smart. Pack an extra pair of underwear. Make sure the water’s deep enough before jumping. Don’t skimp on fungicide treatments or toilet paper. Nuance is everything.

One of my grandfathers instilled in me the different nuances of using rearview mirrors to back up a truck and trailer; the other, an appreciation of a six-inch perch on the end of my line. My grandmothers taught me, respectively, to take my hat off in the house and to take lots of pictures.

Change the oil regularly. Read the directions all the way through. If you need a drink to relax, what you really need is a therapist. Cold pizza can still be good pizza. Keep your thumb up when you dally. Run through the tape. Never punch anything that can’t feel it. Measure twice; cut once.

Of course, we all know that these lessons actually mean much more than the simple words spoken as they’re taught. Each person will attach different meaning to each little lesson, but if you remember the lesson, the meaning is almost always deeper than it appears on the surface. A lesson learned conjures up memories of the individual who taught the lesson, an individual who probably doesn’t even think he or she ever had much of an impact on a life.

So let’s all raise a glass (in my case, it’ll be a glass of chocolate milk, my favorite beverage) not only to those who have taught us, but to continuing to listen, because a lesson worth learning nearly always comes when you’re not expecting it.