by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
March 6, 2010
EXPERIENCE IS THE BEST TEACHER
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- That title just brought on a collective groan among readers, "Well, duh," since most of us have had "live and learn" moments in our lives: Live and learn; love and learn, lock keys in the car and learn, put your red sock with the white in the washing machine, and learn. We've experienced and we've learned.
However, live and learn is not the same as experience being the best teacher. With live and learn the lesson is taught from a negative or unfortunate happening. It's learning to pause before acting. It's part of the "Look before you leap" syndrome.
What I've come to understand is that I've learned more from being "in it" than by reading about how it is.
It's knowledge learned through the day-by-day actual challenges we experience, especially those challenges our skills don't meet. We learned this proverb in early childhood yet it was first coined by the Roman leader, Julius Caesar: "Experience is the teacher of all things," in 'De Bello Civili' (circa 52 B.C.).
Through the centuries words like "best" or "most efficient" put more emphasis on the basic thought but the meaning remains. By 1568, it was polished into "One learns more from experience than from books."
What I have learned from experience is that it strengthens us, knowing we can cope with things that may lie ahead. You've done it before and you can do it again, we tell ourselves, never really expecting those days of having to cope will dawn "down the road." We are prepared but not willing to test our abilities again.
Now I must. I was a child of the Great Depression. I've written of those times more as a reflection of my childhood than as the way to prepare for what may lie ahead. That was then, this is now. Right now we're coping with gasoline prices cutting into the budget. In the 1970s we made do with the short supply of gasoline not the price per gallon. Today, we shop and look for the BOGO's (Buy One Get One free) whether or not it's what we might otherwise order.
I used to tell our children how it was and they merely included the information in a school project based upon the era. I grew up on Long Island, New York, where potato farms were as extensive as those in Idaho and Prince Edward Island. Our family ate potatoes.
I stood by my mother's side as she peeled potatoes for what would be our dinner. She would scrape some of the white raw potato with her paring knife and I'd eat the fine scrapings with delight.
We lived on hash made from many potatoes, one onion, lard as the grease for frying and a heavy sprinkling of Bell's turkey seasoning mixed in before the patty-cakes were formed. The sizzling cakes and the turkey seasoning made the kitchen smell like Thanksgiving every night of the week. Poor? We couldn't say that. Depressed? Not us. It was the way it was.
If the present economy continues to whittle away at our fixed income, I may have to go back to the potatoes that sustained a family of nine children so long ago. (Of course now we have the food police who object to lard and also to butter. Those delicious pan-fried cakes of yesteryear would fry up as recycled cardboard.)
It was not only the lack of variety in our affordable food supply; it was the lack of income from any source. My brothers each made wooden boxes containing the wax polishes and brushes and the shoe-shine rags they would "pop" to the delight of their customers.
Wall Street was their corner of choice, and as the offices emptied onto the street at lunch time the men in their already highly-polished shoes would stand and rest one foot after the other on the homemade box and ask for a shine. The dime or quarter flipped was equivalent to a dollar today.
This was a period in our history when pride stood high. The man getting a shine and the shoeshine boy would not allow their little business transaction to become a matter of rich and poor. If a benevolent man with a high shine already on his shoes were to flip a quarter to a boy, the boy would say "we're not beggars, sir. Put up your boot, please."
Each evening, the boys would come home from their corners, spending a nickel on the subway ride from downtown Manhattan to Queens and our neighborhood, today the site of LaGuardia Airport.
They would smile, just bursting with a feeling of self-worth, as they emptied their pockets with a flourish, tossing dimes and quarters clinking across the kitchen table, very satisfied with what they'd earned. They'd wash their wax-coated hands and dig into the plate of hash in front of them.
I was totally unaware of the hardscrabble life we lived in those times or of being deprived. If I asked, "What did you bring me?" No one ever said "Money doesn't grow on trees." Instead, there was a surprise for the baby - that would be me - usually a shiny apple, a trade for a brush-up from the man selling apples from a bushel basket on Wall Street.
All I learned then that I can use now is to "make do." Oh, and yes! My mother quoted lines passed down through generations: "Willful waste makes woeful want. And I may live to say, Oh! how I wish I had the bread that once I threw away!"
No longer is anything thrown away. I never used the first or last piece of bread in a loaf - the children didn't want them for sandwiches. I should have quoted my mother's verse; instead I threw the bread away.
Now I have a plastic bag full of those slices in the freezer for the day I will make bread pudding. Mama would be proud. I watched, I listened, I learned - from her experience. Her experience was her teacher, she was mine. The lesson? No matter how hard it gets, the end is always in sight.