More lessons learned

By John Christie | Feb 09, 2012

A couple of weeks ago, as I was ruminating on the valuable life and business lessons taught to me by my Camden paper route, my mind was flooded with other examples of influencing events and factors that affected me during that formative decade of the 1950s.

For example, when my classmates and I entered our freshman year at Camden High School, we were introduced to an entirely new and “foreign” contingent of kids we had never met and who instantly struck us as being different from our close-knit network of friends that we had known virtually since birth.

This alien element arrived from towns many of us had never even been to: Lincolnville and Hope! Now they were part of our class. We soon learned that their rural lives had been different from us urban kids. And the startling thing that we shortly came to realize was that they could do things. Fix things. Figure things out on their own. Entertain themselves.

We came to realize, during the first few days of school, that out of the woods had come these capable, independent, farm-trained guys and gals who, we soon came to feel, had so much more life experience and so much more to offer, than our cloistered little cadre of Camden kids.

What a revelation. And what a lesson in recognizing that every single person we'll ever meet probably has more to offer than we would have thought or that first appearances would suggest.

In today's mobile world with all of the linkages, electronic and otherwise, that connect people, it's hard to believe that there was a time when someone from just a few miles away could be thought of as being so different from us.

Our new friends from “out of town” brought with them some other assets that endeared them to us: Drivers licenses and cars! As my contemporaries will remember, all of us who lived within the town limits walked, rode our bikes, or convinced our parents (if they had a car) to get us to school.

I'll have to admit that the close friendship I developed in high school over the years with my buddy, Millard Eugley, first began because he was one of those guys in my class with a car. Which, thanks to internship since he was a boy at Dean and Eugley's Garage in Lincolnville Center, he could... as much as it boggled my mind to understand... fix it!

And even after high school he exercised those talents when he helped Tony Bok and me put a transmission in a 1947 Cadillac hearse that Tony and I bought from an undertaker in Bucksport and ended up driving to Tijuana, Mexico, via Washington state, where we spent a summer freezing peas. Which brings me to another lesson I learned in the 1950s, and taught by contemporaries who we were fortunate enough to have join us from out of town. The lesson: If you want to get something done, the best person to count on is yourself. Which means you better figure out how to do things, otherwise you might be standing beside your junker on the side of the road with your thumb out depending on, as Blanch DuBois so eloquently lamented in A Streetcar Named Desire, “...the kindness of strangers.”

And going to a movie at the drive-in in Rockport worked much better if you actually drove in, as most of the girls in my class thought that peering through the fence standing outside didn't constitute a very special date. Among other things, you couldn't even hear the movie.

Another life lesson I learned in that formative decade was responsibility.

One of my after-school jobs was at Brown's Market, where my principal task was cutting cartons of jars and cans open so I could stock the shelves. Bob Marshall, a year ahead of me in school, got me the job, for which I'm eternally indebted to him.


But my most serious responsibility was to, on a weekly basis as I remember it, change the brine water in the corned beef drum in the meat locker. An easy enough job, as long as you remember that after you drain it, scrub it, put the hose in to refill it, and turn the water on, you ought to remember to turn it off.

It was probably Harriett Thomas (now DeHoff), on whom I had a crush, coming in to pay a visit, who distracted me (which didn't take much as she was a teen charmer), that provoked me to forget that I had more important responsibilities to attend to, like turning the water off when the tank was full.

The two irate owners of the store descended on me together after the meat locker had filled with enough water that it flowed out into the rest of the store.

It only takes one event like that in a young man's life, at least this young man's life, to instill in him the importance of taking your responsibilities seriously, and the dire consequences of not doing so.



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