POSTED: December 1, 2021
One of the lads I was able to reconnect with at that high school reunion was Tom G. He was a really talented musician when I knew him in high school and continued composing and performing as his main focus for his adult life. When he wasn’t composing, or on the road with various bands he spent his time managing craft fairs and running a music store he owned with his brother in Ottawa. It was named after John Mayalls seminal album The Turning Point.
I happened to be a John Mayall fan myself repeatedly listening to all the albums John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers produced in that late sixties and early seventies era. But its other things that have me thinking about Turning Points these days.
While considered in its original use it is simply a descriptor of any change in direction or focus and does not have values attached to it, most of us associate it with a positive turn of some kind. Its that turn in the story or the point where the old drunken sheriff decides to put down his whiskey bottle, put his guns back on and clean up the town, or a predominantly white jury in the American south makes the decision to convict the white murderers of a black man. Most of us who have decided to stay with the living are by definition optimists so we always look for this turn, and root for the underdog or hope to see things unfold as they should.
But sometimes turning points are negative ones, where with just a little bad direction the elements can be set in motion to have things go very wrong. This is particularly the case with young people.
A while back, I was heading off to get some groceries on my little fold-up bike one morning and I encountered a carpenter who had himself in a pretty precarious position. He had a small beam above his head but had his foot twisted in some debris. Dropping the beam safely was not an option but he could not free his foot. I arrived just as another passerby did as well and we got the fellow out of his jam. He was a bit shaken up and I offered him some coffee from my thermos as we chatted about the job he was working on. As a small contractor he told me he occasionally needs a second person but doesn’t have enough work to ever hire someone regularly. So he plods along working small jobs and occasionally, (rarely I think) gets himself into these kinds of problems.
I joked that the old square, that I had grabbed from the back of his truck to help pry him loose was not going to be much good if it was used that way very often, and he told me a story. It seems that particular square which hangs on the wall in the back of his truck he never uses as he has newer and better ones but he keeps it for nostalgic reasons. He was given this square by the carpenter he apprenticed with many years before. It was quite old when he started with the carpenter and that was many decades before. The carpenter gave him the square on his first week as an apprentice and had him build a section of a platform they were doing for an outdoor public seating area. After a morning of working the carpenter then checked the finished components the apprentice had built and showed him how every corner, every joint, every aspect was not square. The young fellow felt humiliated and was somewhat ashamed and put the square on the various points and found they were all correct from his standpoint. Over lunch his mentor showed him that the square he had bestowed on the young lad was indeed not square at all.
The message was to always check your tools yourself, sharpen them as needed, maintain them regularly and don’t rely on anyone else’s figures, dimensions, or representations. A bad square will make everything wrong in the first place and the errors will just compound. So that square travels with the carpenter today, as a reminder of his apprenticeship and of the lessons learned.
He gave me his number and said if I ever needed some help with refinishing En Plein Air to give him a call and he would give a very good price on any work I needed.
I felt good about the morning and kept his number. But more than that the story about the square stuck with me. The more I have thought about it the more the cumulative effect of one good decision or event or one bad decision or event can just snowball into a full-fledged success or disaster.
The financial world is rife with this. Cumulative interest if working for you can create a small fortune, or if working against, be your downfall.
I know this of course when out navigating on the water. Now to be fair I don’t do this much – I have always had a captain who makes those decisions but I have great respect for what’s at stake as a slight miscalculation at the beginning if not corrected will have you end up hundreds of miles off course.
But so many life decisions are like this as well. Link up with the right partner in life or business and things can truly blossom. Or make a bad assumption that you cumulatively base more decisions on, and it can be ruinous.
The high school reunion I was at has me thinking about this in terms of personal evolution. The little bad or good decisions made early on have had such an impact on what happens later, unless there is a serious influence to change that direction.
I am not a parent. I don’t know if I really wish I had been and at 67 years old it’s not something to think about now. But in working with kids through the years and reflecting on the insecurities I know many adults have, it is pretty damb clear that the perspective a parent gives at a critical stage in a kids upbringing matters more than almost anything else.
Over the last twenty months of Covid, I have seen some rather extreme examples of how well and how badly it can go. Some parents are so stressed out, under financial pressure and generally so freaked out that I think they are permanently bending the square their kids will learn from. Others, under the same pressures seem to be able to relate to their kids that there are some things we can change, and some things we need to roll with because we can’t and learning to roll with them is the key.
My mother used to talk about the depression in fairly glowing terms. They were dead poor, there was little food, the future was bleak, but it was a time that both her mother and father were home and could do things with them. They learned to sew, cook, cut firewood, clean, cut grass, do gardening , and paint the house, together. Along the way there was a bit of math, geography, history, reading and some life stories as well.
I am sure there will be some kids that will come through Covid remembering these times as some of the best years of their lives and be set up for whatever nonsense is thrown at them later. Its all whether someone shows them the square was bent and teach them the tools of how we cope with adversity. I think I have been offering that in my little cooking classes at the marina, but I am going to offer up an extra dollop of it for the young people in my classes from now on.