• 81°

By Ernie Marshall

Life Lessons

I recently passed the milestone of my 80th birthday. I never expected to get this far, since my father died of a heart attack when I was 19. With this unanticipated “extra time,” it’s been sort of like waiting in a bus station for a long delayed bus with the Grim Reaper at the wheel. Have I learned anything? Am I really any wiser than that 19-year-old for all my years?

You are loved

And more than you know. As I’ve had the opportunity to learn many times over, including the response to my 80th birthday party. My wife put together fantastic festivities with a Western theme, since I grew up in Texas and worked several summers on a ranch in New Mexico when a teen. We all looked dressed up for a square dance, and I received toasts, hugs, and congrats aplenty.

Don’t take others’ love granted. And of course return the favor. Don’t miss the opportunity to tell those you care about that you do, and to express your love in a multitude of ways.

Never say quit

Back in my more athletic days, I did a lot of distance bicycling. I was in a distance race of about 60 miles, a circular course on the back roads between Fountain and Falkland.

A young lady had just joined our cycling group, had in fact bought her bike that very week. So what does she do? Signs up for a bike race of course. She was there, all smiles and eagerness.

I was, as usual, one of the last to finish. So no trophy for me. I stood around talking with two guys at the winner’s table, and asked why they were still there. “There is one person still out. If she shows up, this last trophy is hers. We have three men’s trophies, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place, and three women’s. Only three women signed up for the race, so if she finishes she is our 3rd place women’s winner.”

So we waited and finally she came pedaling in, obviously exhausted but elated. She looked like someone who had stumbled into a surprise birthday party when handed the trophy, which she hugged as if were made of solid gold.

The life lesson hits you in the face. Never quit, no matter how far behind. The tortoise did after all beat the hare in their legendary race.

Never say ‘ugly’

I was teaching a course in aesthetics or philosophy of art at E.C.U. Most of my students were from the art school, so I geared the course toward the visual arts. This was early in the course and we were still just getting acquainted. Taking things more or less in historical order, we were considering the sculpture of the ancient Greeks, most of which is of the human form. We were discussing the concept of “beauty” in this context.

For contrast I showed a slide of a painting by Alvin Albright called “Into the World Came a Soul Called Ida.” The picture is of an unattractive, elderly, overweight women sitting on a bed in a shabby room, all the warts and wrinkles being emphasized. The Greek sculptor was emphasizing the beauty of the feminine form, Albright emphasizing the opposite (at least of that subject). I naturally contrasted the terms “beautiful” and “ugly.”

A young man in the class raised his hand and said “I’ve never seen an ugly woman.” I was stumped for a moment. One of those delicious moments when I’ve come across a student sharper than the professor. The whole class chimed in, and I finally said, “You know, I think this gentleman is right. There is no such thing as an ugly woman. They all have something of that quality of beauty about them.”

I learned a lesson that day, and came to understand that it goes for all negative judgment words, “ugly, “bad”, “stupid,” etc. At least take a second look or second opinion before you judge.

Can’t always trust a pretty face

Sorry, this isn’t about lost loves. That would of itself more than fill a column, and parts of it wouldn’t be fit to print.

I was in college and working for a flower shop. It had just opened, owned and run by a young couple who decided to take on some part time help, and to add deliveries to their services. I was delighted to get the job. Not just because I very much needed the money, but because I couldn’t afford to own a car. It was a chance to drive around Birmingham and get paid for it!

Mostly I delivered flowers to hospitals and funeral homes. But one day, early into the job, I had a delivery to make in Bessemer. Bessemer is now a big city in its own right, but then it was get just getting started. Street signs had not yet been erected, so how was I to find an address? (This was way before the days of GPS.) “Aha, a police station. They’ll be good for directions.”

I walked in the front door, and there at a desk directly in front of me was a uniformed pretty young woman. My request for directions was met with, “I need to see your license to make deliveries in Bessemer.” I had no clue what she was talking about, and was informed that she would have to put me in jail if my employer would not stand bond for me. She called my employer. I stayed out of jail, my employer received a whopping fine — he had no such license – and I returned to the shop, tail between my legs, to find out I no longer had a job. They couldn’t afford me they said. I guess not, if I was going to cost them big fines.

I did learn some lessons from this experience. Not just that pretty young women sometimes bite, but about treading a bit less brazenly and more cautiously through life.

To be continued …

Questions, comments, criticisms? Contact the author at marshalle@ecu.edu. Check out my blog: ecmnaturecorner.wordpress.com. Visit www.refugewildlife.com for information (and to order) DVDs of the films “Refuge – The Series.”