From the book about Southeast and South Central North Dakota, Tumbleweed Feed and Gopher Trapping for Pocket Money
You Never Forget the Lessons Learned the Hard Way
Submitted by Glen Endrud of Buxton, ND
I have lived many years and learned many things and forgot a whole bunch of those lessons. I conclude that the lessons that have stayed with me the most indelibly are the lessons I learned the hard way.
For instance, one or two swats on the behind are usually enough to straighten out most young kids. The threat or expectation of that happening again can be a great deterrent to future misdeeds. That was, I believe, the first and possibly the most important lesson learned "the hard way" early in my life.
Going to school as a first grader was probably more anticipated than any graduation day later on in life. I went to a traditional one-room country school averaging about 13 students a year at that time. Putting on brand new clothes (that were probably at least one size too big), carrying my very own lunch kit, and proceeding with all the "confidence" of the smallest kid in school was a very big deal at that age.
That year a new family had moved into the neighborhood. They had three boys, grades 5, 7, and 8. They were cut from a "rougher" cut of cloth than the rest of us. Our school was located adjacent to a farmstead that had been vacated that year. Although we weren't supposed to be on the grounds of the farmstead, we'd occasionally go there, especially when playing "hide and seek." We were doing exactly that about 5 weeks after the beginning of my first grade, when a group of us gathered behind the barn on that farmstead. These new boys were there and told everyone else to stay with them when the bell rang. This was made to sound very exciting to everyone, especially to someone in the first grade. When the bell rang, we continued hiding and later sneaked through the trees and around the other buildings on the property. We eventually ended up in the empty grain elevator, climbing to the top of the bins inside. Something seemed very wrong, but what could I do but "follow the crowd?"
At the end of the school day, we came waltzing back to school. I really can't remember what punishment we received, but I'll never forget that when my first report card came out the next week, I got the lowest mark in "Deportment" of my entire scholastic career! Lesson Learned: Never listen to idiots.
The winters can get boring after a while. About mid-winter, the 5th grader of that family one day raised his desktop and proceeded to quietly get the attention of all the students. He had a can of "snuse" that really made things interesting. When he thought he had everyone's attention he put some in his mouth. He evidently hadn't tried to do this before because it really burned his mouth. He lowered the desktop and raised his hand to get a drink of water. Now the teacher evidently knew what was going on and wouldn't let him get a drink until recess. So he had to just sit there and suffer. There were no more problems with "snuse" in school. Lesson Learned: I think it's obvious.
Another indelible lesson was learned that winter. We had a lot of snowstorms so sometimes we couldn't go out at recess. During one of those times I witnessed one of those big, "wild" boys bump the simple record player we had and the only record the school had fell and broke. It was a "78"of course. That was a really big deal to me, so I promptly told the teacher that H_ had broken the record. What happened next took me by complete surprise, as I was loudly branded "TATTLETALE." I was teased and no one would play with me. It was humiliating! At the last recess everyone was going out to play and I decided I was going out too. I purposely got myself ready last so I could sort of' sneak outside. Now our school was adjacent to a county road and the snowplow had gone by that day throwing lots of chunks of hard snow up on the sides. As I exited the school someone hollered "PLASTER THE TATTLETALE" and a hail of snowballs and chunks came my way. I stood on the steps and watched and ducked as they came. One really big one went right by me and through one of the windows, landing at the feet of the teacher and the county superintendent who had stopped by for a visit. Needless to say this was a much bigger deal than any broken record, and my "problem" was forgotten as we speculated what would become of the "criminal" who had just committed the "crime of the century!" Lesson Learned: Don't be a tattletale and don't throw hard things at windows. I think I learned more important stuff in first grade than in any other year of my scholastic experience!
Second grade was more peaceful as that "wild" family had moved elsewhere. My parents had given me a football for my birthday. Now it's hard to have fun with a football by yourself. My brother was only about four at that time and not real handy with a big football. So I asked my mother if l could take it to school. ''NO," she said. She thought that would not be a wise idea. So I sneaked it to school with me. We had a great time playing football that day. During the noon hour recess we were playing and I ended up at the bottom of the pile of the rest of the kids. Something was very wrong. It turned out I had broken my leg and spent the next six weeks on crutches and with a cast on that leg. Lesson Learned: Listen to your mother!
Somewhere in the middle grades, we had a great time building and flying paper airplanes. It became a challenge to see whose could fly the farthest, make the nicest landing, and do other great aviation tricks. Later on into winter we got the idea of making a really big paper airplane. We only had one size of paper, so we decided to glue many pieces together, and then we'd fold it. We couldn't do that inside, so we smuggled pieces of paper and glue jars outside to work on this at recess. Now, remember those old white ceramic glue jars and that chunky white paste? It made for very lumpy and thick glue lines on the airplane, especially in the cold. Then we'd hide that unfinished paper creation under the snow until the next day. One day the teacher followed us out at recess. She was wondering where all the glue jars had gone. She found out, and she was mad. End of the airplane project! But I was still curious as to how that airplane would work. So I dug it out, smoothed it out, and launched it. It was a great failure. Lesson Learned: Heavy airplanes don't fly well and can get you into a lot of trouble.
My final two years of grade school were significant in other ways. I had learned to drive vehicles and machinery at an early age, as was the custom of the day. So for those last two years my father bought an old Model A Ford for me to drive to school. I had no license, obviously, so I guess he could have gotten in a little trouble also. The next year when I went to high school he traded that Model A for his first pickup, which I drove to school.
High school was a big deal, of course. We had about 43 kids in our freshman class; half were country kids and half were from the town. That year the administration decided to have two sections, one for the country kids, and one for those who came from the town, supposedly to give the country kids a chance to "catch up." Well, after about 3 weeks they determined that the country kids were ahead of the town kids, so they mixed up the classes. They never did that again. Lesson Learned: Don't judge people by where they come from.
Algebra was a very significant class for me. I was good at math and enjoyed it. I missed school one day because I was sick. When I came back I couldn't figure out what was going on in algebra. This was serious since I thought I liked math. Then I talked with a friend about my quandary and he showed me the lesson that had been taught on the day I'd missed. Right away I was back on course. Lesson Learned: Missing even one day of school can have serious effects. The most important lesson could have been presented that day.
A very important class to me was the vo-ag class, especially the shop class. My father was waiting for me to learn to weld, and then he bought a welder. One day we had a lesson on the anatomy of a cow. The teacher gave us a test on it and instructed us to pass our paper to the adjacent student for grading. The paper I received from my classmate had so many spelling errors that the right answers couldn't be deciphered from his answers. I marked those wrong. He was really mad. After class he was ranting about that, and when pressed by others about his spelling, they agreed that those answers should be wrong. He was still mad. We went to the lunch line for our meal. Now I must interject that in those days I spent a part of my evenings helping Dad do chores on our small dairy farm. Mornings, Dad let me sleep a little longer than him but I still had to go out to help feed, give milk to the calves, and clean a part of the barn, including a couple of calf pens, to keep up with things. Now I believe that regimen should be part of anyone's routine if he wants to build solid muscles. I had "abs" then that I've never had since, and I didn't even know it. Anyway, as I was standing in the lunch line my disaffected classmate came walking by, and without warning he swung and hit me in the stomach as hard as he could. What happened is that he hit a "steel wall," I hardly felt it, and he walked away with a sore hand. He never bothered me again. Lesson Learned: Never underestimate the value of hard work!
I went on to study engineering in college, eventually getting a Master's Degree. Later on I returned to the farm I grew up on and farmed in partnership with my brother. I never forgot the life lessons I learned in my formative years as I have just shared them here.