It was a crayon drawing of Donald Duck. According to my mother, it proved that I was a 5-year-old prodigy who needed immediately to be put in school and coinciden-tally removed from her hair. The thing is, I didn’t really draw the picture.
On a bright September day, my mother walked with me to our one-room schoolhouse. Her goal was to convince the teacher that her only daughter — that would be me — was simply too bright and precocious to remain unschooled another day and should be allowed to start school without delay, that afternoon if possible.
Miss Johnson was unconvinced and while they argued, I discovered a box of coloring crayons and several sheets of paper, an exciting luxury in those days. On the bottom sheet of paper was the faint outline of a coloring book-size picture of the celebrity duck, probably a transfer from something that was shipped with it. I followed the lines carefully with black crayon and held it aloft. My mother snatched up the picture triumphantly. Miss Johnson, possibly having visions of finding another Fanny Cooney, the Montana artist who was drawing cartoons at that time, allowed me to start school that very day.
My chief academic achievement was that I was the entire first and second grade. I suppose the teacher must have wondered why I was never able to rise to those promised artistic heights again. The answer was simple. I never found another drawing to copy
What I didn’t know then is that we don’t learn most of our important life lessons in school. The most lasting lessons sneak up from behind and grab you in an anatomically inconvenient place at a time you’re least expecting it.
For instance, for the last few weeks I’ve been testing a personal alert system which is supposed to call for help if I should fall. Falls are a major problem for people past 70, and as I’ve had several falls, it seemed a sensible step.
My SureResponse comes from my wireless phone service provider. It uses a GPS navigation system to track me down and theoretically send aid no matter where I manage to fall, even on remote hiking trails or in a distant city.
What I didn’t know is that it also makes a 911 call if the battery gets too low. The sensible idea behind this is that if no one has moved the device or charged it for long enough for the battery to expire, something must be wrong. I guess that just as the battery is about to die, the device says, “Well, she’s not coming. I suppose she must be dead too,” and with its last gasp, puts in a call to 911.
I didn’t know this. I was sitting in church quietly last Sunday, when a female voice spoke clearly from my purse and asked, “Dorothy, do you need help?” This was a surprise. I’d been hoping for divine inspiration, but thus far all I’d gotten from my purse was antacids and used Kleenex. My first thought was, “What do you know, God really is a woman.” Then I realized that the whole congregation was about to be treated to a 911 call, and I sprang to my feet and ran out of the place, muffling the purse against my ample bosom. Life lesson: Keep the battery charged at all times. It probably wouldn’t hurt to read the instruction manual either.
There’s always something new to learn. Famed explorer Helen Thayer often tells how she literally had to teach her left leg to walk again after a horrendous accident.
No one ever found out that I hadn’t drawn the picture, but I knew it wasn’t mine. I never even wanted to bring it home and hang it up on the refrigerator. Which is just as well since we didn’t have one.
No day should pass without a lesson learned, but count on it, whatever it is, it will be something you didn’t want to know. Only last week I learned that if you set a pan of brownies on a hot stove burner, it will probably catch fire. The flames can get 18 inches high before the smoke alarm goes off. But that’s a life lesson for another day.Dorothy Wilhelm is a speaker and author of “No Assembly Required.” Contact her at P.O. Box 881, DuPont, WA 98327, 800-548-9264 or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: itsnevertoolate.com.