It was 66 years ago this June that my husband-to-be sold his 1942 Chevrolet to put an engagement ring on my finger. The ring had what I thought was an incredibly huge diamond — almost a quarter of a karat, a guarantee of prosperous times to come. Deliriously happy, I said to my father. “How do I keep my ring looking sparkly for years and years and years?”
In his laconic East Texas drawl, my Dad answered: “I think you have to dip it in dishwater three times a day.”
That was good advice, but I’ll admit I’d rather give advice than receive it. I’ve got decades of wise advice, stored up and unused, like vats of wine on the verge of turning to vinegar — catch it before it goes bad, I say. But at last, one of my grandsons is graduating from high school. I’ll be right there at the graduation. My chance has come!
I met a lady named Augusta in the ladies room at JC Penney last Tuesday. Never mind how it happened but it had to do with a towel malfunction. Naturally, the subject of advice came up. She recalled that the advice ladies of our age received upon graduation was more or less confined to “See that he keeps his zipper up at all times.” We recalled that this all-purpose phrase was not only advice for the future but also that was also the entirety of our sex education class. As we said goodbye, Augusta added that she’d learned something else: “You’ve got to keep living. Keep moving right into it.”
Let me be clear. Nobody has asked me for graduation advice. As far as I know, no one plans to. Heaven knows, I’ve offered it everywhere. Take the young man working at the DuPont Post Office, for instance. He thought deeply through three packages and a post card, before deciding, “No, I never got any good advice. “ and “no, thank you, I don’t need advice now.”
My Number Two Son says, “My advice is to ignore all advice. You’ve got to find out for yourself.”
Graduation speakers sometimes come close to the mark. I do like this thought from Michael Dell at the University of Texas in 2003: “Try never to be the smartest person in the room, and if you are, I suggest you invite smarter people or find a different room.”
Here’s Joe Biden at the University of Pennsylvania in 2013: “Don’t listen to the cynics. That’s the only piece of advice I will give you. They were wrong about my generation and they’re wrong about yours.”
My own favorite advice came from my mother: “Learn something new every day. Exercise every day. Every day, do something for someone less fortunate.”
In her last years, Mom was bent nearly double with osteoporosis and we wondered who she could possibly find less fortunate than she. But she’d often take the gift of a fragrant, freshly baked “Grammy Roll” to a friend, making new friends right to the end.
I can’t put it off any longer. Here is my advice to my grandson. Here is what I’ve learned the hard way — which turned out to be the way most important lessons are learned:
Every day is filled with opportunities. Most people don’t even notice them. Don’t be one of those. Become a noticer.
Most people look at the flood of opportunity and say someday I must do that. Don’t be one of those. Someday will be too late.
Each day, act on just one of those new ideas. Keep a list. Mark off the ones you’ve tried. Most of these tries won’t go anywhere. Delight in the “tries” and the “fails.” Some of them will take you to exactly where you want to go. Some will take you somewhere you never even dreamed of.
Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
“The temperature in Minneapolis is in the 80’s and the gnats and mosquitoes are out.” my son wrote. “I can’t imagine why Minnesota isn’t more of a tourist attraction.”
Never mind. I’m packed and ready to go!
But not without one more bit of advice. These six “Rules of Life” are taken from a plaque given to me by our graduate’s mother: “Be kind, Obey, Flush, Floss, Pay your bills, and Call Your Mother! “
Oh, well. Five out of six isn’t bad.
Dorothy Wilhelm’s events in June
June 13: Aging Expo, Lakewood Senior Activity Center, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. For information, call 253-798-4090.
June 20: AROWS, Patriot’s Landing, DuPont, noon. For information, call 253-582-4565.
June 29: “Stories of Puget Sound” Special Event, Eatonville Senior High School, 7 p.m. For information, call 253-370-3675.