If memory serves — and let’s face it, memory’s service is becoming less and less reliable these days — I only wanted three things for my high school graduation: a really nice watch, a really good kiss and some idea what the heck I was going to do for the next 60 years or so.
Mom and Dad provided the watch, which took a licking and finally stopped ticking five years later. Someone Special provided the kiss. (I’d mention her name, but a gentleman doesn’t kiss and tell — besides, how would she explain this to her grandkids?) And a good and wise man named Lowell provided the future.
Well, at least the next few months of it.
Lowell was the father of a friend of mine, and he was cool — and not just because he had a great smile, sideburns and he let us use his green Suburban any time we needed to haul lots of kids. He was cool because he actually seemed to like us — not just tolerate us. And when he talked to us, he had a way of making it seem like it was a person-to-person thing rather than a Pronouncement From An Adult.
And that made him cool.
So when he asked me about my plans for the future, I felt like I could confide in him.
“I have no idea,” I said. “I mean, I’m planning on going to college, and I’m accepted and everything. But I don’t know. Maybe I just want to get a job somewhere and make some money and get out on my own. I’m so sick of school; I just hate the thought of sitting in more classes.”
“What kind of a job would you like to get?” Lowell asked.
“I don’t care,” I said. “Digging ditches. Hauling rocks. Anything. Just so I make enough money so I can have some fun.”
“Well,” he said, “we can always use laborers on our construction sites. The work isn’t very stimulating, but the pay is good.”
“Are you serious?” I asked him. “You’d give me a job?”
“Sure,” he said. “Come on down to the office Monday morning and I’ll get you set up.”
All weekend, I planned for my new-found independence. I’d stay at home for a month or two — long enough to save up a little — then I’d get a great little apartment and a car and maybe a motorcycle. I’d buy cool clothes and eat nothing but fast food. I’d work during the day, and then go to movies and parties and stuff at night. I would live the good life.
First thing Monday morning I was in Lowell’s office, and by lunch time I was on the business end of a shovel at a construction site about 20 miles from home. It only took about a week of hard labor under the scorching summer sun for college life to start looking pretty good to me. By the end of the summer I was tanned, toned and totally ready to sit through a few more classes.
Lowell brought my last check to me before I went off to college.
“Are you sure you don’t want to hang around and keep getting these?” he asked as he handed me the check. “You’ve made a lot of money this summer. You could make a lot more.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said. “I guess I’m just not cut out for the good life.”
He looked at me with that cool, knowing look of his.
“Well, it isn’t for everyone,” he said, smiling. “But college can be a pretty good life too. So can life after college. I think you’ll be glad that you went.”
He was right, of course. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure he knew I needed to go to college even before he offered that job to me. But rather than lecture me about what he thought I needed to do, he helped me find out for myself.
Is that cool, or what?
To read more by Joseph B. Walker, visit josephbwalker.com. Twitter: JoeWalkerSr