Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


586 Learning from the Experience of Others-

This is Retirement Talk. I'm Del Lowery.

I've entitled this podcast, “Learning from the Experience of Others”

On a crisp, clear July night in 1960 I lay in an Army Surplus sleeping bag in a roadside park just outside an above Grand Junction, Colorado. It was after midnight and my three traveling companions were sound asleep. I gazed at the stars and the faint outline of the mountains. I had never seen mountains until this trip. I was seventeen and my life was about to take a turn in that park at the late hour. Who could have guessed?

I think of this incident because of recent podcast entitled Grandfathers, Granddaughters and History. In that podcast I indicated that one could avoid making many mistakes in life if you were familiar with the successes and failures others had made in the past. I refered to discussion with my granddaughter concerning the importance of studying history: learning from the past.

It was in this Rocky Mountain park that I met the person who was the person I had intended on becoming. Sometimes we find history in books and sometimes we find history in stories we hear. Stories told late at night; stories told between strangers. Such was the case those many years ago in Grand Junction, Colorado.

While gazing into the night sky a red glow caught my eye from across the park. I could see it glow red and then fade away. A few minutes would pass and the process would repeat. What could it be? I was young. I had to get a closer look. I was out for an adventure and I wanted everything out there. Rising, I walked towards the mysterious glow. On a park bench laying flat on his back was another traveler. He was enjoying a late night cigar. Thus the intermittent glow. I said hello and explained my curiosity. A conversation ensued.

He was here to start picking peaches. He had been here before. He had just hitch-hiked up from Las Vegas where he had been washing dishes. He had worked his way back and forth across the country many times. He followed the weather and the jobs. Boston, New York, Florida, New Orleans, Chicago, Denver, L.A., San Diego, San Francisco. He had been there.

He asked me where I was from and I told him Iowa. He said he knew it well. Especially all the college girls at the University of Iowa and the girls at the nurses school in Cedar Rapids. He liked to talk about the girls in each location. I stared up at him. I sat on the grass; he on the park bench. He drew on the cigar and boasted of his wonderful life. He had lived a life of which I had only dreamed. The life of the carefree rover. A man who moved through life with encumbrances. His education had come through first hand experience. Teachers and books were not part of it.

I could see that he was wearing a baggy old suit. He had what appeared to be a cardboard suitcase. His hair was thinning. He was short and slight of build. The more he talked the more I realized he had traveled the road of which I had dreamed. I was a road that didn't look so good at that distance. He had no family, no wife or children. No friends. No community. No place to call home.

I went back to my sleeping bag and stared up at the stars. It seemed as though I could see into my future and it was troublesome.

I had left my mother in tears standing on the doorstep one week earlier. I told her that college, teachers and books were not going to be in my future. I wanted to experience life first hand. She went from a mother with a college bound son to a tearful mother with a son drifting on the open road. My mind and future was changed with that lesson in history from my anonymous conversation. Sleeping on a park bench with ever thing I own in a thin suitcase, dressed in a baggy old suit at age forty and boasting to seventeen year old boy about my rambling and sexual exploits did not have any appeal. I remember clearly thinking that there must be more than that to life.

Within a week I found myself in Los Angles and looking for a telephone booth. I called home and told my mother that I would be headed her way the next day. I should make it back in time for fall semester. I would be a freshman.

History lessons come from many sources. Teachers and books are only two of them. My conversation with a man who had “been there” proved very positive. Tales from others who have traveled life's many roads can serve as invaluable guides to us all. I hope my conclusion is true because my grandson is about to set out on a long road trip as well as college and I trust there may be a lesson in there somewhere.

This is Retirement Talk.

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