IN HARD TIMES PUT MORE LOVE IN THE SOUP
The very best time to give something a little extra shot of your love is under the worst circumstances.
I learned this three years ago when I first played the Pumpkintown Festival in Athens, Tennessee. In that first show I spotted Lowell Webb, one my my former students, in the crowd. My mind went back to the two years I taught there. It was my first job. Honesty compels me to say those were the two hardest years of my life.
I only made $200 a month for the school year and had to hustle up a job for the other two months. My wife, two children, and I had to live with my parents in nearby Cleveland. It was strictly a hand-to-mouth existence.
At that time, the school split students into the “fast” and the “slows” as determined by IQ tests. Because I was a first year teacher they gave me the fast class the first year.
I had a stripped down no-frills Studebaker and the economic strain just to survive was simply horrendous. It took its toll on my mental and physical health.
The second year I got the class of slows. I had received no training in teaching slow students. The frustration of feeling that I was doing little or nothing to reach and teach those beautiful children was almost more than I could bear.
I began to have severe stomach cramps. After tests, the doctors told me I had an ulcer and a spastic colon.
I took on a boys Sunday School class and several of my students came, both from my fast class and also from the slow. Most of them were from homes of modest income and I decided to get to know those boys on a personal basis and to do some special things for them so I could tone down a little inner voice that constantly told me I was a failure.
During those two years, I took those boys on trips to very special places that I could afford -- places like Lulu Falls on Lookout Mountain, Point Park, and Nashville. With my tiny income, I had to choose places with low or no admittance charge.
I had no idea at the time that these trips were a blazing success with the boys. After that first Pumpkintown show three years ago, Lowell described in glowing terms what those trips meant to him and the other boys. He said he had never been out of Athens and the trips opened up a new world to him. He said I was the best teacher he ever had. All my life, I had been totally convinced that I was a failure there.
I did know one thing: despite my pitiful income and lack of training to teach some of the slower children (later I got a master’s in special education), I had done my very best. And I knew I had come to love those boys like they were my own.
Each year I have played Pumpkintown since then, Lowell has been there telling me what he remembered of those years. He has carried my guitar to the car and given me a big hug or two. He has made me feel ten feet tall.
What I want to say to you is to let time tell you how well you did on a job. Don’t listen to your own frustrations and stresses. Don’t even listen to painful spasms in your gut. They can be wrong, too.
When things are toughest, just do your best and put a little more love in the soup. A half century later you may find out it made a big difference to someone.