When I started grade school, I had never been in a school building before. There was no pre-school, no kindergarten … first grade was it. My mother walked me to the front door of the school, pushed me into the building and was gone.
As a result of the Great Depression of 1929, mom and dad left school in the eighth-grade to go to work to help their family.
Somehow I found the first grade and walked in. There I saw my first nun, dressed in black from the top of her head to her toes. I started to cry when this kid walked up and said, “Hi, my name is Charlie, I will show you around. I was here last year and I liked it so much I came back!”
Later I found out he failed the first grade.
This started a friendship that lasted all through grade school. Later in school the older kids called him Grubby, and I wrote a book a book about him. With 10 brothers and sisters, and no bathroom, Grubby always had dirt on him somewhere.
Later in school when we played on the school football team, he always came to school with mud somewhere on his body. I can still see the mud in his ears!
Although Grubby was the worst student I ever saw, he taught me more about life than all the teachers I ever had. Which brings me to my main point: I think we learn more from those who surround us than all the teachers and books in the world!
I don’t think Grubby opened a book in all the years I knew him. But every day of his life was an adventure. And I was fortunate to be a part of it.
He told me early on that some people are nice and some are mean. I had nuns that were saints and some who hated kids. He told me the difference between boys and girls. I have never forgotten that!
I have worked for people who helped you and some who did all they could to make your job miserable, the importance of everyday life … in the classroom, Grubby failed at everything. But in life, he was a genius, and he passed a lot on to me.
When my wife and I were first married, an African American man picked up my trash every Monday. I liked him and made it a point to meet him most days at the end of my driveway. He wore white coveralls that were always spotless.
I told him he looked like he loved his job. He said it was a very important job, and he said very simply, “If I didn’t pick up your garbage, what would you do with it?” I have never forgotten that.
What is my point? Simply this … School is very important. If you wish to be a professional such as a doctor, lawyer, teacher, or any of the hundreds of professions, you had better dig into the books and study.
But in life, learning is the day-to-day experience of being around people. Everyone liked Grubby because he made a point of getting to know the people around him. He had no enemies.
I am positive that to do well in life, listen to, and study, the people around you and they can all teach you something you can use at some point in your life.
Tony Lamke of Wilmington writes a periodic column for the News Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.