That’ll Learn You

baseball small

When I was twelve, I caught a fastball with my face.


The supernova exploding on the back of my eyelids should have made the event memorable – but it didn’t. 

That honor went to my coach, who grunted himself off the bench and ambled out to the plate. I suppose he felt duty bound to check on me.  If I were dead, he could at least say he did that much.

When he finally arrived, he took his time thinking of something meaningful to say.

“It’s good you got hit,” he told me, “it’ll learn you not to crowd the base.”

I might have been stunned by the ball but not by what my coach said. Growing up in the 1950’s was like that. Every adult I knew had a warped sense of what was good.

My dad was the worst. He was a plumber with eleven kids who thought a house with one bathroom was a good thing.

“It’ll teach ’em patience,” he told my mother.

The trouble was, we had too many girls for patience. I don’t know what it is about girls and bathrooms but I learned from an early age, a bathroom always has a sister in it. 

Even when I bought my first house, the law held true. It had two bathrooms. One for me and one for my wife. Sure enough, the first time I went to use my bathroom, one of my sisters was in it.

Finally, after years of suffering in silence, my brothers and I approached the old man. “Could you please build a bathroom in the basement?” we pleaded.

My dad grunted and took his sweet time thinking about it before telling us, “Boys, you gotta solve your own problems.”

So we did.

My brothers and I left the bathroom to the girls and took to visiting a willow tree growing by the side of our garage. When we had anything more complicated, we went to a neighbor’s house.

Fortunately everyone in our neighborhood had big families and none of them kept a count of their kids. This allowed us to wander in and out of their houses like they were our own (except for the ones with too many girls of course).

In that way, we made a lot of friends and by extension, my dad made a lot of friends. It made him proud. He boasted constantly how his kids always found a way around life’s obstacles.

The willow tree made him proud too.

“Look at that thing,” he told his friends in the neighborhood, “you ever seen a tree grow like that?”

Author: Almost Iowa

39 thoughts on “That’ll Learn You”

  1. Hey!!! 🙂 I have missed your humorous wonderful posts! When I was a kid I took a horse’s hoof to the face. After my grandfather did the obligatory “she’s not dead” check, he said – “well now you know. Don’t run behind a horse. You’ll spook him.”

  2. Good thing your father didn’t know what was fertilizing the willow tree! But it still sounds to me as if he was a very wise man…..

    1. Oh, he knew all about it – but then his boys using the tree for five years probably saved him sixty dollars. Think about that… sixty dollars! Why in 1960’s money that is half a Remington 1100 shotgun.

  3. Wonderful story! As an only child, I missed some of these experiences. On the other hand, I’ve never seen a travel guide that includes tidbits like this: “When traveling overland, ladies should wear long skirts and eliminate undergarments. It makes squatting by the roadside more convenient.”

    1. Years ago, I had a girlfriend who was a Quaker, a Friend for those familiar with the term. Anyways, while spending time around the Friend’s house, I met a woman who was missionary in China in the 20’s. She spoke of how she had to walk from Burma into China and every time she slipped into the bushes to raise her skirt, the oxen drovers would flip a rope into the brush and slither it back.

      She shrieked the first few times they did it, but kept shrieking to “endear” herself with the drovers. One had to do that – to make sure one made it all the way into China and didn’t wind up in the bushes – permanently.

    1. The best part of the 50’s was the free-roaming childhood. We would leave home early in the morning during the summer and not return until suppertime.

      1. I had it just about as good in the ‘70s. My brother and I were all over the neighborhood with the other kids. Those summers were a treasure.

  4. Ah the good old days, when getting whacked in the face was character building. As for the tree maybe I should send the husband out to fertilize ours.

    1. Had a nun pick me up by the ears once. As she lifted me, she kept muttering something about “learn you” but it was hard to hear her.

  5. Great story, Greg. The willow tree might have been missing some bark, but it was well watered. Our fathers did have a more practical way of looking at things. In retrospect, those lessons have served us well.

    Enjoy the weekend.

    1. Not so now, because I am surrounded by miles of corn fields, if you get my drift. 🙂 I guess that means you never have to stand in line.

  6. Wow – that could have ended badly!

    In the “warped sense of what is good” department: my dad would say of anything on the dinner table that gave us pause – pickled tongue, baby peas and onions, smelts [shudder] – “Eat it. It’s good for you. It’ll put hair on your chest.”

    As if I, the only girl child of the trio would be swayed by that logic.

  7. I LOVE this post! My husband was one of 10, and his oldest sister moved back in with her daughter when she got divorced. It was a small house with two bedrooms and one bath. The four boys left at home lived in the basement. I’ve never asked, but I bet they had a favorite willow tree too. Thank you for the smile and the chuckles. 🙂

    1. Every town in America has section of 600 sq ft houses build shortly after WWII by returning soldiers – and every one of them, it seems, planned to have 10 kids.

      Gosh, you wonder, how come they didn’t make them bigger…..that was until you saw the houses they grew up in.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: