The Scout

Yesterday at lunch an employee of mine told me that all four of his children, all under the age of ten, each had their own IPad. Yep… that’s what I said too! “That’s NUTS!” He put his hands on his hips and looked at me like I was 100 years old and said “You know… it’s not just something to play with. It teaches them stuff too. How to solve problems, how to fix things…” But his voice faded into the background as I thought back to a time when my father gave me a gift that probably elicited a similar reaction. The Scout.

I was 10 years old when my dad gave me the small, green, 4-wheel-drive jeep type pick up truck made by International Harvester. It was good enough to drive in the woods but not legal to drive on the highway. Since I was in elementary school, this described me as well, so we were a perfect fit.

For the next few years I would drive the Scout around and around and around a self-made off road racetrack in the woods next to my parents hardware store on Old 41 (where Stan’s Subs and the Literacy Council are now), until the Scout would break down, catch on fire or get stuck. When it broke down, I would fix it myself, replacing broken axels, springs, the clutch, or whatever else was wrong… learning by doing. When I got it stuck or flipped it over on its side, I would work by myself with a shovel, scrap boards and a car jack for as long as it took to get it moving again. Although at the time I thought I was just having fun, I was actually learning valuable lessons in problem solving, the laws of physics and mechanical engineering, as well as building self reliance and confidence.

It also fed the inventive side of me, like when I attached a snorkel to the Scout, which allowed me to drive it under water when my buddies and I traveled in the swamps east of Bonita. The Scout would bubble along quietly while our grinning disembodied heads glided along the surface of the dark brown swamp water. But, being a preteen boy, I was also inspired to engage in some rather questionable creative behavior (don’t try this at home!) like towing one of my buddies little brothers behind the Scout on a piece of plywood.

In all fairness, I have to give a great deal of credit for this idea to my friend Billy. (You’re welcome Billy!) He came up with the idea and also supplied his little brother Danny as a test pilot for what he believed would be a new sport. Amazingly, while his big brother sat in the back of the Scout as spotter, little Danny managed to stay on his wooden sled, tied onto the back of the Scout with a thirty foot long rope, for over a minute before it plowed through a palmetto patch at twenty miles an hour and became airborne. When Billy saw his screaming little brother flying through the air clutching the piece of plywood, he realized that he had just invented the sport of parasailing, and in his excitement yelled WHOA! Now, I thought that WHOA meant stop, so I slammed on the brakes, which caused little Danny to make a perfect crash landing into the back of Scout on top of his brother. (Let’s see you do that with an IPad!) I thought this was hilarious… until the plywood came smashing through the Scouts back window. And although we had broken the window and possibly a couple of laws, I have to point out that we did not break Danny… at least physically. To his credit, Billy’s little brother never squealed on us. So to show our gratitude we let him ride inside the Scout… most of the time.

I’m not sure that my father intended the Scout to be a teaching aid, but as I type this story on my IPad… I do remember him nodding his head and smiling as he watched me crawl out from under the hood, turn the ignition key and bring the Scout back to life, one more time. Thanks Dad.

Where every parent has gone before

My 34-year-old son Nick called me yesterday from his home in Orlando. “Hey buddy… what’s up!” I said juggling my phone between the side of my face and my shoulder while looking through paper work. He mumbled a half-hearted greeting back that let me know something was very wrong. I took the phone in my hand. “What’s the matter son?” His son Gavin had broken his arm while playing and as a result Nick’s parental confidence had eroded. “Dad, I just keep thinking about all the things you went through with Neil and me when we were kids. You were always calm and in control like “Captain Kirk.” I leaned back in my chair and enjoyed being “Captain Kirk” for about two seconds, but then I proceeded to tell him what it was really like for me as a young parent and how I had experienced the same feelings he was feeling. I had for many years raised my sons on my own… and there were many times when I did not feel or act like the model parent, much less a Starship Captain.

One such time was when I took my ten-year-old twin boys on a two-week trip out west to Yosemite and Yellowstone by myself. Despite the fact that all of us acted ten years old as we stood too close to 4,000 foot cliffs, scrambled on gigantic rocks, slid down waterfalls, posed next to irritated buffalos, ignored roped off areas and warning signs about bears or the “Danger of Death” due to (whatever) and drove down countless narrow winding roads, while video taping… we all survived. Not a scratch. And then, when we finally arrived home from the airport, late at night and exhausted, I put my sleepy sons safely in their bunk beds, tucked them in, turned to leave the bedroom, and “CRASH!” The bunk bed collapsed. As I sorted through the twisted rubble we were all laughing hysterically until I discovered that my son Neil’s leg had been split wide open by the bed frame. It was a hideous wound. I immediately grabbed the 8” gash and held it together and poor Neil immediately freaked out. On the way to the hospital, Neil continued to inisist that he was on deaths door while his brother Nick kept poking his head over the seat, excited about the opportunity to see inside his brother’s leg. “Neil. Neil. NEIL! Let me see it!!” As I drove way too fast, all the way to the Downtown Naples hospital, I swung my arm around blindly behind me in an attempt to keep Nick in the back seat, alternating between telling Nick to “SHUT UP!” and Neil to “Stop looking at it! Just hold the two sides together… you’ll be fine. And stop saying that… you’re not going to die!” “Nick… SIT DOWN!” Five hours and twenty-eight stitches later, we were “safely” back home again, together on the floor in sleeping bags. Although I didn’t panic during the ordeal, for years afterward I was haunted by guilt because all I could remember feeling was irritation and exhaustion.

But every parent/child incident offers new opportunities to experience the full range of human emotions. When my son Nick was five-years-old, he was sitting on my bed when suddenly; he leaned back and fell off. I was about 10 feet away at the time when he luckily landed on his shoulders and neck and then somersaulted back upright. I kneeled down next to him and he looked at me with a wide eyes. “Whoa!” I said to him chuckling. “That was quite the trick… Are you OK?” Then… he collapsed. As I scooped him up, his body was as limp as a rag doll. My parent’s brain immediately translated this into… HE’S DEAD!! So, instinct took over and I began to revive him with “Captain Kirk CPR” which apparently involves shaking your child violently and screaming his name in terror like a little girl. “NICKY!!!!!” Despite the whiplash and a thorough brain sloshing, he instantly woke up. Luckily, a friend of mine was there to drive us to the hospital; me clutching my now confused son tightly in my arms the entire way, babbling “It’s OK, It’s OK…!” At the hospital that night, our family doctor looked at my son very briefly and then turned his attention to the person who really needed acute medical care… me. Not my finest hour… or was it?

For my son, I summed it up like this… “I know that you feel that you’re going “Where no man has gone before,” but you’re going “Where every parent has gone before.” Everyone feels doubt and fear. But Captain Kirk never gives up. He just loves his crew and does the best that he can… so will you.”

We Hear What We Want to Hear

At the southwest corner of Matheson and Goodwin Street, there was once a lone cabbage palm next to the road.  It is gone now, a victim of my first auto accident.  It was 1962 and I was eight years old… a little young to be driving around, but there is family tradition involved.

My father was twelve years old when, due to his father’s death, he was left with the responsibility of driving his mother around in a Model A truck.  The authorities realized that an unlicensed 12 year old could not be allowed to operate a vehicle, so they promptly gave him a driver’s license.  Problem solved. Continue reading