My mother was less repetitive than Winston Churchill. She simply said, “If it’s worth starting, it’s worth finishing.” I’m not sure Mom’s quote is that logical but, regardless, I was raised on the concept of not giving up. I do believe, however, that both Mom and Sir Winston had more profound thoughts in mind than I did as I sat in my thinking chair on the back patio this afternoon…thinking about the few times when I gave up on something or came pretty darn close.
I did give up on the French horn. But I was in 7th grade and weighed about 85 pounds. The horn, in its incredibly awkward case, weighed almost as much. So I had about a two-mile walk home from school every day, with a stack of books under one arm, the other one lugging the French horn while it kept banging into my leg with every step.
I was a big Benny Goodman fan. He was a popular swing band clarinetist just one generation ahead of mine. I wanted to play the clarinet just like Benny, but that wasn’t meant to be. The French horn was the only instrument available when I went into the band room and asked the music teacher if I could learn to play an instrument. And, it’s not like I got a lot of encouragement from the family. I guess after a few nights of my puffin’ into the French horn they were actually relieved to see it gone. Truth is, it wasn’t the remorse over not getting the clarinet and it wasn’t totally about the physical challenge the French horn presented—no they weren’t the real reason I abandoned the band. The culprit was music. As much as I like it, I could not read or understand it and, worse yet, I had no sense of rhythm. So I marched off to a different tune. Never never never never give up…unless you have to walk two miles every day with a French horn and can’t keep a beat.
I did not come from an athletic family. I think I remember my father watching a baseball game on TV every now and then, but that was about it. I did join the track team in high school. I wasn’t very good. I ran the ¼ mile but not fast. I was just happy to make the distance without tripping over the spikes in my track shoes. I think the main issue I had with track was that I smoked. Yep, couldn’t wait for practice to end each day so I could rush back to the locker room and have a cigarette. In a way, I did not quit track; I just didn’t sign up for it again the next year. I ran off, huff’n and puff’n, in the opposite direction.
Then there were a few times in college when I seriously thought about quitting. I went to a huge university (Penn State) where it was not unusual to be sitting in a science class with 400 students and having only two tests a semester to determine your grade. If you failed the mid-term exam you had no hope of getting a decent grade at the end of the course, even if you aced the final. Not my kind of educational environment, though I did not realize it at the time. I would have been better off at a small college where literature class was held under a spreading oak tree on the banks of a river and the class of ten sat around eating Lorna Doones while discussing Steinbeck. Fortunately, I didn’t quit college as much as a struggle that it was for me. Oddly enough, I went back some 25 years later to get a master’s degree. This time I attended a much smaller school.
So those are two quits and an almost-quit that I struggled with at one time or another. About the only thing I ever quit that I felt no guilt or had no regrets about was smoking. I did that back in 1976 after smoking more than a pack a day for about 16 years. Churchill, his ever-smoldering cigar stuck between his libs, probably would not have seen much merit in my accomplishment. Mom, I’m sure, felt otherwise. ..of course she would. After all, she started me so I know she felt I was worth finishing.