Tutored by the Masters

Appreciating life's lessons and teachers

Published in the April 2015 Issue Published online: Apr 30, 2015 Tyrell Marchant, Editor
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When I started working on this issue of Potato Grower, I received an email from one Lila Westreich, a student in the University of Minnesota’s plant breeding and genetics program. As a student, Lila had worked quite a bit with UM’s Dr. Christian Thill, a man many in the potato industry respected for his contributions in the world of genetics and variety development. She was wondering if we might be interested in publishing an article about the difference Dr. Thill had made in her education and her life.

I was touched by Lila’s desire to make sure her teacher was remembered as more than a name on the top of some white paper, and became more so as I worked with her on the story, which appears on page ?? of this issue. It got me to thinking of all the cherished instruction I’ve accumulated from a life filled with wonderful and caring teachers.

If I really stop to think about it, countless people have taught me countless invaluable lessons throughout my life:

Put your napkin in your lap. Keep your hands up on defense. Don’t spend it if you don’t have it. Always keep sunflower seeds in the car. Put the toilet seat down. Save a hard copy and a digital copy.

 “A great teacher is a great artist, and there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts, since the medium is the human mind and spirit.” That quote was uttered by John Steinbeck, legendary author of such American classics as Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath.

I tend to agree with Mr. Steinbeck; the ability to transfer knowledge is indeed one of the most vastly underrated skills a human being can have. And the best teachers, of course, are the ones whose lessons leave you knowing more than facts, figures or techniques.

Drive slowly over pivot tracks. Keep your eye on the ball. You can watch a chick flick and still be manly. Wear a shirt and tie to weddings. Don’t turn off the TV just because your team is down by 30. Drink lots of water while you can. Floss every day.

Mrs. Archibald, my high school English teacher, taught me that until I got published, I hadn’t earned the right to begin a sentence with a conjunction, but it was fine if a preposition is what it ended with. Just down the hall, Mrs. Woodhouse taught me that, in life as well as business, there truly is no such thing as a free lunch.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Say “I love you.” Open the door for the ladies. Don’t turn your back on a crazy mama cow. Be a generous tipper. Proofread everything twice. The prettiest girls don’t need makeup. Close the gate.

My dad drilled into me the wisdom that free throws win ball games and that outdoor chores are best done in the morning. From Mom I learned the importance of getting cleaned up and going to the church for a funeral or wedding reception.

One of my grandfathers instilled in me the different nuances of using rearview mirrors to back up a truck and trailer; the other, an appreciation of a six-inch perch on the end of my line. My grandmothers taught me, respectively, to take my hat off in the house and to take lots of pictures.

Change the oil regularly. Read the directions all the way through. If you need a drink to relax, what you really need is a therapist. Cold pizza can still be good pizza. Keep your thumb up when you dally. Run through the tape. Never punch anything that can’t feel it.

Of course, we all know that these lessons actually mean much more than the simple words spoken as they’re taught. Each person will attach different meaning to each little lesson, but if you remember the lesson, the meaning is almost always deeper than it appears on the surface. A lesson learned conjures up memories of the individual who taught the lesson, an individual who probably doesn’t even think he or she ever had much of an impact on a life.

So let’s all raise a glass (in my case, it’ll be a glass of chocolate milk, my favorite beverage) not only to those who have taught us, but to continuing to listen, because a lesson worth learning nearly always comes when you’re not expecting it.