Friday, October 25, 2013

“Correcting Mistakes” by Garris Elkins

My father was not a strict man.  Not much bothered him.  Maybe it was because he was 42 years old when I was born.  I was the first of two boys born to my parents.  In some ways, I was raised by parents who were the age of young grandparents.

Over the course of my childhood there were many fishing trips. Some of these trips evolved as the trip progressed.  Dad would stop at a store in a small mountain town and hear someone talking about how good the fishing was just over the distant mountain and off we would go to find out.  Once we went fishing near Lake Tahoe and dad heard the fishing was really good in Canada and we ended up fishing in Kamloops, British Columbia.

On one of these evolving adventures, we rose early in the morning and packed up the truck camper and departed from our current campsite located near the north shore of Lake Tahoe. Dad wanted to have breakfast at a little diner in the small mountain community near our campsite before we hit the road.

Entering the diner was like stepping into a Norman Rockwell painting.  This was the late 1950’s when cars had carburetors and families had one phone and no answering machines. The diner had red-checked table clothes, big salt and peppershakers and a waitress who called each customer, “Hon”.

When my father traveled with his two sons, he liked to do manly stuff with us.  One of these manly things was to have steak and eggs for breakfast. My father was proud of my brother and me. He seemed to feel at peace with his two sons in tow.

On this particular morning, my brother and I had lagged behind in the restaurant.  Mom and dad paid the bill and went out to the truck.  On the way out of the diner, I noticed one of those Open-Closed signs hanging from the front door.  This was one of those small signs that hung by a string that a waitress would flip to the appropriate side when she would come and go to the diner each day. It was still early morning and the sign would be advertising “Open” for many more hours.

As I walked out the door, I flipped the sign to read, “Closed”.  I felt pretty cocky as I walked to get in the truck.  When I got inside the cab of the truck, I could tell things were not quite right.  Dad looked at me and said, “Go back and fix the sign.”  I said, “What”, trying to distance myself from my stupidity.  I argued at bit and then started the long march back to the door of the diner.

When I got to the diner door, I was humiliated.  I tried to do the sign flip without being noticed.  To this day I am not sure anyone in the establishment knew the sign had its status changed.  I turned the sign back over and walked back to the truck.

Dad didn’t say anything more to me about the sign. I learned a lesson and paid the price of my disobedience.

At the time, I would never have thought of this, but little roadside diners in touristy locales rely on the passing tourist traffic to carry the business.  A casual drive by a little diner with a “Closed” sign on the front door would have someone driving on by looking for something that was open.  My act of foolishness would have cost someone a livelihood.

My father had me do the right thing, not only for me, but also for the business.  As a boy, I was beginning to realize the ripple effect of my actions.  Fathers help their children see the consequence of their actions.  Consequences that cost a child something, like a humiliating walk back to a diner to turn over a sign, have a value. 

Some of the most profound correction we bring to a child is not physical or by denying them something – it is involving a child in a corrective activity that helps them fix what they messed up and hopefully see the larger picture. 

The day my father told me to return to the diner his simple request began to forge in my mind towards a respect for other people.  I never turned another sign over in a restaurant.

After that day, my father’s correction helped me see the value of honor for waitresses, owners of little places struggling to make it and most of all for me.  My father was forging a yet to be revealed man who would someday love his own children enough to make them go back and correct their own mistakes.

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