Mistakes by Glenn Schuckers

As you begin reading this let me warn  you, it is about, just as the title says, mistakes. This is a pretty easy column to write since, when I stop to think about it, my past seventy-seven years have seen many mistakes, so many that I could write a book about them, but so as not to bore you I will only mention ones I’ve made in the past thirty or so years.

About thirty years ago, I had thoughts of replanting much of my dad’s original orchard, much of which had been planted in the 1940’s and fifties. Many of the trees were past their prime bearing age and it was time to replant. The experts from Penn State told me that once an apple tree passes the age of forty its productivity begins to decline, and there was no doubt that many of our trees were overdue for replacement.

When my dad planted the original orchards he filled the spaces between the rows with strawberries or sweet corn. That way the land would produce some income while the trees were maturing enough to start bearing. Since I planned to gradually replace the trees there was no need for immediate income, so after my wife and I talked it over, we decided that we could plant  blueberry bushes.

They would start to produce fruit in a few years and having experienced the difficulty in finding workers to harvest apples, having a “pick your own” blueberry operation made sense. I marked out a field, tested the soil to see what it would need and ordered about 500 young bushes.

I thought I had covered all the bases but there was one thing I missed–deer.

I knew that deer had been feasting on the lower branches of our apple trees; in the spring during  blossom time we could see that there were no blossoms on the the first six feet off the ground, the height where deer could reach to browse during the winter.Since the trees were mature and fifteen to twenty feet tall, losing the first few feet was not a disaster and fencing the whole orchard would have cost more than the loss of the fruit.

Not so with berry bushes. That miscalculation was a mistake, one that I readily learned the next spring when I had nothing to show for five-hundred bushes except five-hundred three inch high stubs. But I learned from my mistake. I did not replant the blueberry bushes.

Here’s another one. As we remodeled our century old farm house, I learned why the basement was a bare six feet in height. I had thought that taking the floor down another fourteen inches would be no big deal. As soon as I started digging, I found the few inches of dirt covered solid rock, a great foundation for a house to be built on, not so great for a finished basement. It took a jack hammer and a lot of hours carrying out blocks of stone to get a level floor that allowed us to pour concrete that resulted in a six-foot, six inch  basement. Another mistake based on lack of knowledge and planning.

Along the same line, I foolishly thought it would be no big deal to cut through one of the foundation stones to run a water line. The first stroke of hammer and chisel demonstrated those stones were not going to be cut. Plan B was to find a small stone that could be removed to run  the water lines through.

Looking back I am glad I made some of those mistakes.

The mistakes I made and being able to admit they were mistakes were ways I learned. I think it may have been Ben Franklin who wrote something like, “Experience keeps a dear school, yet Fools will learn in no other.”

I don’t consider myself a “fool,” but in many ways I have made a catalog of foolish actions over the past.  I think, if we are honest, a lot of us will have to admit to having done some foolish things which qualifies us, once in awhile, to being fools. The question is, have we learned from our mistakes?

That gets us to a serious topic that is being debated in our country today. Do we, as a nation, want to teach our children about the mistakes we have made in the past? Can we be honest about those mistakes or should we just forget about them, maybe pretend they never happened, and hope that they will stay forever hidden?

As a result of my own education, there were a lot of things that happened in our nation that I never learned. I think I had as good an education as anyone growing up in a rural part of Pennsylvania in the middle of the twentieth century, and I think a lot of people my own age would say the same thing. Maybe even folks who grew up in larger towns or even cities would say the same thing.

Did any of us learn, were any of us taught, about the racial background of our nation just a few decades before we were born? I knew nothing about the African-American  part of Tulsa having been burned until just a few weeks ago, and I still don’t know whether it was just historical oversight or a conscious suppression of a fact a segment of our population did not want anyone to know.

I was about sixty years old before I knew Thomas Jefferson had children with his slave Sally Hemmings. Did that change my view of Jefferson? No. I always had seen him as a man first, a philosopher second, and a politician third. And it just reinforced my opinion that we must always see events, language, opinions and actions in the light of when and where they happened.

We cannot use twenty-first century standards to judge things that were said or done in the 1800’s. The fact that Mark Twain used language when he wrote “Huckleberry Finn” or “Tom Sawyer” that is not acceptable today does not change the messages of the novels.

We cannot change the events of the past, nor should we try to ignore them. It was Winston Churchill who paraphrased an earlier thought when he said, ““Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” I think the same could be said for those who want to hide or change the past.

Not teach events just because we don’t agree with them?  Deny events that obviously happened because they make us look foolish or racist or just plain bad? We can no more  change history than we can stop the sun from rising, and to refuse to teach it because we don’t agree with it denies another generation  the full story of our country and condemns them to make the same mistakes that were made then.

It comes down to this: we need to look honestly at everything that happened, teach about events even if they are unpleasant, and use that knowledge to keep from repeating the same mistakes.