Memory of the Day: Bad News Doesn’t Improve with Age. Back in the day, my brother Wayne and I were pretty much unsupervised for most of the day when we weren’t in school. Things were different in the 1950s and early 1960s. We knew what expectations were and our greatest fear wasn’t punishment, but being a disappointment. We tried hard to avoid that. But, being young, and being boys, we sometimes crossed the line with our behavior. Perhaps I’ll find time to relate some other instances of our delinquency, but I was reminded of this story over the past couple of days. There is a quote that I am pretty sure cannot be attributed to a specific source, but I have heard Colin Powell say it and so I give him credit. In the back of his book, “An American Journey” Colin Powell has a list of “Powell’s Rules.” One of them is this, “Bad news doesn’t improve with age.” I cannot tell you how much I suffered by not coming clean early when I had committed a transgression as a young lad. I would lay awake at night worrying about the disappointment I would be to my parents or if there would be a punishment meted out. Now to be fair, this seems to be a problem with a lot of adults as well. If President Nixon had just come clean and admitted to the American People about the whole of the Watergate incident,and taken appropriate actions, it would have all gone away. It is the cover up that gets you in the end.
OK, so here is the story. When I was eleven, we moved into our house on Briggs and North Street in Oak Grove. I didn’t know the history of the house at the time, but would come to appreciate it later in life. The house had been constructed on that corner lot in 1917 by an Iowa doctor that had moved to Oak Grove and started a practice. The home was a Sears Roebuck Craftsman style home. The kit was brought to Oak Grove by train along with a crew to assemble it. The pieces were moved to the site and the house was built.
Fast Forward to 1958 and we were the new owners of this home. There were a lot of original fixtures in the home that could have been genuine antiques, but again, to us they were just lights that came on when we flipped the switch or the chair rail, or the crown molding. Centrally located in the living room was a crystal chandelier. I remember it being very pretty and expensive looking. I don’t know if that fixture was original to the house or not, probably not, but it had been there for a long time. As I said I was about eleven when we moved in and the tragedy didn’t happen until a few years later. Dad was with a patient and Mom was at work. Not sure where little sister Kellye Sue was, but she was a toddler then. I don’t think anyone was around to stop Wayne and I from our game, but if there was, we didn’t know it. We had begun a little brotherly sword play with sticks. We would slash, parry, block and thrust. We were pretty good, if I do say so. Well on one particular slash and parry, one or both swords flew upward while we were directly under that chandelier. It smashed to pieces. After the initial shock wore off we knew we were going to be in trouble for this. We got the glass cleaned up and surveyed the situation. No way this would go unnoticed. Being the older brother, I felt it my responsibility to break the news. I called mom at work at the Clerk’s Office and after an audible gulp told her we had smashed her gorgeous chandelier. I don’t remember her reaction, but it was over the phone so I guess it doesn’t matter here. I just knew that there was no way I was going to surprise her with the chandelier gone. Well, mom usually got home a few minutes after 5:00, but that night we saw her about 7:00. I imagine she went through a pack of Winstons driving around and calming down. By the time she got home she was pretty much over her “Mad.” We suffered a silent treatment for a few days, but no other punishment came our way. As I said, about the worst punishment for us was fear of disappointing Mom and Dad and we were suffering from that.
The chandelier was replaced about a month later with a much less expensive and more plain light fixture. That fixture was a reminder of our behavior for a while, but eventually, we were again playing with a ball in the living room. Sadly, the ball got away from one of us I choose not to recall which one, and flew into the new fixture, which, regrettably, smashed to the floor. We cleaned up the broken glass and decided quickly that giving Mom a heads up at work was the right choice before and being students of life we learned that lesson. I called Mom at work and gave her the bad news. Mom was late getting home again and we suffered silently again.
This time the fixture wasn’t replaced until I left for college about 3 years later. When anyone would ask about the bare ligh bulb in our living room, Mom and Dad would just explain that their two brain dead sons were incapable of not smashing it so it would stay bare until one of us left.
I learned many lessons from all of that, Too bad I didn’t learn the “no horse play in the living room” lesson until after the second fixture had been destroyed.