At age 19, a student at Univ. of N.C., I saw a sign on the student center bulletin board that said: “Summer job: Students who like to travel, can talk to people and want to earn 2500.00.” I thought, “that’s me” and went to a meeting where a baby faced college boy convinced me that learning to sell was a skill no one should be without. He spoke for one hour before mentioning these important sales skills would be learned relocating to a new town, going door to door, and selling bible reference books, for P.S. 75 hours a week. I defied my pleading parents, and completed the first summer with more doors slammed in my face than that bible had verses…but did make close to 1500.00- a nice sum in the 70’s for a summer job. In the fall my sales manager persuaded me to leave N.C., relocate to his territory of Athens, Ohio, find a place to live, hire an answering service, put flyers around, and recruit a team of (unsuspecting) students by convincing them for at least an hour how important the art of selling is before dropping the d (door to door) word and the b (bible reference books) word on them.
The moral of this story before the heart of the story is… confidence, suggestibility, and someone believing in you can produce very interesting outcomes! I believe confidence is about the most important character trait we can develop in children. If you think you can, there is nothing that will stop you from at least trying. As an adult, some people may view your confidence as “pie in the sky” but I say some bakers can bake in ovens and some bakers can bake in the sky and with confidence you can bake up, imagine, and take concrete steps to make that pie in the sky happen.
The heart of this story I am always reminded about when I think of dandelions. My friend posted a lovely dandelion photo last week and it led me down the trail of this post.
Arriving in Athens, Ohio that fall, still 19 years old, I had to find a place to live. Selling books for five summers (yep, I was a glutton for punishment) and being thrown into a town where I had to find a place to live for the summers created this sense of comfort that anywhere can come to feel like home if you have a place to lay your head at the end of the day.
Somehow I heard that the Athens Mental Health and Mental Retardation Center- (“the Center”) a residential institution for varying degrees of mental impairment- had an intern program which provided free room and board in return for your services, so I applied and was accepted. My obligations were to play piano two hours a day for the residents and share one meal in the main cafeteria. There was quite a mix of humanity in the day of segregating mental illness and disability from the general population. There were young men and women only 18 years old to men and women who had been institutionalized there for a 50-60 year span. Billy Milligan (google him) was a resident there and so were his documented 20 + personalities. We were instructed to stay clear of him, but one of his personalities was an incredible artist whose work was displayed in the residence halls. There were two inseparable friends, one short down syndrome man who always wore his 3 string busted guitar and his best friend who was a gawking 6-5 tough looking guy who was very simple and would cry easily. There were women tied down to chairs when I came in at night who were either screaming or having conversations with the air.
Dandelions. The center was built atop a hill and that spring it was covered in dandelions. I recall being struck by the metaphor of dandelions when I was summoned to the director’s office for holding the hand of a young man (18-20ish). This kid was so tormented by OCD that every day in the cafeteria it took him about 10 minutes to decide which side of the table to sit and set his lunch tray. It was torturous to watch. I began making the decision for him before he could slip into the 10-minute ordeal. Then I began to take walks with him on the hill, in those dandelions- and he was just normal. And we held hands because we just did and it was just comfortable for him and that’s all. He lost his mental illness among those dandelions and was just a nice kid, without the label. The director ended this and forbade me from walking with him anymore. The director misunderstood what was happening, but his job was to maintain order. When I see dandelions I am reminded of weeds and seeds- dandelions may be viewed as weeds, but they have their own magic- they spread life with their seeds, they let you wish upon them, and they give the flat ground this regal dimension of straight stems attached to these perfectly translucent circles. Hail to the dandelions.
How many words can you and your children make out of the word dandelions using the letters in any order?