Or, An Example of Learning Good Judgment from Bad Judgment
In 1957, my father was appointed postmaster of Lanexa, Virginia, the post office that served the farm. Up until this time, my father had worked the farm, including a modest, but profitable hog business. Typically, we had 25 to 30 hogs in various age groups preparing for market. While the hog business was not a full time effort, it did provide income. The hogs required daily feeding and frequently there was a sow giving birth that required attention.
The postmaster job was an eight-to-five job. I had already been helping with the hogs, and when he took the job, it became my daily chore after school and on weekends to feed the hogs and look after what ever needed to be done. I also had to keep my father informed as to the amount of feed on hand so that he could buy more when needed.
My father would negotiate the best prices he could on shelled corn or corn-on-the-cob. I fed the amount of food based on the number of animals and their sizes.
The hog lot was about a mile from the house. In good weather I walked or road my bicycle the mile, but I also had the use of an old car or the tractor to drive the distance.
When a sow was delivering piglets. I would “assist” with the deliveries, collect the piglets in a basket, wipe them down with a burlap bag, and make sure they were safe until the delivery process was complete. Then I would make sure each piglet was healthy and then put them in position to begin nursing. Sometimes this process would extend late into the evening.
One of my jobs was to see to the health of young piglets.
We routinely fed the hogs corn. The corn was stored in a corn crib. The bottoms of the storage area walls had wire that allowed air to circulate through the corn to prevent dampness from spoiling the corn. Sometimes we had shelled corn, other times we had field corn on the cob. I think the pigs enjoyed getting the corn off the cobs more than loose corn.
The corn crib was a two section barn. There was a raised floor, about even with a truck bed that was the corn storage area. Attached to the side of the building was a ground-level shed for the storage of tools, equipment, and later for farrowing crates where we placed sows preparing to deliver.
The barn was not tight and the corn attracted squirrels. When I would go in the crib, a dozen or more squirrels would scurry across the overhead beams and out the doors, windows and other holes in the walls. Frequently I carried a rifle or shotgun and would end up bringing home three or four corn-fattened squirrels for dinner.
In the fall, I frequently brought several squirrels home for dinner.
The shed was clearly an older building, gray and weathered, but sturdy. The black shingled roof had aged and was beginning to leak. I mentioned this to my father one evening after a day of rain and roof leaks had soaked an area of corn. I had shoveled the wet corn into a protected corner to dry.
My father said he would get the roof fixed. Within two weeks, he had hired a couple of local workers to put the roof on the crib. The next afternoon, I could see the brand new, bright green roofing. It made the building really look good.
Several weeks later, when I arrived, I propped my 12-gauge shotgun against the door frame inside the crib. I climbed in the door and began to shovel corn into buckets to feed the animals. There were several squirrels overhead. They had become used to me and did not immediately run. Angered, I reached for my shotgun and took aim at one sitting on the cross beam above me and, clearly not thinking, pulled the trigger. The squirrel jumped just in time so that the shot missed it, but that is not what I noticed. What I saw was a two-inch diameter beam of light coming through the hole in the new roof.
Now, I knew I was in trouble. And I knew I had to fix the hole in the roof. In the storage area of the shed were some black roofing shingles and small, soup-can sized cans of tar for roof patching. I could find no green roofing that would match the new roof.
I took a square piece of black shingle, some tar, a handful of roofing nails, and a hammer, and using a rickety wooden ladder, climbed up on the roof. I spread a liberal amount of tar on the shingle to make a water-tight patch, and nailed it down with the roofing nails. It was a good patch that would keep rain out—of that I was confident.
Somehow, that evening, I “forgot” to mention the shotgun-hole-patch event. During the week, my father did not regularly go down to the hog lot unless there was a reason like new pigs. So it was several days until the weekend. I had essentially (conveniently) forgotten about the patch.
We had parked at the lower house, about 200 yards from the hog lot. After working at the house, my father said he was going to check on the pigs and feed them for the day. So I tagged along. About half way along the road to the hog lot, my father stopped and asked, more rhetorically than specifically expecting an answer from me, “What is that on the roof?”
He continued to walk, looking at the roof. “That looks like some kind of patch.”
It was then that I broke down and confessed my ill-advised shot at the squirrel and what I had done. It must have been clear to him that I was just a little scared of what his response might be.
“Let me get this straight,” he started. “You shot at a squirrel INSIDE the corn crib?” The emphasis was clear.
He stopped, stared at me, and then just shook his head. When we got to the crib, he looked up inside where he could see the hole in the wood, some tar around the edges of the hole, and the underside of the black patch. The he started to laugh. “I can’t believe you actually tried to shoot a squirrel INSIDE the shed!”
I think I would have been happier if he had been really angry. That was a day that I learned what good judgment is. Good judgment is what you learn based on experience from bad judgment!
It was never mentioned again, but that patch was still firmly in place when I went off to college some years later.