Come Hell or High Water

Mar 15th, 2013 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

I feel I’ve been a bit preachy lately. I see something that bugs me, or I hear about something being done poorly and I stretch back into my past and pull out an example that illustrates how things should be done. And I embellish and clean up the memory — which has already morphed into something idyllic in the years that have passed since it really happened — to make it seem like I have cornered the market on business wisdom.

No, I haven’t cornered the market. In fact, I’m in that long line outside of the market, and it’s getting dark outside, and I’m wondering if they are going to stay open past closing time so I can get in and get what I need before going home. I’ve started to run out of real-life escapades from my towing life to write about, and rather than running “Best of Nick,” I’ve gone into the Business Philosophy & Strategy field.

I value humor. If you’ve read a lot of my newsletters and blog entries you know this. If you’ve read a lot of my newsletters and blog entries and you don’t know this, that is very disconcerting to me. Once in a while I branch out of the towing part of my life to revive the humor that is everywhere in life, and I think I’m going to have to return to that periodically to augment my material. File this one under: Crazy Stuff I Have Done.

My older brother is 9 ½ years older than me. He was an excellent baseball player. When he was in his mid-teens my dad coached his team and we were always at the games. I have two more brothers, one a year behind me, the other two years behind me (what were my parents thinking.) So we would be at the ballpark, running around unsupervised and out-of-control, occasionally watching a game or a practice, the kind of thing that was very normal in the 70s. I think I was almost seven when this happened, which would have made us (me and my younger brothers) six, five, and four. There was a game that afternoon and my dad told us we couldn’t go. I think it was when my mom worked swing shift and he just couldn’t bring the three of us to the game and be able to coach 12 teenagers. I was very upset. I was pissed. I wanted to go to the game. He left us with my older sister, who was 17, I think, at the time. She gave us popsicles and sent us outside to play.

As I sat there in the yard with the popsicle, I decided that I was going to the game. That was a mistake, but the bigger mistake was that I told my younger brothers. This was probably one of the earliest examples they had for why it was not a good idea to look to me as a role model. The ballpark was about two miles away. I knew how to get there because it was right off the road we lived on. You just had to go through the small town we lived in, from the west side of town to the east. I started walking.

I had no idea what my dad would do when I got there. I figured I’d hide out, watch the game, and then run home as soon as it was over. It was a country road by our house, so there were no sidewalks and the traffic coming from town was leaving a 35 mph zone and going into a whatever-you-want mph zone. There was a trail alongside a wheat field that kept you at least four feet from asphalt. I got about a football field’s length from home and noticed my younger brothers were following me. I didn’t stop them.

We got to the ballpark, and it was then that I remembered a very crucial piece of information: it was an away game. My brother’s team was not there. The uniforms of the two teams on the field were not recognizable. The game was in another city and I remembered the name, and I knew what their field looked like, but I didn’t know how to get there (thank goodness — it was about 15 miles away.)

My brothers and I were crestfallen. I had that feeling, a pit in your stomach. Not fear of being far away from home, of being responsible for the well-being of my younger brothers. More like anguish over all of the effort of walking two miles in 90-degree heat for nothing. And my youngest brother was barefoot.

I remember my brother Curt asking, “What do we do now?” All I could think of was hitching a ride home. I showed them how to hold out your thumb and we stood by the road and thumbed a ride. A family in a station wagon stopped, recognized us and gave us a ride home.

The rest of the story is rather dark — it was the only time my dad ever hit me with a belt (they must have lost the game). Mercifully, I don’t think he spanked my brothers. I don’t know what happened to my sister, however. Probably something severe.

Imagine this happening now, with no one being hurt except the kid with the crazy idea having a sore butt. Imagine three kids, ages four, five and six, thumbing a ride and getting home safely. You can’t even transport that many kids in a station wagon now — there were already three or four kids in there — not enough seat belts.

The lesson I like to take from the story is taking off after something you want without giving it too much thought, without letting the unknown derail you. I was going to that game come hell or high water. I certainly caught hell — it was too hot for high water to be in play. But you know what? I think I got to go to all of the games after that. I loved baseball (still do). I loved my family (still do). My dad has since passed on. I have to think, in the back of his mind, he was pleased that I had the resolve to go after what I wanted. He couldn’t really articulate that to me in that way, because you have to protect your kids from doing things that put them at risk.

So I guess I can’t avoid it — here we are at another life lesson: Go after what you want, come hell or high water. And if you get off-track, thumb a ride back home.