… how a bloody face spoiled everything …

The memories of my first job at 10 are still very real for me – it was a special time in my life. I had a some independence along with a little spending money – a new ball glove – friends. Life was good.

Those wonderful memories became permanently damaged by one bad choice. Yes, Choices Do Matter – and some matter for a long time.

At the A&W Root Beer stand, where I worked in Little Rock, the owner added a screened-in room to sell watermelon.

The new screen room was a simple space with a dirt floor, wooden picnic tables and a large drink cooler with 50 pound blocks of ice floating in the water to cool the melons – yellow lights hung from a string of wire across the ceiling. This ambiance was perfect for a small southern town in the 1950’s.

A family could pick out a cold melon, pay for it, then crack it open and dig in. There was salt on the tables – forks and napkins were off to the side.

first-fight-2Most customers came in the family car. The stand had about eight car hop girls who took orders and delivered the food on a tray that they hung on the car door – you stayed in your car to eat. The girls made the same 20 cents an hour that I did, but they got tips.

Webber’s could now offer watermelon in the summer along with root beer in a frosted mug, soft serve ice cream and coney dogs – you just can’t beat that for a family outing on a warm summer evening.

My summers were great back then – it was my second home – everyone knew my name – I loved it.

Every memory is right out of an old black and white movie of a young boy in a small town in the 1950’s. I was Opie (Ron Howard) on The Andy Griffith Show in Mayberry.

But one bad choice would tarnish those memories forever.

Another boy from our baseball team joined us that summer. Ray was new at the stand – I tried to show him the ropes, but he had trouble catching on and argued about his assigned jobs. We went back and forth for a few days – the tension mounted.

He shoved me first, or maybe I shoved him.

Fists flew and the next thing I knew I had him down in the parking lot. I pounded his face with my fist – his lip split open – soon his face was covered with blood. I stopped. I was scared – and I was scarred.

Ray went home and the car-hop girls took me inside, cleaned me up and told me I was a hero and a warrior, or something like that. It felt like a big deal.

But do you know what? I always wanted to see Ray again and make sure he was okay. I never did; I guess he just quit coming around. I wish I could have found him to apologize. Better yet, I wish it never happen.

Ray missed the last two games of our season. He just vanished from our little world.

I wish I could say I was defending my Mother’s honor something equally heroic but I can’t – it was just two boys fighting.

Why do fights happen between boys… and men? Ego? Pride? Whatever, fights are never as important as they seem at the time.

Just because you can win is not a reason to fight. Make sure you know the reason. And, for gosh sake, don’t do it to impress the girls.

To this day, all of my great old movie scenes at the root-beer stand crash in the end with the image of Ray’s face – my black and white movie changes to color showing his bloody red face – sad.

My choice to get a job so I could buy a ball glove was good and showed initiative for a 10 year old – doing it when my mother was away. It meant I understood it was better to ask for forgiveness than approval. My choice to fight with Ray was bad, period. There is always a better solution.

Walking to and from work was a good choice – accepting a ride from a stranger was bad and could have ended poorly. However, that ride did teach me another side to the stories I had been hearing from my friends about the people we called Negros.

As I look back on all of this 60+ years later, the choice that mattered the most was not made by me. It was made by the woman who gave me the ride. She taught me a lesson that changed my perspective for the rest of my life – and that choice has been passed on to family and friends down thru the years.

The ripple effect of her bold choice continues to pay dividends today.

What choice did you make as a child that you regret?
Did it change the direction of your life?

What kindness was extended to you?
Did it change your life?

As always, the conversation starts here.