As we grow from toddlers, through adolescence and into adulthood we learn many lessons and our character is formed. I’m no childhood development expert but it seems to me that often people who we barely know, just acquaintances, can teach us lessons that stay with us for a lifetime. Sometimes it is a simple phrase that seems to be “burned into our brain” such that we never forget it; that’s why I use the term “Soul Tasers” to describe these brief but unforgettable moments. I’ll illustrate with a few examples from my own life.
When I was about nineteen my girlfriend Chari and I decided to attend the Sydney, Iowa rodeo, which was a big deal in southwestern Iowa. To keep things in prospective, in those days $17 to $25 was a good day’s wages for a union worker. As we entered the fairgrounds I purchased two tickets to the rodeo, which was going to be held later in the evening. The tickets cost me about $4 each. Then Chari and I headed to the midway, where all kinds of con artists were trying to get people to play their games. One of these guys saw a sucker coming and within ten minutes I lost a whopping $18 and walked away with nothing. Chari and I didn’t have a dime in our pockets, but we watched the rodeo and at least had enough gas in the tank to get home.
About a week later as I was working on the Missouri Pacific railroad tracks in North Omaha I came across a fellow employee who oiled car bearings. I told the old man about my midway fiasco. I can still see him in his greasy overalls listening to my story, hump-backed from years of stooping down to put oil into journal boxes. When I finished he looked up at me and in a friendly, kind voice said, “Son, you can never beat a man at his own game.” I don’t remember the man’s name but I can still see his image in the fading twilight of a summer night over 40 years ago. Furthermore, I never forgot those words and have been able to apply them several times in my life. That’s the thing about soul tasers; they can come from anyone at any time, not just from relatives or friends.
Some of my favorite soul tasers:
Dr. Frank Orazem, on entering my classroom at Kansas State University and seeing that I had not erased the blackboard: “Mr. Salyards, I consider an un-erased blackboard as revolting as an un-flushed toilet.” Since that day I have never left a room without erasing everything on the blackboard.
Winona Realtor Mike Rivers, after showing Deb and I several houses when we first moved to Winona: “The problem with you guys is that you have a champaign taste and a beer pocketbook.” Mike was absolutely right. We bought a small duplex and started working on the “beer pocketbook” side of the equation.
Hazel Salyards: After I told her that the most beautiful cheerleader at Westside High would never go out with a “nobody” like me, my Mother said: “Call her up. If you don’t make the call right now, you’re a chicken.” Hands trembling and voice cracking, I called her up. A week later I took her to the Criss-Crosser dance at Omaha’s Peony Park.
I would be curious to learn about some of your “soul taser” moments. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org