(Post by Andrea Grace Burn of East Yorkshire – February 2022 )
My dad always told me that we make our own luck in life by keeping an open mind and a positive attitude. His notion that people could roughly be divided into ‘radiators’ and ‘drains’ still makes me laugh. There are people who always see the best in everything and everyone, and those who see the worst. Dad would then remind me that these ‘drains’ were in fact sad, unfortunate souls who had perhaps never received a kind word or a hug as a child, or never witnessed a beautiful rainbow. Their lot was to be pitied, not vilified.
“Kid, you’re like your old man…,” I knew where this was going…”you see the glass half-full, not half-empty.” He would tell me that often. I used to think Dad was funny but as I get older, I realise he had a point.
Take the person walking their dog with their eyes downcast (no – not looking for dog mess), hunched shoulders and never a cheery ‘hello’ for their fellow human beings. I had such an encounter recently as I was walking my pooch up the steps from the beach and met a gentleman walking his dog down the steps. He grunted at me, which I presumed meant ‘move over’.
I quipped, “shall we dance?” with a light laugh, only to be met with another grunt. No eye contact. Refusing to step to one side so that we could pass each other, I wanted to say, “I’ll move then, shall I?” but remembering my dad’s words, I acquiesced politely and went back down the steps to wait; allowing the chap and his dog to continue to the beach. Without as much as a by-your-leave, he swept past me. I could hear Dad saying, “Now Andrea, remember: this poor guy may have received some bad news, or woken up on the wrong side of bed. He can’t help it.”
Some people have the ability to put on a smile whatever the weather, while some wear their heart on their sleeve – or their big chip on their shoulder.
I believe it is true to say that the British, on the whole, are a self-deprecating bunch; apologising for everything from the weather to queueing in a shop.
“Sorry about the rain lass; maybe it’ll fair up by dinner, ”as if the weather is their fault. “Ooh, sorry but I was in the queue first.”
Americans, on the whole, take life in their stride and meet it head on; not apologising for it.
“Say son, you’ll need your umbrella today; we’re going to get that much needed rain, yes-siree, Bob.” Or, “Excuse me Ma’am, the line for the check-out starts back there.
”More direct but always polite.
My husband’s grandmother – a true Yorkshire woman – always looked down as she was walking; not to be downcast but rather in the hope of finding something useful. When she passed away and the family were clearing her house, they found dozens and dozens of odd, ladies’ leather gloves, which she had collected over her lifetime in the hope of finding a matching pair. (She never did). Ever optimistic: one of life’s ‘radiators’.
When it came to winning and losing, my Dad was equally sage:
“Kid – life is full of setbacks, but it’s how ya deal with them that counts. Keep your eye on the horizon, look trouble straight in the eye, learn from your mistakes and move on. No point cryin’ over spilt milk.” A can-do attitude.
When I was about fourteen or so, I was asked by my music teacher, Mr. Carter, to play a piano solo in an ‘Evening of Music’ at school. I had been taking piano lessons for a couple of years but still couldn’t sight-read musical notation. Having a ‘good ear’ like my dad, who was a very fine musician and pianist, I had learnt the piece of classical music by heart with a lot of practice.
The ‘Evening of Music’ arrived in due course and there, in the school hall in the front row, sat my dad – my proud dad – alongside Mr Carter, the head teacher and chair of governors. Behind them sat rows of parents and students. My name was announced, I took my seat at the piano and waited for the rustle of programmes to cease. The lights dimmed and a spotlight hit the stage. Someone coughed at the back of the hall before the final hush.
I started the piece well, confident that I would perform Chopin’s Nocturne in E Flat Major like a virtuoso. I got about half-way through the music and realised – to my horror – that I had forgotten what comes next. I looked at the sheet music: the music notes were a jumble of crotchets and quavers and my hands began to sweat. I felt sick. As I tried again to pick-up where I had left off, my hands slid across the keys and – as if in an out-of-body experience – I heard myself playing random notes. Sweat trickled down my neck and prickly heat erupted at my chest. The spotlight seemed to shine on my ineptitude. I could feel Dad and the school dignitaries boring a hole in the back of my head.
That was it! Standing to face the stunned audience, I took a bow and screwed the sheet music up into a tight ball.
“I’m sorry folks – I can’t do this any more.”
With that, I held my head up high and flounced off the stage, through the doors of the school hall and out into the foyer, where I collapsed into tears. Dad followed, hot on my heels. He put his arm around my shoulders and hugged me warmly.
“Honey, I’m proud of you. If you’re going to fail – really fail.” I suddenly didn’t feel like a failure any more.
Dad shook hands with Mr. Carter, the head teacher and chair of governors during the interval in his direct, American way.
“My girl’s got some gumption! Boy, I tell ya – she really took the bull by the horns back in there, didn’t she!”
He was met with bemused looks.
“Yes, by gosh– she just walked right off the stage! That takes guts.”
I have never forgotten my proud dad that evening, nor the lesson he taught me. It’s how you deal with life’s setbacks that counts. My father had grown up in the 1920s and ’30s in America during the Great Depression and served his country in WW2 with the US Navy. He knew about life’s hard knocks and about hard work but most of all he knew about resilience, perseverance and human nature.
After a long, tiring day at school, where Dad endeavoured to share his passion for History with his pupils, he would often settle back in his rocking chair by the fire and play his favourite Frank Sinatra record, That’s Life. I can see him there now with his pipe and slippers and hear him singing along to ‘Old Blue Eyes’.
When the going gets tough, I still listen to it. The message in the lyrics has, and continues, to inspire me and serve me well.
My dad was a wonderful father and teacher. He taught me well.
( Copyright: Andrea Burn – 21st February 2022)