News From The Woods - December, 2006


By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published December 4, 2006

"A Letter To Robert"

Dear Son,

2006.....And another year slips by……… silently and even more rapidly than last year. The purpose of these letters through the years is to jar your memory about the times when you were so young and growing up. I barely remember the things that were landmark events in my pre-teen life. I am more fortunate than most, I guess. My mom and dad took lots of still pictures and even 8mm home movies back in the 50's, so I can relive some of my childhood times vicariously through those images. I have a very distant memory as a nine-year-old of falling against the latch on the pump house door. I just missed my eye and the gash was deep enough that it required stitches. I can still recall that it actually happened, but cannot conjure up how I felt, what I went through, and how badly it hurt (thank goodness). However, my school picture from that year shows me with a very large bandage over my left eye. The picture brings it all back to me. In a nutshell, that's what I have been trying to do for you these past years…. Recounting some of the things that happened to you during that year, punctuated with a liberal dose of stills to reinforce those childhood memories so that you will always have them long after I am gone.

But before I get stared with that this year, I'd like to take a moment to give you some advice, as I believe you are old enough now to recall things a bit better than when you were a small child. I want to remind you to TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. Take care of your health and mental well being. I have always been as healthy as a horse all my life. Not much ever got me down, aside from the occasional accident, like driving a jeep off a cliff or getting shot, but colds and flu and minor accidents never deterred me from living my life aside from perhaps a day or two to recover. However, as I got older I realized that it takes the body longer to recover and I am becoming more susceptible to cold and flu germs and the like. Now that I am sixty this year it is all coming home to me and I want to pass on a few things to you now.

First, be careful of the things that you decide to do in your life. Ask the guy who was the football star in high school how he feels now that he is an older adult. Yes, I bounced back from my jeep mishap a lot faster than the doctors figured, and none of the injuries sustained by that accident ever really haunted me until after I turned 50. Yes, I was EXTREMELY lucky on that shooting incident because the bullet missed a major artery and I would have never made it to the emergency room (alive) otherwise. My recovery time from that accident was only 7 weeks in the hospital. That's not bad considering I had been wounded in two places by the same bullet (hand and hip). The doctors marveled at my recuperative powers, and I was back to my old ways just scant months later. I hardly dropped a beat. However, I still had to pay a price. No more piano lessons or finger picking the guitar! And now, in my downhill curve of life, I am having some discomfort in my right hip during extreme changes of weather, and I can forget about running. I will always regret that because I have never been able to do like other dads and just go outside and run and play with you. You've been very good about not showing your disappointment. Nevertheless I feel like I've missed some important quality time with you. Instead I have stressed indoor activities that challenge your mind. I'd much rather you had brains than brawn anyway, but I don't think I have much to worry about. It looks like you inherited your dad's physical characteristics as well. You are about the most solidly-built child in your class. You will no doubt grow up to be a muscular young man and will hopefully have a brain to match. It's all up to you.

I am glad you enjoyed being a part of the swim team this past year. All the analysis on the subject will tell you that swimming is probably the best overall activity you can partake in. It strengthens the muscular system, the respiratory system, and keeps the bones and joints supple and limber. It is the most strenuous activity over all parts of the body you can do. When I was in high school I excelled in swim team because I grew up here on the lake and spent most of my play time in the water, swimming, SCUBA diving, and water skiing. My lung capacity was larger than many of my classmates at the time, simply because I spent much of my youth swimming all day long. To be sure, back then there really wasn't much else to do. We only had one TV station and there were no video games or any other forms of entertainment here in the Ozarks in those days, so a daily dose of lake was standard operating procedure.

Next I want to stress dental hygiene. Remember that first impressions are lasting ones. I can't tell you how important taking care of your teeth is. I know we talk about it several times a week, but I want to put it into print so you will mull it over as you read these letters. It's just too easy to get in a hurry in the morning and evening. But if you don't get yourself set into a regimen of daily brushings you will tend to blow it off and blow it off until you're only brushing your teeth once a week, and that's no good. Right now your young teeth are very healthy and you are growing at an accelerated rate. After your teens you will start to slow down a bit but by then you will have already been set in your ways. Almost all the things you learn or do or don't do right now will affect you for the rest of your life. They call these the "formative years" for a reason. Almost all of your mental attitude and the way you think about things are being recorded into your DNA during these very times.

Someone once said to me that life is nothing more than a series of "yes" or "no's". Think about it. From the most innocent decision ("Should I eat that cookie?") to the most life changing decision ("Should I marry this girl?") is nothing more than you making a "yes" or "no" decision. Sometimes impulse thinking ("Should I bet a five dollar chip on this full house?") will not affect your life overall. Sometimes ("Should I shoplift this pack of gum?") it will. Sometimes the simplest and seemingly most innocent decisions turn out to be much more important than you first reasoned. Life is full of forks in the road. Don't rush into anything. Use your brain to reason out the possibilities. Trust your brain. Trust your capacity to balance the pro's and cons of any decision. Soon, you will learn which decisions might be more important to ponder. In the end, life IS nothing more than a yes or a no.

The hardest thing about the decision-making process is when to trust your heart and when to trust your mind. As a rule I discovered that when it came to matters of the heart I really needed my mind to help me weigh all the possibilities and consequences. Otherwise I might just rush on and do something on impulse without thinking. That can really get you into trouble - especially with the opposite sex. Now there's a word you will start to hear about more and more. Sex. Son, I don't have any set advice on that. I only hope and pray that I will discover some means to convey some worthy advice to you on that subject when it's time. And it's not time yet, so we'll let this one lay there for another year. To be honest I don't know if I've even figured that one out yet! I just thank my lucky stars that I met your mother. I think after three marriages the Lord maybe figured I was due some relief.

As I sit here thinking about all this, it occurs to me the one area that I probably don't have to "preach" on is about manners. You have always been the best-behaved child in any room full of kids. Maybe it's because we've always treated you as a "little adult". You always display a courteous and respectful manner around adults. You never interrupt an adult conversation or demand attention in a negative manner. You use "Sir" or "Ma'am" whenever you are in the company of adults or in someone else's house as a guest. We are extremely proud of you and believe me, this one trait will get you far in the world. When you treat people with respect (especially your elders) they will respect you in return. I was fortunate enough to get an education in a private school where manners and respect were stressed as much as the school curriculum. Public schools cannot afford this luxury, and with all the political correctness going on these days it will probably only get worse. Therefore, it is with great pride that I tell you that you are doing great in the manners department, son. Keep it up as you grow into your teen years. It will only strengthen your character and make you more popular with others.

At this point I want to take a moment to praise you on the way you have been learning how to control your temper and mood swings. As you become a teenager these moods will be more intense, so the sooner you come to grips with your feelings the better equipped you will be when in troubled waters. It's a fact of life that when one becomes a teenager, adults become brain dead. Ask any teenager. And I'm not THAT old that I can't remember how I acted towards my mom and dad sometimes. I recall that I knew SO MUCH MORE than they did. It wasn't until I was in my thirties that I even realized how patient my parents were with me during those times. Of course, now I have raised several children so I know what it's like on this side of the argument! I think teenagers are made up mostly of "emotions running wild" than anything else. The kids that have learned how to at least keep their emotions in check (use their brain) are the ones that go on in life and reach some of their goals faster than the ones who bounce around like a steel ball in a pinball game. I realize now I was the steel ball type. It took me FOREVER to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, and back then I sure wouldn't have made any bets on what I am doing today. I HAVE been lucky in that respect. On the other hand, I worked very hard to reach the goals I had set for myself back in my 30's. If you reach the point where YOU KNOW what you want to do - go for it! Don't get sidetracked.

Lastly, I want to give you this important piece of advice: BABY STEPS. Remember the movie "What About Bob?". BABY STEPS. Life is made up of baby steps. When you are out alone in the cruel world, trying to make a living for yourself, it sometimes seems like you are not making any headway. The bills keep coming in and it sometimes seems like all you are doing is paying out but not taking anything in. Sometimes it IS that way, but if you just keep on keeping on, eventually you will knock down that car payment and pay it off, or find that you have a few dollars in the bank after all the bills are paid. The one thing that your mother has taught me is that if you keep on paying your way, day after day, week after week, no matter how large the debt is, you can whittle it down. It just takes time. And time is least understood by the young, so that makes it doubly hard to grasp. In a moment of weakness it is SO easy to just take that little savings and blow it on something you think you need at the moment, but all that will do is give you instant gratification. Tomorrow the thing you splurged on is old hat and you're back to square one. You are starting over.

Sometimes "the easy way out" isn't. I will tell you of the time, years ago, when I was just beginning my recording studio business and times were bleak. I got more and more behind in my bills and payments and financial responsibilities. It seemed like there was no way out. I discussed my situation with my attorney and he strongly suggested filing for bankruptcy. It seemed the only way out. I thought about it for almost a week (meanwhile the phone continued to ring from my creditors) but I could not make myself justify that route. To me, bankruptcy seemed more like giving up than bailing out. Maybe I was too proud to accept the "easy way out". In any event, I chose not to file bankruptcy. I called every single person I owed money to and explained the situation to them. And you know what? WITHOUT A SINGLE EXCEPTION, EVERY CREDITOR WAITED FOR THEIR MONEY. It was then that I realized that people don't necessarily want you to lose. They just want to be told the truth. I worked doubly hard saving money during that time and it took us almost a full year to pull the business out of that hole, but we did it.

Baby steps.

Be honest with people son, and always take pride in what you do. Never sell yourself short and never admit defeat. It's okay to be proud of what and who you are as long as others don't mistake your pride for arrogance. You can do that by being humble and never talking bad about anyone. I am not saying trust everyone. Trust your instincts. If something doesn't "feel right" it probably isn't. Whatever you choose to do in life, do it with passion. Find what you WANT to do and no matter how hard you have to work at it, it won't seem like work because it will be what YOU WANT TO DO. THAT is my secret of life that I give to you. Life is a list of priorities, yes and no decisions, and baby steps. And always remember, God first… then family….then friends…..then career.

We love you,
Mom & Dad

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