It was an extra special occasion.  I was looking to plan something special for Mary Lynn’s birthday… 29 years young again!  What do you get for the mother of your children, your wife of 27 years… your best friend.  I arrived at a 2 day “stay-cation” getting a hotel room in downtown Cleveland and spending time being a tourist in our home city. 

We walked down to the Rock Hall and the east 9th Pier, had lunch at the Art Museum and caught an Indians game.  The following morning, we went to the Natural History Museum which is where my trip down memory lane began.  The new additions to the History Museum are well done but it was the older exhibits that took me back to a time long gone by.  Dinosaur skeletons, dioramas, arrowheads and taxidermized creatures of every sort seemed the same as it was when I was a kid visiting with my science class.   I got to thinking about my school aged experiences and how they continue to impact me still today.  My 1st grade teacher, Mrs. Munn, taught me my right, from my left.  Right was windows… left was wall.  Right/windows… got it.  My 2nd grade teacher, Miss Perkins, must have been a bird lover because we learned about a new bird each week, coloring pictures of them as well as studying their activities.  I remember we could purchase books from time to time and I bought a book of bird silhouettes so I could better identify birds in flight.  It was 3rd grade when we went on a field trip to Holden Arboretum and I saw my first Bluebird… still my favorite of all. 

My Grandma Griff lived in an apartment over the greenhouses so I would visit her often.  Whenever I visited I was quickly pulling down her many volumes of National Geographic.  I loved all the pictures of animals and exotic places.  By the time I was 10 years old, she had begun to purchase me my own subscription and I have been reading National Geographic from cover to cover for over 40 years. 

I was a budding entrepreneur even at the youngest of ages.  While I don’t remember, I have been told that I collected grass clippings in cigar boxes and successfully sold them during busy spring days.  Both my sister and I had a regular lemonade stand and were provided with a willing audience of thirsty plant shoppers.  Later, my grandfather would grow a couple of acres of sweet corn for us to sell by the roadside in summer.

One of the many early assignments I was given at the greenhouse was chief petunia plucker.  There once was a large bed of Petunias planted in front of the store and the old-fashioned Petunias required old blooms be removed to promote continued blossoming.  Pinching plants makes your hands sticky so, especially when it was hot, this was a messy and generally unfavorable job… perfect to hand off to an unsuspecting kid.  Needless-to-say, I was not a willing participant! 

It was dinner time and the final day of school before Christmas vacation when I was in the 8th grade.  Across the dinner table my father announced that it was time for me to start working on a regular basis and I was to report the next day at 9:00am or “don’t show up for dinner.”  I unwittingly doubted his resolve but only for one day… I really like food so I only missed 1 dinner before showing up to work at the greenhouse the following day. 

I worked because I had to… there was no love of the job.  I wasn’t even allowed to cash my paychecks… I sent them in the mail right to the bank.  The $1.30 per hour I was making grew my account ever so slowly.  By the age of 14 my father was “pimping me out” to anyone who had a garden that needed weeding.  It was quite a revelation when I realized I had learned a thing or two and that with my knowledge came value.  This, I liked!  The Christmas of my 15th year was yet another moment of significance in my life and it came in the form of a chain saw.  My folks had put an addition on our house with a wood-burning fireplace.  My father’s gift was a chain saw which he had absolutely no intention of using so I was sent out to Grandpa’s farm to cut wood.  In many societies, in differing cultures, there are varying rituals, customs or rites of passage where children pass into adulthood.  Cutting firewood was the endeavor that helped define me as a man shaping my resolve and steadfastness.  I soon began cutting wood to sell and was anxious to drive once I turned 16 so I could collect on the result of my labors.  Working in the woods and selling firewood combined my love of everything outdoor and my entrepreneurial spirit. 

Our lives are like a puzzle of so many pieces shaped by our experiences and resulting actions.  Not everyone we meet or everything we do may become a piece of the puzzle but we never know when or how the pieces may come to be.    

 For myself, I feel very thankful for all of those who positively influenced the person I am today. 

Thank you to my teachers and my family for shaping my passions by sharing yours with me.

Thank you to those of you who find inspiration in the knowledge I have shared providing me the motivation to dig deeper into myself and reveal my thoughts and ideas. 

Thanks most of all, to our community at large which collectively places a considerable value on natural beauty and our environment.  An exceedingly generous and nurturing community that not only takes care of its own but seeks to care for others in need.  This community, our community is genuinely a fantastic place to work, to live and raise a family.  I remain so thankful for everything it has provided me and my family and will forever be in its debt.

Many more pieces of the puzzle remain to be fit into my life story.  I look forward to the experiences and surprises that make each day a gift and hope to learn tomorrow what I didn’t know today.  I urge you to look through what may seem commonplace and discover the extraordinary events surrounding us each and every day. 

Now go outside and have fun in the dirt!