The Hard Way

James Huffaker
7 min readJan 2, 2021

Why is it sometimes the only way a person can learn?

If you have attained any age, let’s just say over 50, you instantly recognized what this title means. Possibly you, yourself, have had to learn something The Hard Way as opposed to .. . Yeah, that’s the problem. As opposed to taking some advise from someone at a time when you were certain you knew better. Or it could be more complicated than that, in my case, I had to learn the hard way about getting married two weeks out of high school at 17.

Not that we had to get married, in that way, but we had to get out of the house, respectively both houses. I know that at least one older person, dad, probably also her dad, a minister, someone at school, told me not to do it. We had to do it all the hard way at that age. Was there something you had to learn on your own, not because help wasn’t close, but because you had to do it yourself?

Over the years, I found that the single decision caused a slippery slope of decisions and events that were all done with similar lack of planning and foreknowledge. We moved away from our support groups, parents and friends, so we could be on our own. At eighteen that was the hard way. Parental and social groups have always provided support that is beyond comparison for quality and interest in the best outcome. It seems to be valued low on the scale by the inexperienced. We lasted a hard year and came back for some help and support. One might have thought we learned our lesson. No it wasn't to be, not yet.

What set the stage for those failures. I analyzed my own experiences at much leisure. When did I start doing things the hard way, why, was there trauma associated with the change? Had influence of friends contributed to the problem or was I just difficult? To really understand how it happened I had to be honest with myself and go way back to some early memories.

Neither of our parents had much of an idea of parenting when we were growing up. In the 50’s and 60’s we were stay out of the way kids. Stay outside and play kids, we expect you to make us proud but you have to do it on your own kind of kids. Mom had to work, I think full time. Dad must have been working full time doing something, but my earliest memories were not of him. I was surprised that one memory was dad coming in the door in a military uniform or maybe just the cap and being greeted by mom and my brother. Somehow my thinking was amiss because I believed at that moment and for some time after that he had just come come from the service. Later I wished that had been true. He had just come home from the VFW bar up the street where he spent much of his free time.

Digging into my memory, I remembered that I had two older cousins and one older friend that took up much of my time. It seems to be peripheral that running around in the late evening with one or more of these older boys, we ran the alleys. We had a friend that I was impressed with that lived with his mom in a run down hotel/apartments. We could sit and look at magazines that had been left there. Look out the windows, it was a second story walk-up on one of the main streets of the day. Listening to the older boys talking the kind of talk boys talk when there is no supervision.

Later in the night we would be picking ball bearings from a machine shop down one alley, throwing rocks at high windows in another building and somehow I got involved setting a telephone pole on fire. Learning very young, the hard way. The police and fire department talked to me and my parents about that last thing. Yes, I was on my way to a hard way education. It seems to be about that same year I broke into my neighbors garage. He was a painter. I would had to have been six. I really enjoyed all the colors of the paint. The feel of it in my hands, clothes and hair was different from the warm mud that I had played in that summer. As it turned out, there was no way possible to disguise what had happened. There was a bit of learning the hard way about other peoples property and boundaries. It started a good lesson for me.

Dad had to watch me some evenings when Mom was busy with the Bingo at the VFW. I would sit on the end of the bar and eat pretzels and watered down coke. Dad would drink, so did mom. I don’t remember clear details of much of that time. My brother would be playing the bowling machine in the Bingo Room. Even today he wishes he still had one of those machines. I was learning about life but was getting the wrong messages.

That summer the older boys would sit me on a go-cart they had built, from a lawnmower engine, exposed chain and only a go, no stop. One of them would pull the cord until it started, jump away and off I would go down the street. I don’t remember getting hurt badly but that I had to wreck to stop. Somehow it came to me that I didn’t have to let them put me on the cart and I wondered off back home.

The city paved our street that summer. Back in the days of hot asphalt. Did I mention that I didn’t have much supervision? I did have a large Tonka dump truck in the back yard. Grabbing it, I ran to the fresh clean black tar street. Pushing the truck into the street was almost uncomfortable from the heat, but worse was the truck got stuck almost instantly. By the time I managed to free the truck there was as much tar on me as the truck. I learned about getting scrubbed raw in an outside tub. The truck never did get cleaned and eventually went away.

Being young there were so many details that slipped my attention until several years later. One of my older cousins dug large tunnels in his back yard. They didn’t have much supervision either. Their dad was a hard working farmer, with acreage just out of town. Their mother wanted to be part of the towns society, maybe she came from that group. I never knew and never thought to ask my female cousin. The tunnels went deep, they found pieces of wood to cover them and then put dirt back on top. The real reason for the tunnels was the boys had taken up smoking, pipes and cigars. hiding out in the tunnels with candles gave them a place to smoke and talk without being around parents.

A recent real life accident brought to my full memory something that I had tried to forget. A call to my older sister confirmed my story and you should hear it also.

Why I was terrified of needles and shots for many years

My sister was being my sitter, everyone else was doing something. I was next door swinging on the swing. It is important to see the yard as I remember it. A beautiful red and white swing set sitting in an un-mowed yard of deep green grass. The sun was shining, middle of the afternoon and a fine day to see how high you could swing.

Then I jumped, trying to get so far to feel like I was flying. Landing in the deep grass, something was wrong, I heard crunching and felt my foot being cut deeply by a broken quart bottle hiding like a serpent, waiting just for me. Of course I started screaming, blood was pouring from my foot. My sister ran out to see what happened and she started screaming. She was nine years old. Knocking on the door, she was able to get the woman who belonged to the swing set to take us to the hospital. Sitting on sister’s lap, my foot wrapped in a soaked bloody towel, I remember the urgency and fear that permeated the event.

The hospital, like all hospitals, needed my parents. Cell phones and pagers wouldn’t exist for years. The hospital started working on my foot, to stop the bleeding and assess the damage. It seemed like a long time before Mom showed up, then it got worse.

I was held down by strong adults while two things happened: I received many shots into my foot. Each shot felt as bad as the bottle going into me. Then they began something called ‘cleaning and probing’ sounds harmless. The doctors have to open every facet of the wound and probe for broken glass or other foreign matter. There was no way I wanted to remember that until I was much older.

The problem became all shots, all needles. I would not allow the dentist to give me a shot of pain killer. One time when he just insisted, I passed out and he gave me back to my parents without doing any work. In the subsequent years; fillings, root canals were all done without any injections. By the time I turned 17 the error of my fear got to me and I relented. Now well past 65, there is still an initial fear that must be consciously defeated.

Thanks for following on that little regression, back to being a hard way kid.

I was going to start kindergarten that fall. My mom and I went up to the J.C. Penney store on the corner of main street (Adams Avenue) and bought me a pair of new engineer boots. That must have been the first pair of store bought shoes I ever had. I remember the slanted mirrors and the foot measures. The store was three blocks from our house. Once I had the boots on, I ran. Running out of the store, barely making it out the glass doors and turning the corner at full speed. The boots were fast. The fastest I had ever had. The parking meter was exactly at the height of my forehead. My eyes were watching the boots run. I woke up at the cousins house in terrible pain and a goose egg on my forehead that would have fed the neighborhood. I have no idea why I ended up at the cousins house instead of at home. I guess my parents were learning things the hard way also.



James Huffaker

aka Ben Moreland, retired. Interested in science, technology and future of earthlings. Sometimes I see things a bit different.