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Summers Taught the Value of Confidence

Plowboy Poetry
by Clayton Rye

Published: Friday, March 17, 2017

When I was still in school, I remember going to classes that seemed like a good idea.

Since that was over 50 years ago, what were those subjects that turned out to be wise decisions?

The first one that comes to my mind is swimming lessons. Neither of my parents knew how to swim, so maybe that is why they thought their three children should learn how.

The lessons took place every summer for several years. We started at a nearby lake, and by the time we were comfortable in deep water, we were at a local pool.

Besides learning how to swim, it was a confidence booster. I learned the deep end of the pool, which scared me when I still needed to touch the bottom. Eventually, the pool became my favorite place to be because of the complete freedom it offered. I could tread water easily, dive off both the lower and upper diving boards, and needing to touch the bottom of the pool didn't matter.

Learning to drive was another important education. Growing up on a farm, I already knew about shifting the transmission, which way to turn the steering wheel when backing up, and generally knew the difference between good noises and the bad ones.

Going through basic training in the Army included an education on driving a jeep. There were men in my training unit from Chicago who only knew automatic transmissions. I had driven cars, pickups, trucks, semis and tractors, so that part of my training I knew I was prepared for.

One summer I took a six-week typing class so I could be adept with a typewriter keyboard. That was the summer of 1963, when a computer was something that sat in a building far away and did strange things that I had no need to know. Who knew the future would be keyboard dependent.

I had a learning toy in grade school that taught basic wiring. It had switches, bells, a buzzer and light bulbs. I learned the principle of a complete circuit, something so basic and so important.

The point I am trying to make is that the things I learned did not come from a class offered during a regular school year. Most of these things I learned in the summer.

Indoor pools were not common, so swimming lessons were summer only. Driver's education took place while baling hay, combining oats and doing chores. Basic wiring was taught from a guidebook. Since it was battery operated, it was completely safe.

Another point is that these subjects are still important today. Having ability and confidence behind a steering wheel or in water over your head are important skills and great lessons in life.

I can say that many of the valuable things I have learned I learned during the summer.

But not all summer school sessions are productive. Just after my freshman college year, I signed up to take introductory calculus. I attended the classes, took the tests and passed the course.

That was summer of 1966. Since then, I have not had one moment when I needed to use that calculus from 51 years ago, to solve a problem.

If I was sending a rocket to the moon, I would need that calculus. But going to the moon is for other people, not me.

Learning how to go through each day with basic knowledge and self-confidence are the important lessons.

Clayton Rye is a farmer from Hanlontown, Iowa. He can be contacted by email at

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