#TBTMemory 51: “Learning New Skills”

Lauren is this week’s hostess for ThrowBack Thursday.

Her topic this week is “Learning New Skills”:

I’ve been pulling my hair out trying to think of something Maggie and I have not done before. I know we’ve talked about learning to drive, learning to cook, and learning to swim. I am going to follow that path and ask about your childhood approach to learning new skills.. As kids we are exposed to a huge variety of learning experiences. We can never succeed unless we  are willing to make a commitment to the process.

So, let’s get started, and may God have mercy on my soul…

When did you learn to ride a bike? Were you self-taught or did someone teach you? Any major injuries on the way? Did you master the skill? Do you still ride? I think I was 5 when I started riding a bike with training wheels, and it wasn’t very long before Dad took the training wheels off and started walking me along before letting me fend for myself. No major injuries, and I rode a bicycle from then until I got married. That was the end of my bike-riding days, and I doubt I could do it now because of my handicap.

Did you learn to play a musical instrument? At what age? Who taught you? How often did you practice?   Were you in band at school? How good were you? Do you still play? I got my first guitar when I was about 8 or 9, a hand-me-down from my cousin-once-removed. I didn’t start taking lessons until I was 11, and hated it and wouldn’t practice the stuff I was supposed to (although that didn’t stop me from playing). I quit taking lessons a year later, but kept playing, with a couple of long hiatuses (hiati?) in there where I quit playing and didn’t pick a guitar up for over a year. I was just getting back into it heavy when I had my stroke, and haven’t been able to play since.

I got a harmonica when I was 15 or so, but didn’t start figuring out how to play it until I was 17 and got heavy into blues. I hadn’t played since I moved south, but after I figured out that I couldn’t play the guitar, I thought I might take it back up, both on diatonic and chromatic. Unfortunately, the stroke screwed up my embouchure, as one corner of my mouth won’t close enough that air doesn’t escape from it. So there went that.

Mary and I took a delayed honeymoon to Scotland, and I bought a set of bagpipes while I was there. I took them home and found someone to teach me, then he introduced me to a band near me. I was with them for about four years, and was part of their competition group, which traveled around to Highland Games around the Midwest and played for cash prizes. We were Champions Supreme in Grade 4 (the lowest grade) when I decided that I might try for a job where I was on the road all the time, so I turned in my uniform (no, there are no pictures of me in full Highland drag, sorry) and my chanter (the melody pipe; bands use the same chanter so the tone is the same), put my pipes in the case, and they haven’t been out since. They’re hiding somewhere in the house, and Mary told me that trying to play them again would be grounds for divorce, a moot issue since the stroke.

By the way: The most impressive piper I know these days is Archy, a young and very attractive Indian woman who goes by The Snake Charmer on YouTube. She does stuff we never even dreamed of…

Did you sing in a choir in church or at school? At what age? How often did you practice? Did you enjoy it? How good were you? Do you still sing with others? When I was eight, I sang with the Glee Club at school. I was the only boy in the Glee Club, and I caught all kinds of crap for it, so I quit. The following year, they were building a Men’s Choir at church, and they needed boys’ voices, so I joined with them, and I really enjoyed that. We did Midnight Mass one year, and Dad was in the congregation, and he was suitably impressed enough that he decided to join the following year. Unfortunately, that was the year he got sick and died. That would have been a real trip, singing with Dad. He was a bass – not a baritone, a bass – and had lots of experience singing barbershop. He taught my aunts how to sing an Ajax cleanser commercial (coming right up), and he added his bass voice.

The older I got, the less I enjoyed singing, though I sang and played guitar and harmonica with another guy as a blues duo when I was in college. Honestly, though, if it was a choice between singing and playing guitar, I opted for the latter. I was with the folk group at our church here for far too long, playing guitar, and when the bass player quit, I took that over. (Guitar and electric bass are so similar that I didn’t mention it above, but yes, I played bass as well, and some mandolin.)

Did you have formal instructions on speaking a second language? Were you fortunate enough to be raised in a house with two or more languages? Did you learn a second language in school? Are you fluent in more than one language? I took three years of Latin and two years of Greek in high school, and when I went to Northwestern they told me I had to take one more quarter of Latin to fulfill the “language requirement.” When I worked as a supervisor, my crew was all Mexican, so I taught myself enough Spanish so I could yell at them. I’ve messed around a little trying to learn French, German, and Russian, but never got serious with any of them. As for fluency, I’m barely fluent in English…

Did you to play on a sports team or learn martial arts? At what age did you start? Did a parent become a coach? Did you practice at home? Do you still play sports? Our grammar school had an annual intramural basketball tournament that, for some strange reason, I played in from fifth through eighth grade. Peer pressure, I guess. We also had a school summer softball league that I played in, and was actually okay at. One year, every at-bat I either struck out or homered. After that, nothing.

Did you ever take dance, tap, ballet, baton, cheerleading, etc. lessons? Mary and I decided to take dance lessons from a friend of ours at church. After two lessons, she gave us back our money. Mary was okay, I was like an elephant with a broken leg, as I said earlier today

More graceful than I…

Did you learn to roller skate or ice skate? No and kinda, respectively. My cousins in California took us roller skating when we were out there after Dad died. The woman who ran the rink had no teeth and was on crutches, and there was a sign that said “SKATE AT YOUR OWN RISK.” I didn’t. I taught myself how to ice skate, kind of, and could go forward fine, just not backward. Deciding that my career with the Blackhawks was over before it began, I gave it up.

The Chicago Blackhawks fight song, “Here Come The Hawks”….

See you next week!

18 thoughts on “#TBTMemory 51: “Learning New Skills”

  1. Those videos of the bagpipe players was really good. I like the first one best. So cool you know how to play them, too. I’ve heard a person either loves or hates the sound. I love hearing them. :)


  2. John, your posts are always so much fun to read. I really am impressed with all the things you accomplished. The video of Archy is quite impressive!


    1. I think she’s amazing. I support her on Patreon because she does such a good job with her videos. You could spend an entire afternoon watching them. The pipes she uses are electronic, from what I understand, and it helps her do things that you can’t do with the standard pipes (e.g. tune the notes to a more standard tuning). That she can dance (and quite well) while playing just adds to the attraction.Glad you enjoyed her and the post!

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