Remembering Mr. Willie Marlow

Sometimes our best and most interesting education comes from unlikely sources.

Between college graduation and going to Alaska as a VISTA Volunteer, I worked as a teaching naturalist at Antioch College’s Glen Helen preserve in Yellow Springs, Ohio. When I wasn’t teaching I was assigned to Mr. Marlow, head of Buildings and Grounds for the park and associated education center.

Having grown up on a small farm in western Pennsylvania, I was familiar with much of what needed done, though not all. As Mr. Marlow and I worked together I began to discover incongruities between what his appearance might suggest and reality.

Examples: Mr. Marlow was probably in his mid-60s, tall and lean, hard muscled, a Camel cigarette permanently attached to the corner of his mouth, left eye squinted against the smoke, and with a dialect and drawl the indicated his eastern Kentucky up-bringing. It would have been easy to conclude that he was an ignorant, red-neck, Hill Billy.

Such assumptions would have been in serious error.

Willy, as he preferred to be addressed, lived in Yellow Springs, the most liberal and unorthodox community between Berkley and New England (this was 1967/69) and his wife was Black. That alone, in those times, was a trifle incongruent, even in Yellow Springs. Though he played the ignorant “Ridge Runner” to perfection he was anything but.

Working for him was a continuous education in doing and fixing and understanding.

But what he really taught was attitude – even towards a college kid (not his favorite people) and I was probably saved by being a rural kid myself and not belonging to the entitled rich children who made up much of the student body.

That being the case, Willy very loosely supervised my work and his oft repeated refrain was, “Don’t be a lettin’ me tell you how to do your work, but iff’n it was me, I’d…”

I have used my own variations on that phrase hundreds, probably thousands, of times to help employees, clients, students and others, learn without any loss of personal dignity, or in any way diminishing their ideas or self-worth.

Thank you, Mr. Willie Marlow, for giving me the best way to teach, council, train, and advise. And yes, I still, 55 years later, consider “iff’n it was you” and proceed accordingly.

Lessons My Leg has Taught Me

Nine weeks after the most recent of five surgical attempts to reconstruct my left knee, it is looking like this round may have worked and for the first time in 7 years, my walking range may exceed 50 yards.

Rather suddenly, my focus is beginning to shift away from accommodating to my immobility to the possibility that I may again hike those trails, climb those hills, enjoy extended driving adventures and explore those Alaskan ghost towns.

Yes, I am careful not to get too invested in these possibilities and I have at least a year’s worth of physical therapy, weight training, and learning to walk normally ahead of me. But the distinct possibility provides the motivation – and with 1-3 hours a day of often painful and tedious work ahead I need all the motivation I can muster.

“And?” you say. “What’s that got to do with me?”

Simply that change is change and even change for the eventual better is a sometimes demanding process which, at best, we do imperfectly. Defying my Physical Therapist, I take Sundays off. Defying my Pilates Instructor, I focus more often on weight than form. And, contrarian that I am, I defy my weight trainer and focus of form over weight.

I know. What’s this have to do with you?

If you are going to cease excessive self-medication, you will need to spend about a year going through the process – not perfectly, but consistently. But you do get to alter the process to suit yourself. You do have your own unique motivation you will have to harness. You do need some idea as to where you want to end up.

And you can probably save yourself a lot of time, trouble, frustration and even expense if you let us help you with the design and the first couple of difficult months, And just like the trainers I will soon outgrow, you will soon outgrow your need for us. Just like real recxovery is supposed to work – yours and mine.