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Experience of a lifetime

by | Jan 16, 2022

“Don’t screw this up.”

I think this every time I need to defrost a freezer.

I’m not quite sure what age I was when I first attempted this task. I’m guessing low-teens. For some strange reason – perhaps boredom or the feeling that I needed to contribute more to the household activities – I decided the freezer of the old basement beer fridge needed addressing.

In the days before “frost-free” technology, this was a thing.

It’s not like the thoroughly iced-over fridge freezer was hurting anyone. Despite its beer fridge moniker, it really got very little use. My father was not a beer drinker but kept a few cold ones on hand for company. Not much else was kept in it, the freezer component never actually used. After all, there was a huge chest freezer just a few feet away.

However, one day I decided to roll up my sleeves and chips that solid ice out with a screwdriver.

Things progressed well, for a few minutes, until I heard a hissing sound coming from the refrigerant line that I punctured.

Oh oh.

I don’t remember the conversation that must have ensued. Maybe I successfully pretended I wasn’t involved at all, or maybe I fessed up and faced the patented disappointed Dad slow head-shaking that I’ve long since developed and utilized often. A few days later, another fridge took its place. It remained there, fully frosted up, avoided by me through my remaining years at home.

(I did however make use of the few empty beer bottles, draining the last drops out and using the accumulated contents to experiment with the chemistry set I received for Christmas. The flames would almost touch the wooden beams in the basement. Really, what were my parents thinking, getting me that chemistry set and then leaving me unsupervised with a Bunsen burner? Do parents still do that??)

Although it was a damn shame about the old fridge, the experience I gained had a value that stuck with me. Although many of my fridges and freezers have been frost-free, there are still occasions where the snow builds up and action must be taken.

Each time that happens, I worry about screwing up. I take my time, carefully use a combination of a heat gun and scraper. I take the steps that keep me from having to tell my wife that we need a new freezer.

I listen to my own advice and do the job properly. It’s a chance to take inventory of what’s in the freezer and realize that it was the bag of beef bones that prevented the door from closing completely, thus resulting in the frost. Ironically, a good time to both take stock and make stock.

Do I make sure I put all the contents back in carefully, so the door gets a good seal? Does a bear wear a funny hat when he poops in the woods?

(Note: I sent a researcher into the woods to verify this but have not received any news. I am currently recruiting additional volunteers to assemble a search party.)

But seriously, have you read any of my previous columns? Of course, it’s organized!

Experience is how we learn. We screw up, and then we (hopefully) learn where we went wrong and don’t do that again. Do some people keep trying the same thing over and over, ignoring the lessons they were supposed to learn? Yes. We all know at least one of those people. We judge them and assure ourselves that we are way smarter than they are.

(Do we all know someone who thinks they’re smarter than the people they judge but have no idea that they’re the same kinda dumb? Yes, we do. If you can’t think of one, it might be you.)

When my kids were young, we owned a kerosene space heater. Did each of my kids not listen to their parents and find the first available opportunity to touch that heater? (Yes, they did. There’s a reason I’ve got the disappointed Dad head-shake down pat.) Did anyone touch it twice? I wish I could say this with complete confidence, but I don’t think so.

As I get older. I’m amazed at the vast amount of experience I’ve gained. Sure, some of the “wisdom of age” comes from education, but life experience brings it to life, assuming you’ve survived all those experiences.

Experience is how we know what shoes hurt our feet, what routes to hardware stores are best at certain times of day, why we should have our vehicle repaired by someone who actually knows what they’re doing, why you should put snacks in your briefcase, how to make someone laugh, what parts of Vancouver you shouldn’t walk around in, where the best live music is on George Street on a Thursday night. (It’s O’Reilly’s Pub.)

All of it. The good and the bad, even the ugly. Much of it we learn on our own. Some of it, we learn from others, taking their experience and adding it to our own. Book and travel recommendations from strangers? That’s how I visited Donegal on the route through Ireland and read the fantastic Just Kids by Patty Smyth. Sometimes they lead us astray and that’s ok. No one has the exact same experience, even when you share it with someone. Take the experience you had and share it with others, as long as you’re not pushy about it.

And if that experience somehow ruined your day and you want to tell someone off, wait until the next day, when you might look back and laugh a little. Everyone has their bad days.

We learn what we want to avoid and what didn’t work but was kinda fun and we’re going to take another run at it, trying something a little different this time, and see how it goes. It may take us several attempts, but damn the torpedoes, we don’t give up easily. Sure, sometimes we need to take a break and lick our wounds, do some soul-searching, get our courage back and get back on tha…

(Wait, I suddenly realized I’m describing dating. You’re going to want to get all the lessons learned as quickly as possible on this one.)

We learn what our strengths and weaknesses are through success and failure. We take risks and see what the outcome is, then we can share that with others. Will they listen? Did my kids still touch that damn heater? (Surely at least one did.)

Some will listen, appreciate the lesson, then make an informed decision. Much of my work involves explaining to groups that their idea sounds really logical, but I can tell them five different ways that the same idea didn’t work out well for others. They usually take my advice, but sometimes they don’t, and I shake my head slowly as I exit the room.

And some day, with another group of well-meaning people, I will use your sadly predictable crash and burn as yet another cautionary tale. After all, I’d hate to let all that valuable experience go to waste.

Brad Dale
Brad Dale

Dad to daughters. Daideo to Sprocket and Spark. Makes his wife laugh. Chief cook and bottle tilter. Proud owner of two sheds. Prefers looking through a lens, reading off paper, music over silence, movement over meditation. If there’s a hereafter, he hopes it has a waterfront view, nice lineup of cordless tools and a well-stocked workshop. Send feedback to:

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Pam Handley Pat Madill Stamp
Phil Koning Brad Dale
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