Life Lessons Learned
On the registration form for my 50th high school reunion, in the year 2000, we were asked to finish the sentence, “If I had it to do over again, I would – – – ” When completed, our answers were collected, compiled into a booklet and given to each of us. I completed the sentence with, “I would not change anything.” I was surprised to see that many others had completed the sentence in the same way. They seemed to be happy with the life they had, as was I. Also, I added a bit of advice I had already given to some of the younger generation, which was my own mantra for life: “Take advantage of your opportunities, follow your passions, and never stop learning.” A caveat to this, of course, is that you have to prepare yourself first, so that when that opportunity does come along, you will be in a position to accept it.
Together, working as a team through hard times, hard work, and with perseverance, my husband, Hersh, and I were able to start reaching some of our goals in life by taking advantage of opportunities that came to us. Sometimes, when I felt downhearted, he would say things like, “Don’t worry, we have our whole lives ahead of us”, or “The world is our oyster”. I believed it too.
After three years in the Marine Corps during WWII (two years in China), Hersh completed college and received his masters in geography. Meanwhile, I brushed up on my office skills, preparing ourselves for opportunities we might have of a career that would take us traveling. Travel was our passion. When he saw a magazine in the college library, listing positions for teachers in foreign countries, he immediately sent out applications.
In 1955, Hersh and I flew across the South Pacific, to the island of Guam, where he was under contract as a high school geography and history teacher, and I was a secretary at the school. This was the beginning of a six-year adventurous life, during which time we traveled the world.
At the end of each two-year contract, we had a three-month R&R (Rest and Relaxation) that we used for travel. This was a time before jets flew across the South Pacific, before air-conditioning, computers, etc. It was also before many people had traveled throughout Southeast Asia or explored the islands of the South Pacific as we did with our five-month-old son, Steve. We made a trip around the world later when Steve was two years old. Not much had been written about exotic places like Egypt and India. Nepal had just opened their borders. We were some of the first outsiders to enter their country.
Traveling through the world in the 1950s was difficult and rigorous, especially with a small child. Hersh was a consummate geographer, wanting to see countries and islands of the world from the viewpoint of the people and their lands, and not just as a tourist. It was also the most educational six years we would spend.
We lived in a pre-globalization era. We traveled during a time when the past was on the brink of colliding with the future. It was an opportunity we had then, that no longer exists
Meanwhile, island life on Guam for six years was enjoyable. Living in a Quonset hut in a small village, without telephone, TV, etc, was a culture shock, to say the least. However, we adjusted quickly and loved every minute of our life there.
After six years abroad, we returned to the States in 1961 and resumed a more normal life with our son who, by then, was five years old and ready to start school. Hersh returned to college at Rutgers University where he acquired another degree that enabled him to change his career. Afterward, we moved to the Washington, D.C. area where he began working for the Department of Defense.
Had we not taken the opportunity that was given us early in our lives, we would have missed this great six-year adventure completely. In 1976, my husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. After 24 years of marriage we spent the next 33 years living with this insidious disease. He died in 2009.
Now, as I look back to a time long ago, when we took advantage of an opportunity, I can remember our great adventures during those years when there was a time for us, and the world was our oyster.
Mary Hertslet Bio:
I grew up in Independence, a small town just outside of Kansas City, Missouri. While working at a bank in Kansas City, I met my husband on a blind date (the first and last). After three years of marriage, Hersh and I went off to see the world and live on a beautiful South Pacific island for 6 glorious years.
After returning to the States, we settled in Maryland, bought a house and raised two wonderful children. I am also a proud grandmother of twin granddaughters.
In the 1980s I started a business in arts and crafts that lasted over twelve years. Finally I had to give it up to become a full time caregiver for Hersh until he went into a nursing home.
To help with my grief of knowing he would never be home again, I decided this would be the best time to start researching and writing a memoir. As I wrote, I took pages to read to him. He was no longer able to speak, but I could see the sparkle in his eyes and sometimes even a few tears. I continued writing and reading to him until his death in 2009. At that point, I stopped writing my memoir. After 57 years of marriage, it was impossible to write through my tears. I have started writing again this year, mostly essays and short stories, hoping it will bring me back to finishing my memoir.
Mary can be reached via e-mail at: email@example.com
Sonia Marsh Says: I think the best response from someone when they look back upon their life is to say, “I would not change a thing, or I have no regrets.” I know my own father has said that to me, and he is 87. I also think we need to remember the important lesson you give us:
“Take advantage of your opportunities, follow your passions, and never stop learning.“
I enjoy your writing and hope that you continue with your memoir. You have so many adventures to write about that we would like to read. Thanks Mary for sharing your “My Gutsy Story”.
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Thanks, Sonia Marsh.