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Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Life Lessons Learned

By Mary Hertslet

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 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 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.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. PLEASE read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


You did exactly the right thing. When I was 45, I left a disastrous first marriage. I had always wanted to go to Tahiti, Australia and New Zealand. Two years later I fulfilled my dream, taking a six-week break from my career as a newspaper editor. I had always wanted to sing. Around the same time I joined a choral society and sang oratorical music for three wonderful seasons. I've always loved the sea. A colleague owned a thirty-foot sloop, and for two years we sailed together. I've always loved bicycling, and for a year, I rode with a club in Monmouth County, New Jersey. My second wife and I love travel. We've been to Europe, the Caribbean, most of the states, including Alaska. We also love fine dining, and we've satisfied that particular yen here, and abroad. The list goes on, and hopefully will continue to grow for a while.
The French poet, Joachim du Bellay, in the sixteenth century, wrote a poem, a line from which, translated into English, reads: "Happy is the man who has made a wonderful journey." And of course, there's the Latin phrase, "carpe diem," "seize the day" Life is a journey, not a dress rehearsal. I wouldn't change a thing either.

Good advice, about opportunities.... Thanks for sharing.

Thanks for the wonderful visit to exotic places..often life's unexpected tragedies can make you appreciate your own days more, so it was for me..everytime someone mentioned they always wanted to do this or go there, I would say, we could you know, let's find out what it costs, etc...so travelled lots and never regretted it..never thought about doing it for a living, hmm, not too late for that either...one of my sons remembers calling big sis to ask where Mommy is and she laughed and said, British Isles for 9 days, 4 countries..and he thought she was joking..has become his favorite memory of me..."Carpe diem" for sure...

Mary Hertslet is my beautiful and talented Mother. I didn't come along until 1968 but, have always cherished hearing about my parents incredible years of travel. She is a true inspiration!

I like your 'caveat' preparing so that are able to "accept" the opportunities that present themselves...."

What wondrous spirits you and your husband exemplified during your lives. I am sure you continued to share this spirit wherever you lived and were a joy to the people you were with.

So, Mary, in addition to being a inspiring traveler, you are obviously also an
excellent Mother..

I thought Lisa's lovely comment came from a very well brought up young woman who loves you....

Hi Mary,
You know I've already read this but my husband Terry just finished reading it.We both believe that you have provided a very interesting and informative road map of you and your husband's life journey. Others would benefit it they followed your path.

Dear Mary, your story brings back great memories of travel when we were young and able to climb many stairs and live on $10 a day! What fun we had. Thank you.

My heartfelt thanks goes out to all of you for your wonderful comments about my story. It's a tribute to my husband, who always had the idea that togeter, we could conquer the world. He also said we could get through anything as long as we had each other. We did both.

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