“Hey Mom, do you have lunch plans?”

Actually I didn’t. But one can’t be too careful these days, and I wondered if there could possibly be an ulterior motive before I replied that in fact I was free. The invitation text was from the youngest of my three sons. We live in the same city, but our day-to-day lives are pretty far apart. Lunch dates aren’t easily arranged. For one thing, until recently, he was a bar tender – a very good one – but that meant he worked nights and slept days while my schedule was the exact and complete opposite.

For a while, there was a television commercial for one of the popular local bars in San Angelo, which showed a spiffily-dressed bartender fixing some drink that involved fire and flame.

“That’s my son,” I told people, proud because it seemed to prove that what he did, he did well. There are many things a mother wants her children to understand, philosophies to which she hopes they will subscribe. One of those is whatever you do, do it well – as much as you can, the best you can, every time, all the time.

Terrell is 30, a 2006 graduate of Brownwood High School. Within two weeks of his high school graduation, he was stepping off a bus at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at San Diego, California, for a life-changing eight weeks of boot camp. After boot camp he trained at Camp Lejeune, N.C., for his military occupation, a diesel mechanic. It was a good occupation choice, he confided. Diesel mechanics were highly regarded in Iraq and Afghanistan where the almost constant blowing sand wreaks havoc on tank and Humvee diesel engines.

His service days behind him, Terrell earned his degree at Angelo State, paid for by the Marines, but bartending gigs earned him a reputation as one of the best in San Angelo. At his graduation celebration, he admitted that if he were to take a job in his major field, he’d also take a $20,000 cut in pay.

My brother, a school principal, who worked his way through college as a radio disc jockey and waiter, told him, “Yeah, we’ve all been there, but there will come a time in your life when you want your Saturday nights free. You won’t want to be going to work when friends and family are off.”

That day, or time, came last November. Still, the cut and pay Terrell would have taken was obvious and significant. He’d actually been looking for jobs in his field, but, he told me, as a combat veteran with a degree, he was supposed to be hired for the top pay a company offered. Companies instead would choose to hire the applicant who wasn’t a veteran, at the lower pay grade.

So, Terrell took the test to recertify as a diesel mechanic. He had immediate job offers and took the best one. He drives a fully-outfitted truck, and basically is a roadside assistance guy for diesel truck drivers all around West Texas. The hours are long. The work is enjoyable. The pay exceptional and once overtime kicks in midweek, it’s even better.

At lunch, I asked, “Do you ever think that you could have skipped college, and become a diesel mechanic after the Marines?”

“I do,” he said, “but I’m glad I didn’t. I like being educated. I’m glad I went to college. I’m proud I was a Marine. I liked being a bartender. I still pick up shifts on the weekend for friends if I need to.

“You always told us we had to find the good about where we are. That pretty much works.”

I am not sure I always told him that. But I can see how he could have learned that from me.

I’ve shared the conversation with friends several times since that lunch date. It just seems so wise, and revealing. Quite thought provoking, actually.

I know, I’m pretty far down in column space to at last be getting to my point. But it is this. There is great value in education, and life experience too. Our high school curricula that steers our children toward college that may not provide a suitable or profitable career – especially in light of the $100,000 student loan debt some acquire – may not be working for our evolving culture and society. What to do? I’m not sure. But teaching responsibility, curiosity and a genuine desire to do well, know more, care a lot and not quitting seems key.


Editor’s note: Candace Cooksey Fulton, formerly of Brownwood, is a freelance writer now living in San Angelo. She writes weekly columns for the Brownwood Bulletin and the San Angelo Standard-Times, each unique to the particular paper. She can be reached at ccfulton2002@yahoo.com.