The Cracker Barrel Experience
Posted on 15 April 2016
Early on in my NASP coaching endeavors, I had to come to grips with the fact that not everybody has the same passion for all things archery as I do. I often wondered just how much my students were actually getting out of class, if they would continue shooting after graduation or what they would ultimately do with the rest of their lives. I eventually decided that it was my job to teach them how to shoot, but after that it was out of my control, besides, it wasn’t like archery was going to be their career or somehow transform their life. Then, something happened to me one day that totally changed my perspective on things.
My wife and I had met up with our pastor and the rest of the board members, along with their wives, for a church Christmas dinner at the local Cracker Barrel. While we were eating, telling stories and enjoying good conversation, I noticed a lady helping an older gentleman to his seat a couple of tables away where she proceeded to order their food and drinks without the man saying a word. This couple was different from everybody else in the room since I instantly recognized them as a couple I had worked for 20 years prior to this night. Reflecting back on that time, I had just started my career and was making very little money and this couple owned a taxidermy shop that was on my way home. I stopped in one day and asked if I could help out after work, after all, this was definitely “right up my alley” and I could use the extra money. They put me to work the next week and for the next 5 years or so I stopped everyday after work to skin animals, flesh hides….etc. Those years at the taxidermy shop proved to be some of toughest years of my life.
I was at a very impressionable age, newly married with a child on the way and was struggling financially as well as emotionally and spiritually. I guess they realized this because I later figured out that they really only needed a little help to get them through a slug of work around deer season, but they never said anything and let me continue working indefinitely. Since I was a dedicated outdoorsman with an interest in such things anyway, I picked up on things rather quickly and was “taken under their wing” without even realizing it.
During this time, they helped me out much more than I deserved with their teaching, patience and abundant advice. They even mounted my trophies for free, giving me a weekly paycheck all the while. These two people had made a profound impact on my life, and I decided that night at Cracker Barrel that I was going to tell them that very thing. I was nervous as I approached their table and introduced myself wondering if they would remember me. Of course, they did and I sat down to catch up on old times but noticed something was different about the gentleman, my former boss. I brushed it off and we had very pleasant conversation about “where ya working nowadays”, “how are the kids”, “are ya still hunting” type things. The man eventually started to smile and then began rattling off stories of hunting adventures from years past.
After a few stories and a couple of cups of coffee later, I decided it was time, and I began to tell the couple what an impact they had made on my life and how I truly felt that God had put them in my life just when He knew I needed them the most. By the time our conversation was finished, the gentleman had tears rolling down his cheeks and his wife looked at me with tears in her eyes and said “you know, this is the most he has talked, or even remembered, in over a year”, his Alzheimer’s had progressed to the point that he needed to be taken care of on a constant basis. I was able to give back, at least for one evening, a piece of their lives that they hadn’t had for some time, and it felt good.
During the course of the next few days, I replayed the encounter over and over in my mind and what happened truly began to sink in. It was at that point that I decided that someday, figuratively speaking, I wanted to be “THAT GUY”! I wanted (as we all should) to someday be the older gentleman sitting in Cracker Barrel when some young twenty or thirty something walks up and says “Remember me? Let me tell you what an impact you made on my life”. Now, I have a different attitude and renewed vigor towards coaching our youth. Not only do my students learn to shoot a bow, but we have weekly discussions on subjects like honor, character and integrity that my students refer to as “family time”. My hope is that our discussions will be retained and when they graduate, they have become more than just archers. In essence, this couple has now positively impacted my life not once, but twice, twenty years apart.
If you are reading this, I challenge you to find a young person that could use a mentor and take them hunting, fishing, to the range or just be a friend, and make an investment in your own Cracker Barrel experience! Strive to be “THAT GUY”, and you’ll have rewards stored in Heaven.
“The true value of a life is measured by how much of it was given away”
Livingston County High School Archery Coach