Potpourri, Part IV

Feelings, comments, and opinions on a variety of topics.

By Ed Butts, PE, CPI

There have been times in writing Engineering Your Business when I have come across the occasional topic I want to discuss that does not warrant a full column. I have collected them, and on three occasions discussed these subjects in one column.

This month, as a close to a tumultuous year—and continuing this tradition—I offer “Potpourri, Part IV.”

We all make mistakes

As I rapidly approach the 200th installment of Engineering Your Business (to be published in May of 2018) allow me to divert from my usual topics and express my opinion on a potpourri of subjects.

I wrote a few columns in 2008 and 2009 about the consequences of lying in both personal and professional settings. Although similar in scope, this discussion is actually directed toward the mistakes we commonly make and taking responsibility for them.

For the most part, I was fortunate to grow up in a family that did not condone lying or not admitting and accepting consequences for personal mistakes. Although I will be the first to admit my parents were often an enigma to me and my siblings, I will say they had little patience if we tried to create excuses for our errors or accidents, or worse yet, came up with alibis or blamed someone else to escape punishment.

In fact, along with my maternal grandfather, my parents taught us at an early age owning up and assuming responsibility for our mistakes was generally less of a problem than the actual mistake. One example of this occurred when I was 7 or 8 years old and my sister and I went to visit our grandparents in Grants Pass, Oregon.

Our grandparents’ home was next to a small market, similar to a 7-Eleven store today. One day during our visit, I wandered over to the market planning to buy a candy bar with the four or five cents in my pocket. As I eyed and salivated over the vast selection of candy, my eyes quickly caught the familiar white and blue wrapper encasing the Three Musketeers bars. These were proudly displayed along with the unreachable price of 10 cents.

After a few minutes of deliberation followed by personal rationalization, I decided the market wouldn’t miss just one candy bar or the 10 cents it would cost me to purchase it. So I snuck one in my pocket and immediately left the store, seemingly proud I had gotten away with something—or so I thought.

When I returned to my grandparents’ house, I started to unwrap and devour my prize when my grandfather rounded the corner and quickly approached me, seeing I was eating a candy bar. Knowing I likely did not have the money to pay for it, he asked two questions: “How did you pay for that?” and “Where did you get it?”

One thing I never did was lie to my grandfather, so I semiproudly told him I took it without paying for it from the store next door. The immediate reaction from my grandfather was not what I expected, apparent in his eyes and stabbing to my heart. To this day, more than 50 years later, I can readily describe is gaze as severe disappointment combined with mild disgust and just a touch of anger.

Immediately, he commanded me to stop eating what was by then half-consumed and marched me back to the store where I was instructed to admit my transgression to the store owner. The owner was patient and even slightly bemused as I sheepishly described what I had done. When I finished, he proceeded to gently tell me how much more in sales he would have to generate just to make up for that single 10-cent loss. Although I cannot recall the figure, I remember being in shock and somewhat disbelief when he told me it was somewhere
around two dollars.

In any event, I was compelled by my grandfather to spend the rest of our visit working for the store three to four hours each day performing such mundane tasks as stocking shelves, sweeping floors, and bagging groceries to reimburse the store for their “loss.”

I realize now my grandfather had immediately paid for the candy bar upon our arrival, and even though the punishment was probably slightly excessive and a little punitive, I remain eternally grateful for my grandfather and the store’s owner assigning it to me. It was the best thing that could have happened to me since it served to teach me a lifelong lesson I have carried with me throughout all the intervening years.

I realize there is no shame in admitting and assuming responsibility for our mistakes. In fact, I will venture to say I have learned as much or more from the fallout resulting from my errors as I have from conventional class instruction.

We can’t forget past mistakes

Across the nation, there has been considerable debate regarding whether or not we should retain, destroy, or remove the many Civil War memorials and statues in the United States. While it is obviously true many Civil War memorials were originally placed to foster continuation and as a constant reminder of the Confederate way of life that included and tried to advance slavery, it is just as true that we cannot
selectively pick and choose what is insulting to one group in an attempt to make another group feel better.

How selective should we be? Do we remove all elements and visual reminders from all our past history with unpleasant memories?

As much as we may wish to deny this, the truth is the Civil War did happen, slavery did exist, and hundreds of thousands of men on both sides were killed in the United States less than 160 years ago. All of this was based on the desire of one group of people to dominate and control the will and existence of another group of people who, except for their color, were absolutely no different—a fundamental violation of the beliefs the vast majority of us now try to observe.

While it is true we have made many valiant strides toward the ultimate recognition and acceptance of all people as one people, it is just as evident much work remains. Retaining these past symbols of the Civil War should not be construed as any approval of these past transgressions, but as a way to acknowledge these former events to create and open up a meaningful dialogue with our fellow citizens, our children, and future generations about the mistakes made in the past right here in our own country.

Retaining these statues will not serve to honor these past violations, but be an impetus to future generations that as far as we have come, much work remains here at home and throughout the world to create true equality. Remember the old admonition: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it”.

The importance of family

Anyone who knows me knows the last two years have been a version of hell for me and my loved ones. All this started 18 months ago with an accident at home where I fell and broke my left leg, followed by implant surgery, and a month-long residence in a rehabilitation center during the blistering hot months of summer while also trying to maintain a semblance of business activity to hopefully keep our doors open.

A short respite from personal health issues was quickly replaced by the worry associated with ongoing health problems my grandson has endured basically since he was born. And then last November, I was suddenly hit with severe breathing issues, culminating in an ambulance ride to our local emergency room. Various lab tests and an angiogram uncovered severe blockage in three of my four arteries from the heart. A few days later I received a triple bypass that was successful although I came out of surgery with around 18 various IVs, tubes, and sensors attached to me per my daughter’s count!

Following my release and recovery period at home, I began to notice the vision in both eyes was blurry and clouded. I was informed I had broken blood vessels in the back of my eyes resulting in the flow of blood into my eyes, giving me the blurred vision. Another successful surgery was performed in May to alleviate this condition, but the blurry vision persisted, now actually worse in my right eye. I was now told I had developed those dreaded cataracts. This time I knew what to expect since my wife had gone through her own cataract surgeries (and the accompanying six weeks of eye drops) on both eyes about a year earlier.

Throughout all this I have been able to see well enough to continue my writing by literally shoving my face into my computer monitor, which must be quite a sight to anyone entering my office! As I write this column, I appear to be in stable overall health and am recovering from the first of what will be two cataract surgeries. My vision is already beginning to clear in my right eye and I remain optimistic all will work
out for the best—at least the doctor’s financial best!

As I think back on the past two years, the one “consistent constant” I have been so blessed to have has been and continues to be my family.

There was my wife’s initial 911 phone call along with her constant presence, comfort, and support—beginning in our family room at home to the emergency room after breaking my leg to her steadfast attention during my second ambulance trip and ER visit a few months later. There was my son taking time off from work and flying in from Denver the day of the bypass surgery to complete and enhance my family’s presence, along with his constant messaging and maintaining communication between himself and my remaining family in Salem.

Finally, and most important, I have to thank my wife and daughter for their constant persistence and assistance, support, and comfort during every procedure, surgery, and recovery period and every resulting hospital room stay.

The critical importance my family generated and still generates as the support mechanism toward my continued health and well-being is awesome. Even though I was also fortunate to have the good wishes of friends and other relatives during this time, it was my immediate family’s presence that meant the most and my ultimate recovery.

Looking ahead to the future

As we close out yet another year, it occurs to me typical New Year’s resolutions are unnecessary for me. I have already received or been blessed with all the things I could have hoped for. I have successfully passed through what undoubtedly have been the two worst years of my life to date and been able to come out largely intact, optimistic, and looking forward to the remainder of my life.

Events during the impending year will serve to highlight several high-water celebrations. Not only will I celebrate my 60th birthday in July, my wife and I will celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary in August. I will observe my 32nd year as a professional engineer and my 44th year in the water well and water system industry—and not to mention once again publishing my 200th consecutive Engineering Your Business column in May.

Every day I rise from bed with cracks and pops from my bones and joints and utterances of groans and expletives from playing one too many basketball games in my day. But I am grateful to have one more day to look forward to and spend with my wife, my family, and friends as well as one more day to hopefully enhance and approve my ability and knowledge of my chosen profession.

As far as Water Well Journal is concerned, I will continue to write both of my columns next year. Engineering Your Business will continue monthly with topics as diverse as well and pump maintenance, filter media theory and selection, improving business and personal relationships, concepts and mechanism of electrical shock and arc flash, and electric motor theory and fundamentals. The Water Works quarterly series will outline the fundamental basics of engineering and water system design with installments on using vertical turbine and submersible pumps as booster pumps, water system design criteria, and piping and valve fundamentals.

With all this on my plate, what more is there to seek? Until next month, Happy Holidays and please work safe and smart.


Ed Butts, PE, CPI, is the chief engineer at 4B Engineering & Consulting, Salem, Oregon. He has more than 40 years of experience in the water well business, specializing in engineering and business management. He can be reached at epbpe@juno.com.

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