in this issue

What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

That question prompted a lively debate on our deck one evening this past summer with people of various ages sharing good advice they had received ranging from the serious to the seemingly silly.

My parents and other caring adults surely gave me thoughtful advice that I followed, but I can’t recall their words specifically. What I remember more clearly are random comments that turned out to be useful advice.

When I was at the awkward age of 10, my mother told me pointedly that I was “the sort of person who should never eat a potato chip.” She was right—I hardly ever do, and when they come with a burger, I sprinkle sugar on them so I’m not tempted to dig in, a trick I learned from my daughter.

In junior high, someone wrote in a “Slam Book,” the precursor to today’s feared and revered “Lists,” that I was “cute but should comb the back of her hair after teasing it.” To this day, I never leave my dressing room without using a hand mirror to check out the back of my head.

My 10th grade AP English teacher suggested that while I was not the brightest bulb in the class, I had good common sense and should use it. I turned out to be smarter than either of us imagined then; still, I rely on common sense to solve many problems.

As I headed off to college, my cousin, a fratty boy of 20, told me (in words I can’t print) never to be afraid to tell a guy to drop dead, pound salt, hit the highway. I have not always done this at appropriate times, but I will never forget his crude but empowering words.

In reaction to one of my stream-of-consciousness diatribes, a boyfriend once asked me, “Whatever made you think that just because you had a thought someone wanted to hear it?” Nasty? Yes. Good advice? Probably. Did I take it? No (but I’m still considering it).

Truly, I think the best advice I have received is from my daughter, who regularly reminds me that unsolicited advice is never welcome. I’m working on that and doing much better (or so I hope).

Maybe lots of good advice will still come my way, but I doubt it. The senior citizens Holly Schultz interviewed for her story, page 28, all attribute their long, productive lives in large part to advice they received early on.

So I guess I’m on my own. I won’t forget the advice—purposeful or accidental—people gave me, but one of these days, I’m going to eat a whole bag of Ruffles and let the chips fall where they may.