My parents were still teenagers when they got married. Neither of them had the opportunity to attend college or a university. But education and learning seemed to be at the core of everything we did as a family.
Our home was always full of good books, especially biographies. A favorite field trip was a bus ride to the public library. Mealtime conversation frequently focused on history or current events. And many of the memorable lessons we learned related to developing our individual potential.
An example of those lessons is the Legend of Stingy Myrtle, a favorite in Duncan family lore.
In the panhandle region of western Oklahoma there’s a town – population of eight – known as Slapout. Seriously, that’s really the name of the town. Slapout. It got its name more than a century ago when people would pass through and try to buy something at the local store. The storekeeper’s response to a request for something was often “I’m sorry, but we’re slapout of that.”
When I was about ten, my Dad took me on a trip. We stopped for breakfast at the small diner in Slapout. We watched as a truck driver ordered a bowl of oatmeal. The cook, a rugged-looking woman named Myrtle, slid the bowl down the counter like a bartender in a western movie. The truck driver opened the last packet of sugar and sprinkled it on his oatmeal. He then asked Myrtle for more sugar. Myrtle walked over to him and put her face practically nose-to-nose with his before announcing: “Nope, you ain’t gettin’ no more til you stir whatcha got!” He laughed, apparently thinking she was joking. When she didn’t reciprocate with as much as a half smile, he immediately complied by stirring his oatmeal.
Decades later I still don’t know if Myrtle was joking. But I’ll always remember the way my Dad used that experience as a teaching moment. Each of us, he said, is given a set of gifts. Some of us may be inclined toward music, or math, or mechanics. Some of us may be good at writing, or speaking, or leading, or farming, or just helping people feel good about themselves.
Regardless of our gifts, “we ain’t gettin’ no more til we stir what we got!” Before we can expect to receive (or even request) additional heavenly help, we must discover and develop and use the gifts we already have.
I was intrigued when Dad first taught me that lesson, and was amused when he regaled others with the story from that little diner on that narrow windswept highway in western Oklahoma. My father would not have regarded himself as a religious man, but he had a real knack for teaching lessons with powerful, spiritual overtones.
The Legend of Stingy Myrtle is a lesson that has enhanced my understanding of my obligation to make the most of every circumstance. The lesson provides a good guide for mortality itself.
Rodger Dean Duncan, a former bishop and stake president, lives in Liberty, Missouri. He’s the bestselling author of CHANGE-friendly LEADERSHIP: How to Turn Good Intentions into Great Performance.