Creativity: The Case of Gerald Gass
My brother Gerald is 10 years younger than I, and he always has been. His parents were 10 years older than mine, of course, and that made a big difference. Mine were young, energetic, and so full of the process of building a life together that they didn’t take a lot of time to enjoy it. His parents were wiser, more tired, and more into living their life rather than building it.
Otherwise, we grew up in the same house and home, and with much of the same stuff to play with in the garage, the kitchen, and the yard. An Interstate freeway came right behind the house the year Gerald was born, though, so he had much less freedom than I to explore the forest, which for me had been just outside the back door and for him was separated from his world by 4 lanes of heavy I-5 traffic. The forest was off limits for him until he was older. He has always an explorer, though, particularly of how things work and how they might work better.
All kids like to take things apart, and Gerald was no exception to this. He took them apart to see how they worked, but unlike most of the rest of us, he could usually get them back together and running again. And he didn’t always have to take them apart to see how they worked.
One day when Gerald was about 5, we were all sitting around the kitchen table slicing cucumbers to make Grandma Dale Pickles, one slice at a time with paring knives. The yearly ritual took forever, and although I loved Grandma Dale pickles I dreaded the slicing. Gerald was too small to get much slicing done, but he had a knife and a cucumber like the rest of us.
“Daddy,” he said suddenly, “why do we cut pickles this way, with a knife?”
Dad just looked at him and said “That’s the way to make pickles, Gerald. It takes a long time, and that’s why we all have to pitch in to get the job done,” hoping that might be the end of it.
“There’s another way to slice them. See that thing on the wall, right over your head?” It was Grandma Gass’s old wooden sauerkraut slicer, the kind with 5 blades and a cabbage-holder that slid back and forth on rails, and it had been hanging there for years without anyone but Gerald ever really seeing it. For the rest of us it was only an archaeological artifact, a knick-knack, and a trinket, but for Gerald it was something to explore in his mind’s eye.
“My hands are really little, so I could only hold 2 pickles in the slicer. But every time I pushed them it would make 10 Grandma Dale Pickles. Your hands are big and you could hold about 5 pickles. You could make 25 pickles every time you pushed.”
Dad grinned, got up from the table, rinsed off the slicer at the sink, and proceeded to make Grandma Dale Pickles at the speed of light until the cucumbers were all gone. That was the end of our family tradition of slicing pickles, and the beginning of my admiration for Gerald as an innovator.
A couple of years later we were at the table again, this time having waffles on a Sunday morning.
“Daddy, where do the fishermen get their worms?”, he asked.
“I don’t know for sure, Gerald, but I imagine they get them in the back yard, the same way we do.”
“But the fishermen don’t all have back yards, Daddy. And our back yard gets watered more than most people’s. And most people don’t put any compost on it. I’ll bet we have a lot more worms.”
Within a couple of weeks, the GG Worm Farm was in operation, complete with a pink, worm-shaped sign out by the road. Word got around, and fishermen began to stop by for worms. He offered both red worms and night crawlers, and could advise fishermen about which to buy. Before too much longer, the Big Liquor and Sporting Goods store downtown was carrying his worms in ice cream cartons, guaranteeing “at least 13 worms to the dozen” after a week in the cooler:
“Hi, this is Gerald," he said on the phone, "and I was wondering if you needed any more worms.”
He invested some of his profits in large concrete worm pits out by the fence, and helped to organize a collection service for raked leaves and compost. Dad and I searched for new sources of organic material, and found some fantastic ones. The more worms Gerald sold and the more food he fed to them, the more compost was available for the lawn and garden and the richer Gerald got.