Developing Curiosity, excerpt from Breadcrumbs: Finding a Philosophy of Life by William F. Merck II

January 10, 2023

Developing Curiosity

William F. Merck II, Author, Leader, Speaker

by William F. Merck II

On Book Excerpts | Philosophy
Early experiences and the environment in which they take place set the stage for a personal understanding of what and how life works.

I started the first grade when I was five. The school was a two-room, white clapboard structure with unheated bathrooms attached to the back of the building. I remember the wooden floor in the bathroom. I could see the ground about two feet below me, through cracks between the floorboards, cracks that the winter wind would whistle up through. One classroom in the building was for the first grade; the second and third grade classes shared the other one. The main school for the upper grades was separated from our small building by railroad tracks, flanked on either side by drainage swales, and then a highway. The lunchroom we shared was attached to the main part of the school.

When we made our daily trek over for lunch, the last obstacle after the railroad tracks and the highway was a fence around the lunch yard. We accessed the yard by using a set of wooden steps, called a pig style, to climb up and over that fence that kept out pigs and cows. Livestock wasn’t required to be confined to pastures in those days, but instead roamed freely.

The Lone Ranger

While this all seemed, and actually was, rather primitive, I liked the kids, and the first-grade teacher I had was excellent! She really went above and beyond when my second dog, a Fox Terrier, was killed crossing the highway in front of our house. I was heartbroken. Dad came home from work; we made a small coffin and buried the dog in the yard with a wooden cross, painted silver, marking the site. Knowing how badly I felt, within a week of the accident, my teacher gave me a new mixed breed, primarily Cocker Spaniel, puppy. She was a strict disciplinarian but had a good heart and a real empathy for her students. That teacher was one of the best role models I had in my years as a student. I’m fortunate that she was my first impression of a teacher.

The dog that was killed I had named Riley. I penciled in his name in our family Bible, an act that upset my father to no end. He angrily erased the name and asked me what would have happened if we were all killed in some accident. What then if someone looked in our Bible and saw all our names, and Riley was included? People would be looking for another kid in our family named Riley! I guess I understood. However, Riley was a pal in those days. Every Thursday afternoon at four, Riley and I sat in one of the large chairs in our living room and listened to the big radio that sat there before it was moved into my bedroom, broadcasting another story in the Lone Ranger series. I’m not sure Riley appreciated the stories, but he was a good sport sitting with me for a half hour while I listened. One afternoon, we knelt on the dirt in the chicken yard and shared a snack of laying mash in a wooden trough meant for the chickens. That was a shared event I think he enjoyed much more than listening to the Lone Ranger with me. Having that relationship with Riley was important in seeing how animals have their own personalities and are individuals in their own right. He had an influence on how I understood many other animals in my life after that time.

I would march out into the cold carrying a coalscuttle.

When work at the naval yard slowed down after the war, Grandfather retired and returned full time to being with the family. The house we all lived in was one he built in the 1930s and situated on about five acres of land in the Jamestown countryside. It had two coal-burning space heaters: one in the dining room and one in a large back room that was adjacent to the kitchen and a bedroom.

In the early fall, a dump truck would come and drop a huge load of anthracite coal on the property that would last for the winter; that was the fuel used to heat the house. It was not my regular chore, but, occasionally, I would march out into the cold carrying a coalscuttle to the big pile and proudly bring in a load of coal pieces for the fires. This was a way for me to contribute to the activities of the family and feel a part of it.

Quote by author William F. Merck II

The sight of him in his field was remarkable.

Grandfather raised chickens and had fruit trees and a vegetable garden. On about four of his five acres, he planted in corn. The sight of him in his field was remarkable: I watched him preparing the soil for planting, on foot in the freshly plowed furrows, while grasping the wooden handles of a big plow, reins over his neck and shoulders, and following the mule that pulled that plow churning up the soil.

When I saw him working in his garden or field, he was always clothed from head to toe. Long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and a large brimmed straw hat covered his body. His face and hands were tanned, but nowhere else. He was not an exception for his generation. Women working outside were similarly covered, wearing dresses down to their ankles, long-sleeved blouses, and full sun hats. To be sure, it was uncomfortably hot in the Southern summers working outdoors, but the head-to-toe clothing sheltering the skin from the sun was never sacrificed to gain comfort from the heat.

Excerpt from my book, Breadcrumbs, Finding a Philosophy of Life.


BREADCRUMBS: Finding a Philosophy of Life

In Bill’s new book released on March 14, 2023, the author uses stories from his life’s journey to illustrate points in time that helped form his view of the world and his place in it. From growing up in Southern Georgia in the 1940s, to becoming a military officer and a corporate leader, he discovers a nexus between early feelings and subsequent notions and beliefs.

On Philosophy



So, You Want to Be a LEADER

Being a leader is not easy for anyone. Thankfully, this book transforms more than a half-century of leadership experiences into a practical handbook for those looking to excel in leadership roles. In candid fashion, So, You Want to Be a Leader: Secrets of a Lifetime of Success, reveals what works—along with an unvarnished examination of what doesn’t—in a myriad of work-related situations.

On Leadership