I’m pretty sure that the best advice I’ve ever received (so far) was from my uncle, the late Robb Sagendorph (11th editor of the Almanac). No, it was not about doing everything in moderation. That has become tiresome. It wasn’t that you should treat other people as you would like to be treated yourself either. I would never be so presumptuous. No, it was far better than those old bromides.
Uncle Robb was talking with one of the young women in our circulation department for a half-hour or so at our office in Dublin, New Hampshire. I sat across the room from him in those days and could catch snatches of the conversation.
It was apparent that they were discussing a certain local dandy she’d been seeing, a fellow who had a reputation for getting into fights at the bars over in Brattleboro, Vermont, breaking ladies hearts at the drop of a hat, and all that sort of thing. Uncle Robb was advising her to drop him. She was crying and saying that she cared for him. When she finally left, it didn’t seem to me that Uncle Robb had made much headway. In fact, she sounded more determined than ever that, despite his urgings to the contrary, this particular dandy don was the man for her.
Uncle Robb sat quietly for a few minutes, staring out at the pear tree next to his window. Then he got up slowly and ambled over to my desk. I looked up at him standing there in front of me, all 6 feet 4 inches of him, and pretended that I’d just noticed his presence. Then he came forth with what I believe to be the best advice I’ve ever received.
“Don’t ever give advice,” he said solemnly. I nodded, waiting for more. I wasn’t disappointed. “Unless,” he said, after a long, thoughtful pause, “… unless you can somehow determine the advice that the person wants to hear. Then give that.”
In the ensuing years, I’ve learned a lot about advice and advice-giving because that’s what The Old Farmer’s Almanac does every year. Aside, that is, from presenting the astronomical structure for each day—Moon and Sun risings and settings, and so on—and aside from the monthly weather forecast for all of North America and aside from maybe a little history based on that year’s particular anniversaries. Aside from those areas, it can truly be said that the Almanac has been an annual book of advice ever since 1792, when the first edition appeared on the American scene.
Right from the beginning, the Almanac advised its readers—whether they were farmers or not—on everything from the best times for planting peas and catching the most fish to when to castrate bulls. It has had advice for lovers, advice for curing sickness and staying healthy, advice for making money, advice for restoring energy, advice for proper social behavior, and on and on, year after year. It’s all good advice—advice that a person wants to hear.
Incidentally, the young woman to whom Uncle Robb was giving advice that day in our office soon married the dandy don. He gave up his wicked ways and became a deacon of the church, and the couple proceeded to raise three lovely children. As Uncle Robb said himself later on, he should have taken the advice he gave to me that day. But then that wasn’t the sort of advice he really wanted to hear.