Teaching by example
STEVE LEDSON walks through his vineyard with 17-year-old Lyle Toombs.
Steve Ledson likes to listen to his inner voice.
Call it intuition, call it a sixth-sense, call it psychic perception or a message from the blue, whatever it is, Ledson pays attention to what’s going on inside his head.
Which is how it came to be on Dec. 8 of last year, while he was driving back to Sonoma from his Castle on Highway 12 in Kenwood, that he had an impulse, an impression, some kind of an instinct that something was going on at the construction site of his subdivision on West MacArthur Street in Sonoma, something that required his immediate attention.
So, without hesitating, without engaging in an internal dialog about the validity of the message, or shrugging it off, he drove straight to the site where he spotted three boys congregating around a freshly poured sidewalk.
When Ledson approached and asked what was going on, two of the boys took off, fleet-footed, leaving letters scrawled in the wet cement.
Ledson shouted at them to stop but the two ignored the command and kept running. The third, stopped, turned around and said, “Look, I really did not do anything. I’ve got my own little issues.”
Seventeen-year-old Lyle Toombs’ own little issues included an absent father he hadn’t seen in eight years and Dec. 8 was his father’s birthday. “My dad was not picking up my phone calls,” a fact that had already cast a pall on the afternoon.
Lyle says he and his friends were walking past the construction site when they spotted the fresh cement and decided to anoint it. The idea wasn’t his, he says, and he didn’t participate. But there is almost an air of fatalism in his telling of the story, as if a permanent pall were parked over his life.
But what followed had to be a distinct surprise.
“Steve was not angry,” recalled Lyle recently. “He asked me how I was doing, he asked me if I damaged his concrete. He seemed like he wanted to help when he heard about my problems with my dad.”
Ledson questioned Lyle, not about the sidewalk but about his life. “He gave me his business card and told me to call him if I was interested. He told me he could change my life. There’s not a lot of opportunities that happen like that.”
Lyle went home to the slightly-crowded home he shares with his mother, his brother and his grandmother. His grandmother was resting in bed and he showed her Ledson’s card. “Ledson?” she said. “Steve Ledson? I used to drink his wine.”
Lyle’s grandmother was adamant he should call Ledson back. So the next day he did. “I was anxious to call him,” Lyle reflects, “I’m glad I did.”
What began as a chance encounter has evolved into a relationship. “He’s been a mentor, he’s been a friend, and my employer,” Lyle explained. “He has a smile for me, he has advice, he has jobs.”
So far Ledson has paid Lyle to work in his vineyard gathering canes after the vines were trimmed, and he’s worked in the kitchen at the Ledson hotel where, among other things, he learned how to make a “Spanish-style Caesar salad.”
He’s also gotten to explore the Castle, Ledson’s imposing manor house winery on Highway 12, and he meets with Ledson periodically to absorb some of his mentor’s philosophy. What does Ledson teach young Lyle?
“My philosophy,” Ledson explains, “is that you can’t really push anybody. You push, they’ll push back. I don’t push because I don’t like anybody pushing me.”
Ledson likes to talk about his own father who, unlike Lyle’s, was very present in his life.
“My dad would teach by example, and I try to take that approach with Lyle. I explain to him that there are a couple things that are key to my success. First, I ask myself what would be the worst outcome of any action. If I’m not a hundred percent happy with it, I just don’t do it. Second is perception. Your perceptions of what you think is going to happen determine your reactions. And your actions take you where you want to go. The mind is a powerful thing. Focus on what you want and you can make it happen.”
Listening to this positive-thinking sermon you half expect Lyle, who seems to have a normal 17-year-old’s natural cynicism, to wriggle uncomfortably. But he seems to soak it up, in part because it’s hard to argue with Ledson’s success.
Lyle has ambitions, if not the finished tools to realize them yet. He is, he says, “excellent on computers, digital arts, making music, websites.”
After he graduates from Creekside High School next December, Lyle wants to start a career. Besides computers, Lyle says he’s attracted to law enforcement.
Ledson is hopeful Lyle is learning some valuable lessons on life as they hang out together. “He listens,” Ledson says, “I see him making changes. I enjoy this time. I like to see people do well.”
And Lyle holds like a precious object a recent experience that may have helped shift the angle of his perception of life. “One night I got into an argument with my grandmother,” Lyle explains. “Usually I’m the one to escalate the issue. But this time I said, ‘You know what grandmother, I love you and I’m going to take a walk and think about things.’ And I did that and it calmed me down.”
The story makes Ledson smile. And while he’s careful not to push Lyle, he’s hoping his example – a chance encounter that is leading to a positive shift in a young man’s life – can somehow be duplicated by his example.
“Each one of us can only do so much,” Ledson observes, “but if I can teach Lyle, and he can reach others, then maybe we have started something.”