Friday, September 12, 2014

The Things That Can Be Hard For Others To Understand

Southern farm boys of my time were raised with a deep conflict that remains remains unsettled for us through out life. The male side of the family stressed that a man should brook absolutely no disrespect. Dueling had been outlawed a long time ago but we were all taught that allowing another male to treat you disrespectfully without beating them for their action was simply dishonorable.I can't even guess how many times I was told when I was very little that when one was in a fight it was important to keep hitting until one's opponent ceased moving (but to stop at that point).

Yet the women in the family expected little boys to behave. The conflict in expectations often left boys in a constant state of confusion. At the same time it lead to the creation of some social strategies that kept violence and conflict in check in a manner that I still find very functional.

Of course, grown men could not simply go around punching everyone who offended them. Society could not work that way. At the same time, one could not allow another to insult or offend you without taking some action. The resulting solution was to simply erase the existence of the offensive person from one's social contact or discourse. One would, to the degree possible, simply live as if the other did not exist.

This was illustrated strongly in church attendance and choice of country stores that one patronized. If a church leader treated one with disrespect one simply ceased to attend said church and joined another one. If the owner of a country store treated one with disrespect one simply never returned to the store. One did not spend time and energy gossiping and complaining about it. In fact, one might make the change without ever discussing it with anyone. My grandfather and my great uncle lived side by side all of their adult lives. It was only when Grandaddy Horace was on his death bed that I learned that the two had not spoken to each other for decades. Neither said anything bad about the other. They simply ceased to recognize the existence of the other.

Still seems like a great system to me. Of course, this was a time before Phil Donahue and Oprah so we had not had the benefit of condescending outsiders telling us how to live. I guess  we just did not know any better.

Even with the institution of unilateral shunning to keep us from wringing each other's necks it still was important for each man to maintain his own  personal nuclear deterrent. That meant maintaining the capacity to physically whip those who would press the matter. I am fifty four years old. I played ball with a recklessness and degree of violence that would have shocked Ty Cobb, but I have not struck anyone off of a ball field  since about the fourth grade.

Even with that said, it is hard to describe the sense of ease that one feels in a confrontational situation to know, that if things went bad, one could whip everyone in the room.

Maintaining that deterrent had other benefits.  When there is hard physical work to be done it is important to one's self respect to know that one can get the work done. Since I began putting down fence at the horse lot I have dug well over 500 post holes by hand. I remember the shock that hit me when someone suggested that I rent equipment to get the job done. That was about eight years ago. I told the person that I was not even fifty years old and could not consider such a thing until I was unable to get the job done by hand.

My great uncle died recently. He broke his garden by hand when he was over 100 years old. I expected it to be many years before I could no longer dig post holes.

Now I can no longer dig post holes.

 Carpal tunnel syndrome has made it so that I can do very little that requires any degree of grip strength. An arthritic related bone spur makes my left arm difficult to use even if my hand worked. I spend more time playing banjo and bouzoki because playing a guitar has become very difficult.

And now for the role of vanity. My weight or lack of teeth has never been particularly significant to me. The American ideal of beauty did not penetrate as far back in the woods as I was raised. It never was a matter of how one looked--it was a matter of what one could do. At age five I could stand straight up with an 85 pound anvil in my hands. That had a lot to do with how I thought of myself growing up.

Now I could not stand up with that same anvil in my hands. And it is obvious. For going on three years I have not been able to fully use my hands. The result is a set of arms that look like they belong on a city man. That bothers me.

I do not like looking like a city man. It is embarrassing.

So, Monday I go to see the surgeon. I want to be able to play a guitar like it ought to be played. I want my arms to grow back like a crab grows back his claws. I don't want to be embarrassed to roll my sleeves up.

The picture above is Daddy and his mare Roxie. He got her a few years ago when she was completely without handling. He went to her pasture, put a rope on her and put her in the trailer without my help, and brought her to the horse lot.

 He trained her, without my help.  He rode her in the Christmas parade. I have never been on the horse.

I am not good with ages. They seem to change every year, so it is hard to keep up with them. Daddy is about 77 years old. When he was in his thirties the doctor told him to expect to be totally disabled from arthritis by age forty.

The doctor missed that one pretty badly.

A few years ago a young lady told me that I needed to rent a particular movie. She said that I would love the movie because the main characters were just like my family. I got the movie and I could not figure out what in the world she meant by that. The movie was about bootleggers. (We do not consume alcohol in my family).

She asked me about the movie. It told her that it was interesting (did not know what else to say). She said "I told you that it was just like your family. No matter how many times they got shot, or knifed or burned out of their homes they just got right back up and kept on coming."

My plan is that after the surgeon gets through I will get on up and keep on coming.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have a 150 year old hand forged 104 lb anvil you can borrow..

Steve's great uncle mentioned above, and elsewhere in this blog, lived next door to me, about a quarter mile away. When we moved in, he brought mama some tomatoes, and Mrs Mary brought mama some pot holders she had crocheted. Two finer people I have never met. Gwaltney was slowing down a bit at age 100..not in his mind, but it was apparent. I stopped in on a spring morning to visit, and offered to break his garden for him, turn it with the plow, and then rototill it. "Naww thank you, I have my hoe, I'll do it." Most peanut hoes are about seven inches from heel to edge..Gwaltney's was about four, from being sharpened so many times. There is a post back a month ago about things that last.
That first time Gwaltney came to the house, (They used to live in it.) He looked at this poor old leaning rotten smokehouse out back, and said wistfully, "The best ham I ever ate came out of that smokehouse." Now, I had been eyeing it as a possible site for a good warm fire, it was that far gone, but I decided right then that it had to be preserved. I bought a sawmill and began scrounging up undersized unsaleable logs and sawing them to rebuild the old smokehouse, I could not fathom tearing it down while the old man was alive. That mill always interested Gwaltney, and I knew he wanted to see it run, but could never get him there when I was sawing. Just weeks before he passed, I hooked it to the tractor and took it up so he could look it over. At the age of 101 he bossed me about it and told me all the things to be careful about. "Yes sir." You don't dissappoint a man like that where I am from. I wish, one, there were more folks like him, and two, that the sentiment that taking care of one's neighbors, friends and total strangers was a little more prevalent these days.
I spend some time grousing about how things are, and the way things work these days, perhaps justifiably so, as I spent much of my boyhood listening to grouchy old codgers and the way things were. It was not all good, it was not all bad, but folks sure seemed more decent on the whole.

Those old codgers were the ones who taught me the value of getting back on when he throws you.

My wife likes to say that it took her 18 years to get out of the country, and another eighteen to get back in. One might consider the subtle nuances involved in that without forgetting that feeding and watering, and fixing fence in the middle of winter is rougher than walking in the snow to the corner coffee shop before getting on the A train to go to work. But it is infinitely more satisfyfing.
Y'all come see us.. -Lloyd