When far from home one’s identity and family connections can be blurred or lost all together. Rural America on the other hand is where roots run deep. Family traditions and pride go back years. People talk of Great, Great Grandfather and his accomplishments. Some family names are held in high esteem in the community. Others are referred to as pillars of the community. To impugn the heritage of a family is serious business. For this reason my attention was drawn to a conversation that I heard coming from behind me. “My family is known for two things” he said with a hint of pride in his voice. I looked in the mirror and there he sat with his chest puffed up, sporting an Alabama Crimson Tide ball cap. “Yes,” he said, “we are known for two things in my family, farting and belching.” Then he sat back with a big smile on his face. Moments later, with my eyes burning, I opened my driver’s side window to let in fresh, frigid air, I saw him raise his finger and he said, “I’m number one”. There was all indication that he would uphold family pride and tradition for his generation.
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
In this year of campaigning and political decision making I thought it should be my responsibility to inform you of one position that has already been decided. I was approached by the little, cute, kindergarten, girl delegation and was informed; 1. They love me very much. 2. I was the best bus driver ever. I was feeling pretty good about the position until a return visit from the delegation. In true political fashion it seemed they now had a request they wanted granted. There was a plea for eating of candy on the bus as long as they put the rappers in their pockets. Not wanting impeachment proceedings to occur on the same day that I had officially taken office the request was granted. I’m not being self-congratulatory but I’m just reporting the facts and the rest of you will just have to fight it out for second place.
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
He boarded the bus with the flourish of a big spender. Shortly after being seated he made everyone aware of his wealth. In the half light of the early morning bus ride he reached in his pocket and pulled out his money. Holding it in the air and doing a little dance he asked several children, “Do you have ice cream money?” As they sat blank faced and staring he started singing, “I have ice cream money. I have ice cream money”. No one said a word as he danced and gloated of his financial status. Then in the quiet hush between bumps in the road there was a sound. A slight ping, you know the sound a coin makes when falling to the floor, from the sound I guessed dime. There was a low muffled, “Oh man” and song and dance ended. He sat quietly, on what I’m sure seemed a long ride to school. Fate can cut your legs out from under you in a hurry.
Wednesday, January 13, 2016
When my grandfather would say, “Boys, come with me down to the shop. I’ve got a job for you.” We knew exactly what that meant. He would reach over in the corner of the shop, remove a hoe, place it in a vice on the workbench, and with a few quick swipes of a file it would have a nice sharp edge. He would hand it to one of us and would repeat the action twice more till each of us stood with tool in hand. We would then step out of the shop and he would point to some part of the farm and say, “You boys start over there and I want you to hoe out all the thistles, milkweeds, and cactus that you find”. The key word was start, there was not a, “When you reach there you can stop”. There was a start but no stop. On a large farm in Oklahoma there were enough thistles, milkweeds, and cactus for a life time of employment. There were occasional stops for water, back to the house for lunch, and the afternoon would find us in the shade of the pecan trees down by the creek. But for the most part it was hot, dusty, and sweaty. Not exactly what one looks forward to. Most of us have similar stories we recall, with the effort and severity of the job growing with the passing of time. We delight in telling those that are younger how lucky they are and how hard we had it. Yet we are here to tell the stories so it did not kill us nor did it drive us to hate our fellow man. As parents we try to help our children by doing better for them than what we may have had as children ourselves. We try to keep them from what is sometimes perceived as hardships of everyday life. We don’t want them to have to do without or work as hard as we felt that we had to, even if the severity is only self-perceived. Most of all there are the memories that we have because of those times, that bring joy to our hearts when we think of them and we would not trade them for anything in the world, though at the time we thought we would surely die. I am afraid that as we try to remove the struggles, as we perceive them, that we also rob our children of experiences that would make them stronger and richer people. Many would agree that some of our favorite memories that we share with our spouse are the times we were struggling together to make that first little house a home and crying and laughing when our children cried and laughed. That which we hold the dearest is what we have poured ourselves into, both mentally and physically. The struggles that our children and grandchildren face in moving from level five to level six of their favorite video game will long be forgotten but the sweat and labor involved in earning that game, will bring a feeling of satisfaction and make them stronger people. Thanks to my parents and grandparents for the memories and yes hard work that I will always treasure. I look back on those times and they make my life full. Oh, if you were wondering about pay, from time to time because of our hard work our grandfather would take us to town to the local café. We would all sit at the counter and you could have all the foot long hotdogs you could eat. Well, maybe not because of hard work, maybe just because he was a grandfather. Because I know how that feels.
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
The doors opened and big brother hurried on to the bus. Little brother turned for one last embrace from mom, which is not uncommon. It then turned from an embrace to a clinch. He then became a preschool cocklebur with all of his little spins buried in the folds of his mother’s clothing. With great effort she slowly pealed him off. You could almost hear a sound as if Velcro was being parted. She dangled him at arm’s length making sure he could not make contact with her and reattach himself in any way. She placed him as far up the bus steps as her arms would allow. Then the bus driver’s arm reached out, like the claw on the machine at the county fair. Grab and miss, moving target, an adjustment, another grab and this time there is contact. The claw closed its fingers on the backpack and then unceremoniously lifts the preschooler into the air. With little feet dangling he is deposited in the aisle to find a place to be seated. The door closes, the bus moves toward the games of skill and chance, which wait at the next stop.
Thursday, January 7, 2016
Nothing like the procession that comes with going back to school after a long holiday break. There are a number of ways that students come to the bus showing their level of eagerness to return to the halls of education. On a rating scale of 1-10 you have the student that drags to the bus rubbing their little sleepy eyes because they have been getting up at a much later hour during the holidays, that comes in at a 1. On the other end of the spectrum coming in at 10 is the student that comes to the bus as if they have never been gone, as if it was any other day no more excitement than usual. Then there are those that are outside of the spectrum. The house that you pull up in front of and there are no lights on at all may rank a 0. As I pull up to pick up Mr. Mucus he comes to the bus all grins as he steps on to the bus I said, "Good morning my good friend. Hope you had a great Christmas. Are you ready to get started again?" Without a word, but with a big smile, he threw his arm around my head putting me in a head lock and then gave me an extra heavy duty head knuckle rub. I think he came in on the scale at a strong 25. From the pain in my neck a very strong 25.
Monday, January 4, 2016
Walk into any rural, small town cafe or restaurant and you'll find it in the corner, front or back it doesn't matter but it will be there. It can be long and rectangular or it may be round but regardless of its shape or location it often is referred to by the same name "The Liar's Table". Seated around it you will find a variety men ranging in age but for the most part they are older men that are either retired, close to retiring or those who will never retire regardless of their age. They share jokes with one another often the joke has been told a number of times due to the fact that the teller has forgotten that he has already told it on a previous occasions. Most of the time that’s ok because the listeners don't remember hearing it and those that do, laugh like it was the first time they have heard it. Sometimes you will find a jar of homemade jelly that has been provided by one of the regulars. As the men come and go, for they are never all there at the same time, they talk and share stories. Some of the stories as you can imagine should not be repeated, in polite company. As they tell their stories they reveal the paths that they have walked. Though their backgrounds are varied they have two common threads, laughter and hard work. Too many it would seem like these two things do not go together. Surely joy and laughter can only be found in avoiding hard work. Yet if you listen carefully, it is the hard work in their lives that has let them enjoy the little things that happen along the way all that much more. They know what it is to rise before the sun and come home after sunset. They have come home covered from head to toe with dirt and smelling of sweat, only to collapsed in exhaustion and then to rise again and start all over. Many of those jobs offered no pay, they were for friends and relatives and they were raised in a generation where relationships were more important than pay. Now as time has passed they look back and find humor in those times of stress and worry. As they tell their often exaggerated stories you also realize they are the community historians because they talk of “remember when”. They often argue about dates but they remember the big snow, the flood, the tornado that devastated the community and where you could go to buy local moonshine. They remember when the Smith farm was the Johnson farm and before that it was the Jones farm or how an old man that everybody called Uncle John would always give you a ride in his wagon if you needed it. They give direction not only by road names but by landmarks like that big old oak tree, that old two story house they tore down, Steger’s curve, or over on the creek at Hump. They are the history of the community, for they have grown up here, worked here, and buried loved ones in the family plots in the local cemeteries. As our society continues to change what will become of the liar’s table. We have become so mobile that few live where they were born and even fewer know the bone tiring labor that was common place for another generation. There are not many relationships that go back more than a few years. We don’t know who lives next door much less the history of that old house down on the corner. I often wonder what will happen when no one else remembers where the best pear tree in the county is or what will happen when we lose men of character who would not increase the size of their field, because it would mean cutting down that pear tree. These men are not only found around this table. They are at our own table during family get-togethers and holidays, they are sitting on the pew next to you at church, they are on the porch of the house across the street. Take time to listen, because one day where there was history and character, there will be silence.