Once in a while I write about something that is not a tangible how-to. This is simply something that has been on my mind. However it is also how you spend your time and how you deal with your fellow creatures that decides the nature of your life, so I think I may have an excuse to tell this story.
The other day my husband and I were in Easton doing errands. We stopped at the gas station where they sell the ethanol-free gas we use to mix our chain saw fuel; it is better for the saw. My husband was wearing a sweatshirt his brother had outgrown which had the name of his Indiana home town on it: Logansport, with a cartoon of the high school mascot, Felix the Cat, embroidered on it. A tentative male voice called out “that’s not Logansport, Indiana, is it?”
I was in the car; I heard the cheerful chattering and my husband’s famous machine-gun laugh but not enough to understand what was happening, so this is second hand. It turned out the man was from my husband’s home town, that his father’s funeral had been at the church where my husband’s father had been the pastor, that his brother had taken my sister-in-law to the homecoming dance, and that he now had a second home nearby. They were delighted, as middleaged men from the sad sweet rust belt are when they can share boyhood memories of a lost America. The conversation would most certainly have led to the exchanging of phone numbers and an invitation to dinner or something, if a lady in a big shiny white SUV had not pulled up and told them that they must not be from here or they would not be standing there visiting while other people were waiting. Embarassed, they apologized, said goodbye and drove away quickly.
The more I studied it the more it irked me. This is a touristy area and many folks are what we call “come heres.” This lady could not have been a “from here.” I am from here, -as much as I am from anywhere, having moved around much of my life, but always returning to the Shore. I remember when we would stop behind a car that had stopped on a one lane road because people were visiting by the mailbox, leaning out the car window. We never said a word. Honking would have been unthinkably rude. In small Southern towns (The Eastern Shore is Southern, for better or sometimes for worse) everybody knows everybody, and a slight will be remembered. Bad manners would be impractical. Nowadays those of us who have known each other fifty years cling to each other, but friendliness and tolerance is a habit that feels natural to us. I have been out in the world and I prefer this.
My grandmother, a Texan, had a number of great expressions which I pull out and use tenderly, much as I use her old red woolen gloves in winter. One of them is “as solemn as a jackass in a hailstorm.” This refers to someone who is telling you the right thing to do while filled with a solemn sense of his or her own righteousness, and in the total absence of self examination or humor. It is a good image. Another is the title of this anecdote : “What’s time to a hog?”
I am not saying that the lady was at all porcine. My grandmother said it to mean that she didn’t mind waiting- after all, what made her time, her hurry, her agenda, more important than whatever someone else was doing that was making her wait. She knew, of course, that in comparing herself to a hog, to whom time was merely a dull interval before slaughter, she was giving the person who was making her wait a gentle dig, -but just a little, humorous, self-deprecating dig.
We are all waiting; waiting for the weather to improve, for school to get out, for evening to come, for a child to grow out of a tough phase, for love, for death, for the return of Christ. In our pride and self-absorption we think our work, our hurry, our frustrated wait, is more important than another’s. This is the same pride that medieval scholars called the father of sins- we want what we want and that matters more than the love of God and our neighbor. Humility is the key. Bless that nice lady.
So if anybody knows Paul Killian, tell him to email me his number and we will ask him to dinner at the farm. Claudia, happily married and living in Colorado, was asking after Clyde.