So many of my folks, including my dad, have left me now. Most of what I get done now I do myself, and I mostly have to rely on what I know or what I can figure out. I’m a little amazed at how far I’ve come in terms of being “handy”—even though I’m still about a 2 on a scale of 10. I spent my childhood playing and watching sports, mostly baseball, and my young adult life coaching baseball and studying the English language and trying to teach as much of it as possible to kids. It all didn’t make me much of a “farmer,” as my dad would call anybody who could get things done.
When I get in a real jam I still have a fellow across the road that I can call on. You’ll read a little about him in the essay below. I’ve been pretty busy lately, getting some things done, and it caused me to think of who I once was and who I am today and how they are still intersecting. Also, I think the essay teaches or reminds parents and grandparents of something they need to know. I hope you agree. Written for the Lawrence County Press in November of 2009, here is a column I titled “All Kinds of Smart.”
Not long ago, I met a fellow I had not previously known. He and a distant relative of mine and I were looking at an old piece of farm equipment and trying to figure out how it could be fixed and made to work.
It was a Saturday morning, and I was dressed in what has become my usual weekend garb: a cheap pair of paint and oil-stained work pants, a briar-scratched pair of lace-up work boots, an old long-sleeve t-shirt, a slightly dirty and somewhat frayed insulated vest if it is cool
weather, and a baseball cap. I didn’t look like I do most every work day: tie, dress slacks, button-up shirt, dress shoes. I looked like I actually belonged out there by the old barn and that old equipment.
The fellow I met must’ve been about sixty, was lean and muscular, wore a tank top shirt, and had many tattoos. My relative introduced him as the maintenance supervisor at a plant down toward the Mississippi Coast and he introduced me as the superintendent of education of the local school district. The stranger looked at me and said, “Must be a smart fellow.” Well, I didn’t know quite how to respond to that. I think I laughed and headed off to the shop to get a tool that we needed. When I got back to them and the old piece of equipment, I could see that they were already making headway on getting it fixed. I took up the subject of me being the “smart fellow.”
“Okay now, you called me the smart fellow, but I don’t know which end is up on this thing. I’m not going to be much help to you.”
I told them about my first cousin who lives across the road from me and how every time I tear something up, or I get something stuck, or need to know how to do something I call him, and he has always gotten me out of every kind of bind that I’ve managed to put myself in. At this point, I have yet to find anything that he cannot fix, move, or build. I told them that I, on the other hand, was an old baseball coach and English teacher and had once told my first cousin—who had just helped me out of yet another situation—that “I am some kinda glad that I don’t have a sorry old baseball coach for a first cousin who lives across the road from me!” The point of me telling them all this was that I’ve never been very handy around a shop or a farm or machinery—nothing against baseball coaches and book learners.
And I knew that the fellow I had met was–handy. There is all kind of “smart” in this world. I wish I could be more like my first cousin or the fellow that I met on that Saturday. Hey, let me tell you, it’s just not meant to be. Because of all that I have learned from my cousin and a few other cousins and uncles, I’m a little handier—no, a lot handier—than I was twenty years ago. (When you start at zero it’s easy to come a long way.)
Now, you might as well go ahead and believe this because it’s the truth. After I mentioned that I was once an English teacher, the fellow began to tell me about his son who has a Master’s degree in comparative literature and will begin work on his doctorate in English. I could tell that he didn’t know a lot about what his son was learning and doing or what his son will do one day as a college professor, but I could tell that he was very proud of him. I told him that I have two degrees in English, but not really the Master’s degree that I would like to have, and that I had never been as bright as his son. (I’m not being self-effacing here; by what he was telling me, I could tell that I was never as sharp as this fellow’s son.)
So here was the scene on that Saturday. Three of us were poring over an old piece of farm equipment. I looked liked a farmer, but didn’t have a clue. I mean not a clue. I was standing there with my two degrees in English and my title, and there was a guy there (really two of them) who could probably understand and make just about anything work. That guy has a son who has two degrees in English, and I probably know more about his son’s world than he does. The guy called me a “smart fellow” because I was college educated, and to be honest I wanted to make the point that there are all kinds of “smart” and that I have a great admiration and respect for what he does and is capable of doing. I saw that this guy is very proud of his son and has a great respect for what his son is doing which let me know that he believes that…..there are all kinds of “smart.”
Strange world, isn’t it?
There are truly all kinds of smart. All of our children must fully develop their particular kind.