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Editor’s note: Due to Harry’s recent injury he is unable to submit a new articles. We re-run a New Year’s submission from last year and wish Harry a speedy recovery.
I gave up New Year’s Resolutions. The idea behind them is good enough, but they tired me, depressingly so, as a source of annual self-disappointment. Disappointing others, however, is an ongoing source of pleasurable amusement that requires no particular effort on my part which makes it well suited to my skills and inclinations.
A nice feature of living in a rural area lies in knowing (if by sight recognition if nothing more) most of your neighbors. This is something a person commuting in a stream of 10,000 cars is generally unable to claim beyond the reliability of cursing any number of the type who cut in front or lane weave with intoxicating ease relying on the reflexes and better judgment of others. I know the gray Chevy that goes by at 1:00 is going to the Post Office and that the red pickup in front of me will not signal the right turn it makes almost daily when the driver visits his brother’s house. It’s oddly comforting knowing that cars and trucks wearing mud color paint are driven by owners living on the same county road that makes car washing an abstract idea except for a single day in August when the road is finally dry enough to be talcum instead of slurry. We may not sit down to weekly coffee at their table, but we share a sympathy of experience with those who each May face the final sprint of their drive home as a mini Battle of the Bulge navigating a muddy morass of thawing roadbed. Urban dwellers have potholes to bemoan. We here in the bush have a whole lot of other interesting things we look on as seasonal challenges that build character. I’ve never heard a person say that hitting a pothole made them a better person. Have you? Imagine what’s being missed living along paved streets.
It seems to me, however, that part of the experience a person gets out of a situation depends on what they bring to the event. If I see a driver ahead with both hands in the correct position and speed set on a cautious 55 mph do I bring judgment on the old fool or do I bring understanding? If a person knows their sight and reflexes aren’t as before it seems prudent of them to drive cautiously. Some people feel better about themselves (as if it builds immunity against future frailty) if they can mock someone else. Encountering a car at 55 when they want to be doing 60 will bring a response. Which one? “That damned old hazard is on the road again.” “No harm if I slow down a while.” In reality getting home 45 seconds earlier or later will not make much difference. If it did a person could always chew a little faster or slower to make the target of final swallow at 6:00 PM. Eating speed is variable and we are in charge, aren’t we?
Some reason, don’t know why, when I got the idea of “old me” in a New Year the image of our stoker came to mind. I’m guessing that more of you will not know what a stoker is than do, but as usual an obscure reference will not stop me. You know this to be true. In Chicago Illinois where I was a child coal was plentiful and affordable. Unlike people with scores of appliances we had but a few. Furnace, stove, ice box (as it was called), radio, phone, and lights gave us that huge carbon footprint not credited to battery power. In winter the chief energy user was the basement furnace needing regular feeding of hard coal. As people did not like having getting out of bed at 2 AM and dress suitably for the trip below to put dusty coal in the furnace having an automatic stoker do the job was a modern improvement. Ours was red and kept shiny by dad who thought more highly of it than of any church service. When we left the city dad expressed more regret leaving the stoker behind than he did over departing from some of the relatives. I was on his side with that. I’d had more than enough of cheek pinch aunts with shrill voices and uncles who had to think more than once to recall how to grunt. Some of the relatives I’d miss, but not all. Unlike dad I’d add on my list the family friend who always smelled like stale sweat. Even in February it was there; unmissable by a boy of ten snatched by arm-thighs that crushed him against a bosom far more smothery than of love.
Old Me has decided that this New Year needs a suitable beginning. The fact has sunk in that I’m not going to see a size 32 waist again unless I’m to be interned six months in Auschwitz. Facing an unpleasing reality is better than acting as if I can change facts with determination. Setting my mind doesn’t alter what’s known, only how it is known. It seems to me that having a narrative is a good way of replacing a big picture with a selective one. This is what happens when judgement and supposition get out in front and lead the parade. What’s factually correct and what’s the story (in current terminology the narrative) someone represents as factually accurate? Old Me has determined based on experience that it is quite Ok to be suspicious when a conclusion comes ahead of its proof and is supported by further conclusions and an abundance of selective labeling. Certain things that make for a better narrative suggest a suspect basis. When the narrative wears the sash of undercover, insider, secret sources we might be seeing more about the narrator’s ego than any useful information. Why but a few days ago someone ardently tried convincing me with a narrative concerning the dangers of current US Nazism. That’s an attention grabber, but if we have Nazis what is their National Socialist platform and are they currently pursuing a doctrine in the US of Nacht und Nebel? A pretense of fact might be considered falsehood.