Since the inception of this blog, I have asserted that independent thinking and action is one of the most important facets of our humanity, and one of the defining functions of personality. This is because I understand a very old (and yet very true) adage that states that “….the best ideas are common property.” Stated another way, the best principles/maxims/rules of living are understood by a great number of people, and not by a select few (those in today’s society who consider themselves the “elite,” or the so-called “intelligentsia”). Of course, in today’s America, the exact opposite is the prevailing vision, and teaching in modern schools and universities reflects this to a great extent.
It is thus refreshing to see a real-life experience–a direct antithesis to the prevailing vision–documented that proves (yet again) the truth of this ancient maxim.
The best ideas truly are common property–common property of strong-minded individuals who understand the power of independent thinking and action.
This interesting anecdote should make you stop and think before you proclaim that you are a victim of your circumstances. Circumstances are things that are beyond our control, there is no doubt….but our reaction to them is firmly planted in the realm of things we can contain and control.
Grandmother: “Carrots, Eggs, or Coffee — Which Are You?”
A young woman went to her grandmother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as soon as one problem was solved, a new one arose.
Her grandmother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water. In the first, she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the third she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil without saying a word.
In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl. Turning to her granddaughter, she asked, “Tell me, what do you see?”
“Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” the girl replied.
Grandma brought the young lady closer and asked her to feel the carrots. The girl did and noted that they had become soft. Grandma then asked her granddaughter to take an egg and break it.After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg.
Finally, Grandma asked the girl to sip the coffee. The granddaughter smiled, as she tasted its rich flavor, then asked, “What’s the point,grandmother?”
Her grandmother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity–boiling water–but each reacted differently.
The carrot went in strong, hard and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior. But, after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened.
The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.
“Which are you?” she asked her granddaughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean?”
Think of this: Which am I?
Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity, do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?
Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff?
Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and a hardened heart?
Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you.
When the hours are the darkest and trials are their greatest do you elevate to another level?
(NOTE: This article shows how an ordinary person can use ordinary objects to impart extraordinary wisdom and common sense that will serve us well in life.
While I don’t agree with every iota of philosophy expressed in this story [think, last two paragraphs], I really like the principle the three objects’ transformations illustrate. More on my interpretation in a future post.)
[Owning] A smoking gun could be as bad for your social image as a smoking cigarette, if liberals have their way.
The Christian Science Monitor, the far-out publication of the Christian Scientists, has muddled the facts once again on an important cultural issue. The magazine, which recently classed Palestinian-funded terrorist attacks against Israel as “military action,” now insists that the way to curb gun violence is a public perception campaign designed to stigmatize gun ownership, much akin to the campaign that successfully stigmatized smoking.
Recent surveys, however, may indicate that such attempts are doomed to dismal failure. According to Dr. Rob Spurgeon, holder of the chair of Aristotelian Professor of Logic and Co-chair of the Department of Farming (yes, really) at Real Life University in Western North Carolina, gun owners belong to the group of people who still evaluate any line of reasoning according to the logical merits of its arguments, rather than its emotional impact. “Those who advocate this line of reasoning aren’t thinking clearly,” Dr. Spurgeon explains. “The gun owners the progressives seek to embarrass about their guns are much more emotionally robust than their liberal counterparts. What the stigmatizers fail to admit is that many of those same gun owners are employed in professions that bring them face to face with the harsh realities of real life and the real world.
“Not every animal that is born on the farm lives to see the next spring,” Spurgeon continues. “There are many factors that contribute to a high mortality rate among the animal population of the average agrarian establishment: storm, disease, fire, predators, and yes, some of them are slated to give up their lives to feed the humans that maintain the grange.” But what does this have to do with the argument he posits against a “public shaming” campaign targeting gun owners? He explains:
“Because of the high investment in the animals in terms of time, an unavoidable emotional attachment will form as a result. Furthermore, a farmer’s great compassion for animals–despite the stereotype to the contrary–gives him a desire to see all prosper under his care. He is not overly concerned with his animals’ comfort, but neither does he neglect them. Instead, he looks most solicitously after them, for their well-being is directly tied to his own success. Thus the death of a six-week-old lamb due to complications of pneumonia is not an event which takes place in a vacuum. Unlike city-dwellers, whose primary concern is that the animals from whom the meat they purchase derives did not suffer during the ‘manufacturing’ process, these folks have deep ties to their animals. When one dies, it’s a very real and significant event in the lives of its caretakers. However, the real world dictates that the farmer–after an appropriate interval–must dry his tears, bury the dead, and get back to work.”
Nor is farming the only profession which requires a realistic, grin-and-go-on mentality. Dr. David Crain, Sr., Vice Chancellor of Real-Life University, explains:
Our student body is unique. It’s diverse. There are many different backgrounds and origins represented. Many of our students are preparing for careers in business. Some spend their time volunteering in various non-profit organizations. Others feel the call to full-time vocational ministry. Whatever the course of study in which a student is enrolled, the core curriculum is the same…
We don’t discriminate, but we don’t worry about active recruiting (affirmative action) procedures either. We believe that the students who desire to study here will come of their own volition. If they don’t want to be here, telling them how great our campus is won’t change their mind, and neither will our curriculum. Does this mean that we don’t promote the University when people ask? Certainly not! That’s half of the mission of RLU…to engage with the culture and convince others of the truth of our beliefs and practices.
Basic Economics, Politics 101, Public Speaking, English Grammar, Critical Thinking, Logic, and The Fine Art of Growing Thick Skin are courses that are non-negotiable. Here at RLU, we believe that if our graduates are to succeed, then they must learn and apply to their everyday lives the principles imparted by the dedicated staff in these departments. Our purpose is not to educate people into uselessness, but to educate them in useful disciplines that will make them profitable citizens, informed voters, critical thinkers, rational parents, and stable adults…
Dr. Crain founded Real Life University in early 1997, at the time that his oldest son, David Crain, Jr. was in the 7th grade. “I knew,” he later reminisced, “that I didn’t want my boys going out into the world without understanding where the progressive professors in the state-run education system got their ideas, and how patently false the assumptions behind accepted modern thought really are.”
Operating on a shoe-string budget, and in spite of overwhelming disapproval from his peers, Dr. Crain hand-selected his own textbooks, supplemental reading, and spent countless hours writing and re-writing tests, quizzes, and course notes, many of which are still used today in the core classes at RLU. “Despite the many hours of sleep I lost,” he said in a recent interview, “the ultimate reward was in seeing my boys grow up to be clear-eyed, level-headed thinkers who, actively refusing to imbibe the pleasant (but mind-numbing) wine of progressive socialism, entered into debate with those who espoused the progressive worldview. Above all, it was a joy to see them do so–not arrogantly–but fearlessly, regardless of the academic or political stature of their opponent.”
On hunting down one of these boys, we found young Mr. Crain, a lanky six-footer with a ready grin and a shock of curly brown hair, to be as ready a commentator as his father. He took a full two hours in the middle of mowing a pasture to answer our questions and talk politics. Wearing faded Wranglers that were dark stonewashed when new, a Ford ball cap, and a plaid flannel shirt, he jumps off the tractor and grips the author’s hand like a steel trap gripping a coyote’s paw.
“I grew up on the farm, and it’s easy to forget that not everybody shakes hands with country folk everyday,” he offers apologetically as Scribens rubs his tingling digits. A clear speaker, his voice is nevertheless tinged with an authentic Southern burr that softens the pronunciation of some words. His years of public speaking experience are evidenced by the overemphasis of certain syllables when he’s making a point, however.
“I loved living out in the country…still do,” he continued in our January 24th interview. “There’s an atmosphere of peace and safety that’s refreshing and comforting, and I’ve yet to be in a city where that same sense of security prevails. Of course, there are things that happen out here from time to time in the way of crime, but nothing like the big cities where people are stacked up in cracker-box penthouses and apartments. Out here, there’s a little more space between houses, and people are more relaxed.”
Broach the subject of politics as it relates to logical thought, and you’ll get a glimpse of what makes this young man tick. He sits up a little straighter, his voice grows a little stronger, and his eyes gleam, not with the wild light of the lunatic but the passion of an to informed man eager to guide others on the road to truth.
“Eisenhower said it, and he said it well: ‘Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.’ Granted, he was talking specifically about the military-industrial complex, but America has ignored the deeper and broader implications to her own peril.
“We live in a nation today that is convinced that truth is something that can only be obtained by a renunciation of all that has gone before, and a disinterested search through the uncharted wilds of the relativistic ether for an equally elusive concept of relevant truth for this postmodern world,” he elucidates. “The classic interpretation of truth as objective and relevant to all ages is a concept that is no longer embraced by the culturally enlightened. Objective truth has gone the way of the dinosaur, and they hope it stays there. But only by a return to this paradigm, now a pariah in the very society that gave it its greatest expression, can we hope to turn this country back to its founding principles and documents.”
At this point I mentioned the Christian Science Monitor article, and asked him what he thought of the suggested “public perception” campaign to “stigmatize gun ownership.”
He laughed. “You’re kidding, right?” Then his grin disappeared and he looked thoughtful. “It’s going to take a lot more than that, quite honestly. I mean, they compare it to smoking, but that’s just foolish. Do I agree with the stigmatization of smoking and smokers? No. I believe there’s enough evidence to convince people of the harmful effects of smoking. I have personal reasons for abstaining that include (but are not limited to) the health concerns, but I don’t believe that the government should tell anyone: ‘Thou shalt not smoke,’ or, ‘Thou shalt smoke only here, and only under these circumstances.'”
“Before you stone me as being anti-health, stop and think about it for a moment. How consistent would it be for me to lobby for the government to restrict the choice of some folks to engage in activities that I don’t like, but don’t necessarily harm others, and then scream when those same people use that same government to take away certain of my rights with which they do not agree?”
“Now, I’m not equating smoking to bearing arms as a right; I’m just drawing a parallel. A much more equal comparison would be between free speech and bearing arms; or between right to protection from unreasonable search and seizure and bearing arms. These are all rights as granted by the Constitution and the Amendments thereof, and they are not, as the Second Amendment states, to be infringed.”
“So do I think the progressives will be successful in their campaign to stigmatize guns? No, I don’t. The people they seek to bully into cowering submission are largely well-educated, familiar with real life, accustomed to hardship, and are pretty set in their convictions on these matters. They’re not doing something that is harmful to their health, something that they took up years ago because everybody thought it was cool…that’s what smoking is for many people. But gun ownership is different, and ingrained in the DNA of every conservative father is the drive to pass on the safe use of, and love for, guns.”
“Despite any attempts to stigmatize the owners, guns are part of the American way of life. Their ownership is protected by our Constitution, their safe and responsible use is encouraged by countless thousands of conservative parents, and their presence–in the hands of well-trained civilians who know where and how to use them–is part of the reason my home town has a relatively low crime rate. Yes, evil men use them to commit evil deeds…but good men use them just as often to prevent evil deeds. In a gun-crime situation, the problem isn’t the gun…it’s the man behind the gun.”
“That’s the central message behind our stance on weapons and the Second Amendment.”
Text for this article is taken from interviews with the gentlemen listed and is the proprietary intellectual property of Excogitatoris Scribens™.
Recently, Jeff Rutherford–a follower of my blog and manager of Necessary and Proper Government–asked me from whence I’d gained my political and economic knowledge. After a moment’s thought, I realized it was a question I’ve never answered. So, how did I come to the place where I am now, politically and economically?
I could say “On my own,” but that wouldn’t be entirely accurate.
I was born into a conservative home; furthermore, both my parents were devout Christians. From my earliest recollection and before, I was in church each time the doors were open. Even though TV had been around for decades by the time the early ’90s rolled around, I spent the first ten years of my life with almost no time in front of a television screen. There wasn’t one in the house, so what little exposure I had was at friends’ houses, and then it was usually a movie that my friend’s mother had cleared with my mother.
I mentioned in my post, Cliffs, Fences, and Ambulances that the poem was a great jumping-off point for this explanatory post of where I am today. If you haven’t yet, I urge you to use the above link and read the poem in its entirety. It probably won’t take you more than five minutes.
Are you back? Great! Let’s continue.
The crux of the matter in the above-referenced poem is the question of whether we should build a fence round the top of the cliff (pre-crisis intervention), or place an ambulance down below to clean up the mess (post-crisis intervention). From the moment I was born, my parents agreed to set up certain boundaries in my life that would prevent me from going in a direction that would inhibit their desire to see me grow in the knowledge of the truth. They did their best to protect me from the “one-off” mistakes; you know, the ones where you make a mistake once, and they kill you. In other areas, they allowed me to make mistakes, waited for me to pick myself up and dust myself off, and then used that real-life experience to illustrate a principle that carried over into countless other areas of life. By allowing me to suffer the consequences of small mistakes in a controlled environment, they were educating me on the principles of reaping what you sow, without allowing me to invest so much that I’d destroy myself in the downfall.
Contrary to popular philosophical and psychological counsel, my parents understood that leaving someone free to choose does not mean allowing them to have their own way from birth.
At the young age of four, in the church I had attended since birth, God used a very special Book to change my life. On a Sunday evening in October of 1993, I realized that being in church with my Christian parents wasn’t enough. I needed a personal relationship with Christ. I met Him that night, and I’ve never been the same since.
As I continued to grow and mature, my parents used their influence to guide me into the way of analyzing every philosophy against the framework of real life. Contrary to the common method of “If it sounds good, it is good,” my parents invited me to critically examine and weigh the evidence from both sides of the issue.
When I was about sixteen years old, my dad brought home another book that changed my life. Somehow, somewhere, he’d heard of the writings of one Thomas Sowell, a prominent conservative black economist. After reading a few of his columns online, my dad had purchased his book White Liberals and Black Rednecks.
As I read the book, it struck me how much Dr. Sowell’s message backed up what my dad had told me for years. Although my understanding was imperfect at the time, and I was mainly rejoicing in the fact that someone was willing to attack the liberals so forcefully in print, I was also absorbing and storing information and principles that would stick with me for years to come.
As I grew still older and entered the workplace, I began to see the message behind the message in Dr. Sowell’s books. By this time, my dad owned three or four, and I’d purchased four or five with some of the money I was earning from my first real job. I’d also bought several books by Dr. Sowell’s contemporary, Dr. Walter Williams.
By the time I was twenty years of age, I’d spent three years in the workforce, and nearly as long digesting the books by these two preeminent economists. Though I never would have been able to phrase it so at the time, I was amazed at the difference between their words and the words of my fellow workers of African-American heritage. In the back of my mind, tension was growing. Who was right? The fellows I worked with spouted words that sounded so good…they made people feel good about themselves, they removed a lot of the responsibility for bad choices from the individual and placed it on the collective shoulders of society, etc., etc. Where had I heard this before?
The answer came to me, not in a single, blinding epiphany, but over the course of years of reading news articles and editorials, observing current events, spending hours contemplating the inconsistencies between people’s words and reality, and prayerfully searching the Scriptures.
Gradually, it began to dawn on me that the philosophy espoused by my coworkers–appeal to the emotions notwithstanding–was the faulty one that left countless nuances of reality unexplained. It’s difficult to put into words the hundreds of events and factors that came into play as I wrestled with this complicated issue.
Although I was now at the point where my parents had set me free to draw my own conclusions, I had by no means completely discounted their opinions. Other adults at church who shared my father’s views on many issues solidified the growing regard in which I held those same views. And for nearly a year, my father printed off hundreds of articles by conservatives from across the nation, brought them home, and just left them lying where I’d be sure to see them.
I mentioned earlier the fact that for ten years of my life, we had no television in the house. Thus, I was from an early age completely engaged with books. I learned to read at the age of five, and developed early a love for reading that has never departed. Nearly twenty years later, I’d still rather read a book than watch a film, and even radio is preferable to television in my eyes. Because of this love for reading, I devoured every printout my dad brought home, and the constant exposure to factual, logical analysis of the current events and policies in Washington took root in my mind.
All of these things have contributed to my current position. I stand behind statements I’ve previously made: reading is the single most important element in teaching a child to think critically, logically, and linearly. A good reader is a good thinker. Reading properly promotes memory, because it forces the reader to remember and track arguments and trains of thought across pages of printed matter, and to gather up the loose ends and tie them all together at the close. True, a well-written book or article will aid the reader in this process; but, without memory, reading is a pointless and frustrating endeavor.
So, the answer is that my knowledge of politics and economics is largely from self-education. I know more about politics now than I did three years ago, and it is my desire to continue to learn more about politics and economics for the rest of my life. Although I don’t feel led to pursue a career in either field presently, I know that everything I learn will have value in enabling me to make sense of the world at large. It will also make me a better-informed and more productive participant in the political process, which I firmly believe was what our Founding Fathers had in mind.
I realize this explanation isn’t complete, but it’s a start. As you’ve read it, I hope some of your questions have been answered. Perhaps some have not. Perhaps other inquiries have come to mind. If so, please share them with me. What else would you like to know about the way my education shaped my thinking?
I have a great family. I know a lot of folks that don’t get along with the people closest to them, but I get on quite well with my kinfolk.
My littlest brother is the most awesome fellow I know. This little gent, two years old, hit all the right notes this Christmas.
Here you see the guy in question offering someone (probably my sister) a flower. See? He knows what’s up. 😉
Given the large size of our family, it would be rather hard for everyone to get everyone else a decent gift. So to enable everyone to get a few nicer gifts (and to cut down on the post-Christmas clutter, I suppose), my Mom long ago hit on the perfect solution: we draw names from a hat. That way, everyone receives one (or two) nice gifts from another sibling, and Mom and Dad purchase one or two for each child. It means a smaller Christmas, but it works really well.
This year, my awesome little brother drew my name. Oh, one more thing about the drawing: we have to keep the names a secret. Whoever we get, we have to keep it to ourselves and do our own shopping. Normally, someone will be taken into confidence in search of outside ideas for gifts, but on the whole, a great amount of mystery pervades the atmosphere as Christmas draws ever nearer. Even when it came to picking his adviser, Jon had it all figured out. He went to Mom, and the scheming began. Most of my family is pretty good at keeping a confidence, but nobody’s better at it than Mom. She puts everything into the safe, and nobody can take it back out again.
So Christmas morning arrives and I have no idea what’s coming. We all wake up early and open the presents in our stockings, as usual. After a delicious breakfast of apricot braid bread, we all gather in the living room to listen to my Dad read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke before we open the presents under the tree.
The story being read, the fun begins. Dad hands out the gifts one at a time. Suddenly, he tosses me a package from Jonny. I tear off the paper and find a pair of flannel pajama pants. Like I said, Jonny picked his adviser well. 🙂
But that wasn’t it. Five minutes later, another package from Jonny comes my way. As I take it, it looks like a book; hefts like one. But when I open it, it’s a BIG pack of Stride gum! As in, 15 packs of it! 😀
I am a gum fanatic, and Stride is my favorite kind of gum. So it really made my day to get that from my awesome little brother. Like I said, he knew what was up, and he picked the right person to help him in his gift search.
I still have some gum left, and as I head into the new year, my flannel pajama pants are my favorite attire for relaxing around the house. Yep, I’m glad the two-year-old picked my name this past Christmas.
Who knows? I might even try to rig it where he draws it again this year. 😉
Riding through town, watching the traffic lights turn from red to green. Walking into store after store, striding past throngs of people, noting the expressions on their faces. Some happy. Some sad. Some harried. Some perturbed. All hurried.
It’s Christmas time.
Driving down Main Street, the older part of town, seeing all the shops closed. Lights are off, doors are locked, and only the traffic lights are working the holiday. Even the police and fire stations are quieter than normal. On the front lawn of the police station, a sign wishes all passersby, “Merry Christmas!” No one objects.
It’s Christmas time.
Tomorrow, the children will be up early at the Crain household. Have you ever known a child to sleep past seven AM on Christmas morning? 😉 They’ll tumble down the stairs, pell-mell, intent on reaching the stockings stacked along the steps. We always open our stocking presents first thing in the morning, and then open our other presents later, after breakfast and other traditional happenings.
One of our family’s traditions is apricot braid bread, made from scratch, rolled, shaped, braided, baked, and glazed by my dad and sister. When it’s finally ready, we all pull up to the table and set to with a good will. After demolishing two large loaves of the wonderful Christmastime treat, we all gather in the living room.
Perhaps my favorite tradition is the reading of the First Christmas Story from Luke chapter 2. All the kids, Mom, and Grandma sit in the large great room and listen as Dad reads the sacred text in his rich baritone voice. I’ve always loved reading, but I particularly enjoy hearing a good reader read aloud. There’s something magical about the cadence of a well-constructed story being read aloud, and this account is one of the best-written true stories I’ve ever read. Instantly, I’m carried back to the rocky traces of Galilee and Judea, seeing in my mind’s eye the couple making their weary way toward Bethlehem. I see the crowded streets, the bustling crowds of census observers, the packed inns and hotels. I see Joseph asking at hostel after hostel for lodging, a corner for he and his weary wife. Innkeeper after innkeeper turns him away altogether. Finally, perhaps at the last hotel in town, the innkeeper offers the stable. It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing…
They turn the weary donkey toward the stable.
There, in the comfortably warm atmosphere of a cattle stall, the most important baby ever born comes into the world. His mother wraps him in swathing bands and places him in a manger full of hay. A brightly-robed angel brings the news to a group of shepherds outside the town that a special child has been born. Overhead, a bright new star shines; and, a thousand miles away, wise men notice this star and set out to seek the one of whose birth it speaks.
It’s Christmas time!
Tomorrow, the stores will be open again. People will be in Wal-Mart, K-Mart, and countless other places, standing in long lines to exchange the things they got but didn’t want for the things they wanted but didn’t get. Workplaces will be open again, and those who have not taken vacation time will be back in the ranks, working hard to make a living and get ahead. Christmas will be forgotten…or will it?
I didn’t remember Christmas being right after Halloween! Yet, when I look around, I see stores taking down their Halloween decorations and breaking out the snowmen, reindeer, Santa Clauses, and elves. Setting aside for a moment this perversion of the real reason for the Christmas season, I’m concerned by this slide from one pagan observance to another. In addition to the distraction from the true meaning of the first Christmas, it completely ignores one of the few truly American holidays: Thanksgiving.
In this materialistic society in which we live, the nationwide trend is to forget those things that we have in the pursuit of something new that we desire. The only time we are supposed to remember those things we have is when they can serve as a means to an end; namely, to acquire something new!
The truth is, American Christians have become as caught up in this pursuit of material wealth as those who do not know Christ. As America has grown more prosperous, some have begun to preach that trusting Christ as your savior will automatically give you a better life…materially speaking. While it is true that receiving Christ will give you a better life spiritually, it is also true that God does not remove the consequences of every choice from your life. What does this mean? It means that your physical life may not improve as much as you think it should, just because you’ve joined the family of God.
Now, are material goods evil? No…but then, neither are they good. Even money is not innately evil, as it would seem that some believe. What is evil, the Scripture tells us, is the love of money. This is an important concept to grasp, because it flies in the face of the belief that all rich people are evil. Did some who are rich acquire their wealth by shady practices and unethical methods? Sure…but then again, some did not. The key, the Scripture tells us, is to be content with what the Lord has given you.
So what is Thanksgiving all about? Ask a group of ten youngsters, and you’ll probably get ten different answers. “Food!” hollers a five-year-old boy. “Football!” shouts a ten-year-old. “Family reunions,” grumbles a thirteen-year-old. Everyone chimes in with their view of what Thanksgiving is really about, but only a few, perhaps none of them, will give the real purpose: Thanksgiving is about giving thanks to God for His abundant provision.
Here is where contentment enters the equation. Many people, when confronted with this simple definition of the meaning of Thanksgiving, display an overt feeling of revulsion and protest, “But what do I have to be thankful for?”
Have you so totally surrendered your sense of gratitude and contentment to the inane race for more stuff that you can’t stop for even one minute to contemplate something for which you can be thankful?
Have you so forgotten the blessing of freedom that you can stand on American soil and complain that you have nothing for which to be thankful? Have you so ignored the sacrifice of countless men and women in uniform, some of whom are still serving to protect your right to forget, that you can’t spare one moment to be thankful?
Have you grown so used to eating three square meals a day that you have forgotten that millions are lucky to have even one? Have you become so accustomed to lying down at night and sleeping in perfect safety that you have forgotten that there are thousands, some in this country, who do not have that luxury?
Have you forgotten that there are those who cannot afford to purchase new shoes every year? Or who go without because they cannot afford them at all? Have you forgotten that there are many who lack basic necessities of clothing, while you gripe about your closet full of nice clothes, just because you’ve “worn everything at least once.” Really?
Have you forgotten what it means to be cold? Have you spent your entire life in climate-controlled environments to an extent that you forget that the actual climate does have some pretty uncomfortable extremes?
Have we as a nation become so used to having our every wish instantly gratified that we have had our consciences seared to an extent where we no longer appreciate the little things?
When I was growing up, my parents never allowed me to indulge my every whim, and they required me to maintain a good attitude and acceptable demeanor nonetheless. At the time, I thought they were mean. Now that I’ve grown older, I understand that they were teaching me to accept the reality that no, you don’t always get everything you want…but you should be thankful anyway.
Thanksgiving is next week…for what will you be thankful?
Josiah is getting ready to go to market, and Jed is going with him. It’s a farmers’ market where people go to buy veggies and meat raised on small farms in the area, but Jed is still excited. “I’m taking my money, Siah,” he declares exuberantly. “Cool, dude, whatcha gonna buy?” The response is instant and confident: “A gun.” “A gun?” Josiah is skeptical, but Jed affirms vigorously, “A gun.” “Well, how much money do you have?” Jed answers as he spills some coins onto the table, “Hundreds and hundreds of dollars.” Josiah tries to explain to Jed that he only has a few hundredths of one dollar, but Jed remains unconvinced. “No, Siah, I’m gonna buy a gun…A shotgun.”
When you’re young, everything is bigger. The small things are larger than life, and the big ones are gigantic. An oak tree with a bend a few feet off the ground becomes a castle’s tower, or a mountain to conquer, or the bow of a mighty sailing vessel. For hours you stride along the seven feet of almost-level trunk, directing epic sea battles from the for’rard deck of your flagship. You stand in the topmost turret of your castle, barking orders that are obeyed instantly by hapless minions fearing death should they incur your displeasure, and then Dad appears and his head is level with the top of your 200-ft. tower –“Time for supper,” he says—and you’re a kid again and leap, howling with delight, into your father’s mighty arms.
Warm weather means it will be swimming season soon, and the kids walk down to the creek to “wade.” Invariably, someone “falls in,” “accidentally,” in such a way that—even though the creek is only two feet deep, at most—they’re soaked up to their neck. Joseph and Nathan hatch a plot to pull the wool over Mom’s eyes (“Nate, you push me in, and I’ll say such and such happened, then we’ll dunk you and say…”), and it works. Mom doesn’t suspect them, but simply orders them to take a shower, and they laugh about their cleverness—quietly, of course—but big brother heard them conspiring. As Joseph is taking the mandated shower, big brother steps into the laundry room and turns off the hot-water heater, (one of those tankless, on-demand, gas-powered contraptions) and the resulting icy deluge almost kills him, but leaves enough life in him that he can loudly express his displeasure. He storms out after his shower, demanding to know WHO would DARE! …but everyone’s laughing and nobody’s talking, so Joseph has to let it go.
It’s April, and the garden bug bit Dad in January, so he’s had plant fever for about three months now, and the garden plots are full of green shoots in neat rows. Raised beds of potatoes occupy all of one plot, and the other is half-filled with more elevated beds containing leaf lettuce, carrots, beets, carrots, and greens (spinach, kale, collards, and mustards among them). Already there have been several salads made with homegrown lettuce—character-building opportunities for the kids (“See here, Jed, it’s either eat salad or go hungry,” Dad tells him, and Jed digs in like the salad is cupcakes with sprinkles and icing on top)—and everyone eagerly anticipates fresh kale to go with pork chops and corn bread. There’s ham in the freezer, for black beans and ham (with rice and coleslaw), and a package of sirloin tip for beef stew, also served over rice. A perennial favorite is Southwest Soup: tomatoes, corn, black beans, and ground beef, served with tortilla chips and sour cream. And then there are eggs, bacon, grits, oatmeal, whole grain cereals, All-Bran (looks just like bran pellets they give to horses), and all sorts of other good and wholesome food. Eating is not something the Crains take lightly; it’s serious business, providing the means to survive and work another day, cooperating with their overall goal of a healthy lifestyle…and yes, they enjoy their food, too!
Mom is in the kitchen, about to grind wheat in her WhisperMill that sounds like an airplane on final approach (“It’s the quietest one on the market,” she says in her gentle way as the mill gears down to convert the hard red wheat into wholesome flour), and the plane lands, taxies to the terminal and shuts off its engines—the turbines take a full minute to wind down. But there’s fresh bread for supper, and the whole family spreads butter on the piping-hot slices, and thanks the Lord for the Whisper(Loud)Mill. They also thank Him that Mom knows how to cook so well.
Dad and David take a trip to pick up a piece of equipment for the farm, and the journey begins at six AM…after breakfast, of course. Dad hooks the trailer to the truck, and the two of them journey four hours east to get this disc. CDs are rapidly going the way of the 8-track tape, but this disc was made before either of them were around—it’s a disc harrow that breaks up the sod and readies the soil for planting—and although it’s old, it’s definitely usable. On the way home, they share a Subway sandwich and reminisce about Florida, the state where Dad grew up, and how much the eastern part of NC reminds them of it (“It’s almost like somebody copied and pasted the landscape and vegetation,” David observes to himself). Arriving home in the mid-afternoon, they slide gratefully from the truck and stretch their legs—“That truck gets smaller as the trip gets longer,” Dad jokes—and they’re greeted with shouts of welcome from the family and yelps of joy from Ivan, the ninety-pound Boerbel that loves to see his people come home from anywhere. After a nutritious meal, the family gathers in the living room to hear Dad read from the Bible and a Ralph Moody book. Moody writes about life as it was at the beginning of the last century, and everyone loves to hear Dad read about the interesting experience Ralph had in Colorado, Massachusetts, Maine, and the Southwestern United States.
Well, that’s the news from Ellenboro, where the roads are never straight, the stores are small, the people are friendly—and the traffic lights are so close together, if you sneeze you’ll run ‘em both.
After a winter that was more like a continuation of autumn (minus the falling leaves), spring has stepped out and thrown a verdant blanket over everything in sight. The weather, already unseasonably warm, has grown still warmer, and temperatures that seldom appear until late June are boldly strutting forth. Already, the thermometer has topped out over eighty degrees several days, and the older residents shake their heads and grumble to each other, “Never seen it this warm in April.” It was almost this warm last year in May, but the intervening winter weather wasn’t cold enough to make them appreciate hot weather; so they spin the dial on their home thermostats and grumble. “Never seen it so hot this early…shut the door, Frankie! We ain’t coolin’ the whole outdoors, for cryin’ out loud!” Five-year-old Frankie, startled by Grampa Jim’s sudden command, hurriedly slams the door on three of his fingers. Loud wails ensue, and Grammaw rushes to console him with an orange creamsicle. Grampa settles deeper into his leather armchair, grumbling to himself, “Even the kids are grumpy, it’s so hot,” and he turns the TV up so he can hear, which means anybody else trying to talk has to shout over the newscaster’s voice blaring from the set.
It’s been warm all month, but some of the good ol’ boys are shaking their heads about the unseasonably warm weather. The dogs lie panting in the shade cast by the trucks, and the fellas stand around with their boots (well-worn, muddy Justin, Red Wing, & Irish Setter) on the running-boards, muttering about record temperatures, high and low, spitting tobacco juice and expressing uncertainty about the weather holding. “I dunno,” one proclaims around a chaw of Red Man, “This warm this early…we’re liable to have a late cold spell here directly.” (In rural NC, “directly” means “in a short [but unspecified] amount of time,” not “in a direct manner.”) “Quit your yammerin’, Blake,” grumbles Ken, “I’ve already got my garden in.”
It’s been hot, but the rains have been regular, and everything’s growing like weeds. At the Crain house, the garden is growin’ to beat the band…and the weeds are growin’ to beat the garden. Dad walks through the garden, noting the growth of veggies and weeds, the faithful and the interlopers, and at the supper table that night, he announces that tomorrow is weed-pulling day (“There will be a family-wide weed-pull tomorrow, from 8AM-until; bring a hat, a hoe, and a good attitude…”) to a stifled, collective groan.
Weed-pulling means scratching at the dirt with hoes, cultivators, sticks, fingers…in short, anything that allows for digging out of weeds—roots and all—without harming the vegetables. It means crawling up and down—on dirt that is like an iron skillet, it gets so hot—beside row after row of tiny veggie plants, ousting the vile weeds, and before long the boys make a game of it. The good plants are their army, and they’re the mighty generals in command (except mighty generals don’t crawl on hands and knees through the dirt, they ride astride fine horses, wearing fine uniforms and wonderful hats; they look calm and aloof, and say wonderful, grown-up things like, “Now, what are the consequences of going through with this endeavor?” that’s what generals do) and then Mom calls from the deck, “Lunch!” and the boys clear the chest-high chain-link fence in a single bound, they’re so hungry.
Lunch is good, and there’s plenty of food for everybody, but Joseph & Nathan always ask for more. “Please, Mom, may we have some more, please?” Dad looks up from his first helping, “You can wait…some of us haven’t finished our firsts yet. Besides, you won’t starve to death if you don’t have more.” Joseph—feeling somewhat bold since Dad is 10 feet away and there are three people between them—starts grumbling, but Josiah shushes him in a hurry: “Whatsa matter witcha, ya got a death wish or somethin’? When I was your age, I ate like a pregnant moose…but I worked like a horse.” Then dinner’s over and the boys march back out to the garden to finish weeding, thinking on the way of horses that eat like pregnant mooses (meese? moose?) and sound a lot like Josiah.
It’s hot, and everything’s growing, and the boys’ pants get shorter in the leg as if by magic (“It’s like they’re drinking Miracle-Gro,” Mom sighs). Dress shirts get tight in the shoulders, and shoes pinch so they kick them off every chance they get.
Josiah is leasing a parcel of land just down the road, and he & Dad sit in the living room, after meals and until long after bedtime, talking farm names, plants to grow, fertilizer-to-acre ratios, and what sort of animals to raise and how to grow the food for them. “We have to grow our own forages,” Dad states emphatically, “because non-GMO foods are prohibitively expensive,” and Josiah nods in agreement, while the others scratch their heads and wonder what GMO is, anyway.
Well, that’s the news from Ellenboro, where the roads are never straight, the stores are small, the people are friendly–and the traffic lights are so close together, if you sneeze you’ll run ’em both.