Gatherings

old guy


 Shortly after nine in the morning, the first octogenarian arrives at the bank coffee room; Doc B. retired years ago from a state university system as director of the agricultural experiment station just east of town.  He is a country gentleman who, after retirement, served the local community on several boards, including the school board. He enjoys talking about growing up on a farm in the north of the county.

"We only came to town once a year and that was to pay taxes." and "Our family was considered well-to-do, because our outhouse was a two-holer."

The second senior to arrive is myself, thought of by the group as the southern yankee, for having lived in Kansas for thirty years and, unlike the others, having traveled about the world.

Next of the older set is J.L. owner and active manager of a lumberyard and timber company. He wears Red Wing boots, khaki pants, a white short sleeve short with two gold Cross pens in the pocket. Only inclement weather adds a coat to his daily uniform. J.L. amassed a small fortune buying and selling land and is known to keep his cards close to his chest.  His stories now days require some patience as they start in about the middle and meander either forwards or backwards and lack key nouns.

"What's that country where they ride camels and have pyramids?"

"Egypt", somebody offers.

"Yeah, that's it. Well, I saw on the news where they dug up another king that died three thousand years ago. What do they call their kings"

"Pharaohs"

"Yes, but this one was different my wife said...but I can't remember how. We saw it on that news show with the blond woman...what's her name....anyway this king was different."  ...long pause.

The last retired regular to enter is Terry, know around town as "Tight Terry" a retired banker and the only liberal in the bunch. His face will contort at the mention of our president.  He and I have a bet that Donald Trump will not complete his term in office. Terry is sure he will die, get killed, quit, or be run off by his opponents. I chide him with such remarks as:  'you liberals live in a two dimension world and we are all waiting for you to discover that third dimension.' When he arrives the conversation turns to local news, as he is on the grapevine, offering fresh information about who is in hospital, going broke, moving away or the time and place of the next funeral.

Then younger irregulars trickle in, such as Jimmy a retired coach and active real estate salesman. He is near seventy, but fancies himself the ladies man. His fancy cowboy boots are polished, creased jeans are held up with a belt festooned with silver dollars, and his starched shirt is polo. Every white hair of his receding hairline is in place. He is a fidget and the longest time he will remain seated is four minutes (I time him). He once said, "I'm only good at one thing and I can't tell you what it is." He like Terry is a gambler. He plays the ponies and the other plays poker twice a week on the river boats.

Another irregular, Field the outdoorsman, says he only know hunting and fishing, but he know them both "real well".  Field's wife makes the living so he can spend his time in the woods or on the water. He arrived last week, dressed in camouflage with his foot in a cast - his three wheeler turned over on him while he was retrieving a freshly killed buck from a gully. He regales us with the cell phone pictures of large catfish pulled from the Mississippi, crappie from local lakes, and dead deer with tongues hanging out...seven this year.

Many of the stories we tell follow well worn paths and are about long gone local characters, such as Jabo.

"Remember when Jabo was gonna get rich raising emus?"

"Yes, but tell it anyway."

The many stories are sometimes repetitive but woven together in an unconscious attempt to create a local mythology. When one of the group members dies, his story is woven in with the others.

 "Remember when old Doug was sitting over there and Terry said, 'Doug, did you fart?' " and Doug said, ' Of course, you don't think I smell this way all the time.' "

 War and sports heroes, along with everyday folks are linked, edited, and folded into our evolving fable, with an exception. One bank officer, who moved here from the north some time ago, joins the conversation without understanding the underlying narrative. He unwittingly diverts the conversation and sends it down a dead end alley. For this he has be given the nick name, Mr. Non Sequitur. I sometimes share his problem. Once I was asked what I found best about retirement and I responded, not having to attend meetings; then I mistakenly added, that the prospect of a long faculty meeting was not unlike Prometheus waiting to have his liver pecked out by an eagle; somebody asked, "Who is Prometheus? Is he from around here?"  I was well rebuked.

This morning nothing worked. We tried "failed efforts to sell cantaloupes or watermelons during the depression", then "short line railroads in the county", and gave up after "variations in lumber prices".  No thread could be found to add to our verbal Bayeux Tapestry. We shuffled away early, leaving the  room empty until the next work day when the weaving continues.

In addition to the bank group I am part of a Sunday church group - a group of another ilk - they do know of Prometheus, but do not weave. The theme of this group is western civilization, a received story. Last Sunday we talked of Harald Hardrada and how his life would make a great TV series. This group is composed of two retired college professors, a theologian (the minister), a lawyer who reads history, and a local mystery man, a scientist rumored to have been an undercover agent for the CIA.  To  provide the flavor of the group, here are some books recently read and discussed:

Sicily by John Julius Norwich.

Modern Critical Interpretations, The Book  of Job edited by Harold Bloom

The Year of Our Lord 1943, Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis by Alan Jacobs

The minister has almost finished a biography of Thomas Cromwell and will pass it along. However, his two volume set, Systematic Theology, I returned unopened.

In college history classes there were always exams that included dreaded essay questions that began, "Compare and contrast............", a ploy that might work on the two groups.

 The first difference that pops to mind is the lack of knowledge about family members of the bank group. I have never laid eyes on any family member. One guy has a wife named Shirley that rides horses, but that is all I know of her and another wife works at the court house, but remains nameless to me. Of course they speak of grandchildren, scattered across the nation, mentioned but unseen.  While the church members all attend services with wives, children, grandchildren, and some grandparents. I know them all.

Secondly, the health issues of church members is announced and discussed weekly so we can "keep them in our prayers." The bank group rarely mentions health problems, but does exchange information about health care. The type of language expected in church is clean, correct, and courteous - not so at the bank where rude language is rare, but the thin skinned never tarry.

Both groups have religious views and questions. One old bank guy proclaimed, "I believe what's in the Bible." To which somebody  replied, "Which one, there are about twenty versions." Or, "Where did Cain and Able find wives?" To which I answered, "In the next county."  On the other hand the church group is well versed on such theological matters as the Filioque Controversy and will talk at length about the difference between eastern and western iconoclast/iconophile movements. 

Being a hybrid, a southern yankee, I don't really fit well in either group, finding myself amused by one bunch and mystified by the other. When we stand and repeat The Apostles Creed in church, I considered not saying the parts I don't believe, then I realized I do not believe any of it; I acquiesce, figuring if you can not abide the doctrine, then you should either leave or keep your mouth shut. I am interested on how Christianity came to accept doctrines, such as a triune deity, rather than speculating on its veracity. I read such books as Paul Johnson's History of Christianity to find the origins of doctrines or practices and I did spend time reading about the early church just to learn how it managed to replace the older religions around the Mediterranean.

 Speculations about the nature of Jesus do not interest me at all, but I am fascinated by religious art, music, and architecture. I have no idea the number of churches, abbeys, and cloisters we have visited in Europe. How people have expressed their religious impulses through art is wonderful, from lofty cathedrals to simple icons. And consider how, over the centuries, so many believers have found hope in those expressions. For example, one old friend, a tail gunner in WWII, would sit on the far left on the front row of the Sunday school class and gaze at a take-off of The Light of the World by William Hunt hanging on the wall there.  One Sunday I sat down beside him and we spoke of the picture.  He said he could no longer hear what was being said by the teacher, but the picture was all he needed. Once, he said, he could not go on and considered suicide, but gazing at that image on Sunday mornings kept him going. 

light of the world

Man is by nature a social animal, as Aristotle noted, and growing old we settle into comfortable groups. That said, I do miss the rough and tumble life of an energetic college faculty.

End