Sunday, November 23, 2014

Deer Me

A friend was glad she shot a deer and shared her excitement and exuberant joy all over town. First the antlers appeared on Facebook and then she shared the photos in person as well as the detailed tale. Every move she made to harvest meat was epic and every episode shone clear from her adrenaline-soaked memory to my staid antique composure. I tried to be uncharacteristically demonstrative, but doubtless failed. At any rate, she said, “You want a haunch?” The query was answered in the affirmative and so it came in white paper with her presence to instruct the not-so-sharp wielder of sharpness, me.
I have cut up venison before. Venison is a name for deer we got from the French. We do not like to say we are having dead deer for supper so we say venison, just like when we don’t want to use the Anglo-Saxon “sweat” we use the French, “perspiration.” I got two nice roasts, a few good steaks and a bunch of stew meat from the generous gift. What was left of the meat, gristled, undesirable, useless, hanging onto the bone like moss on cypress, became late night repast for whatever roamed the nearby woods. I served it quietly and with great humility, hurrying away before some imagined spot-lighter could illumine me and take me for a sylvan ungulate, and I mean take me in both senses of the word take. We expressed our gratitude to our marksman, that is, markswoman friend and she departed gleeful to have shared the meat she herself had acquired through skill and hardihood and endurance in the deep woods she called, as is common around here, the deer woods.
Wouldn’t it make the prolific squirrels a bit indignant if they knew we were designating their woods as deer woods? I never heard a soul say squirrel woods, and no one ever uttered crow woods or armadillo woods. And, I doubt the deer have sense enough to be proud of the undeserved nomenclature. Why not call them animal woods, or game woods or just plain woods. I would.
Speaking of armadillos, if they would just learn to keep their cool and not jump they would live a lot longer. We see so many armadillos sleeping with their fathers, to use a biblical euphemism, in the middle of the road because they jump up and get clobbered. If they would stay low, they would survive. (Staying low may be good advice for many of us). I like armadillos even though they carry leprosy. They are armored possums and resemble them on the underside. The armadillo sow always has four young at a time and they are always of the same gender, because, I’m told, they come from a single four-chambered egg. I also read that these primitive creatures cannot swim. When they cross a stream, they walk turtle-like on the bottom, having the ability to hold their breath for a long time. Maybe that’s why you don’t see many of them in Mississippi.

I heard a man in Drew County say the best hamburger he ever had was in Amarillo and the best barbecued armadillo he ever had was in Hamburg. Go figure.

Sunday, November 16, 2014


A friend of mine asked me to consult my Oxford English Dictionary (OED) on the word “fake.” He did not tell me why. The OED is a magnificent 13 volume work of English scholarship that gives the first known usage of a word and then traces the changes in meaning. For example, the first usage of the word “Lord” was “Hlafweard” which meant loaf-warden or loaf-guardian. The OED traces the way the meaning changed as well as the pronunciation evolution.
So, I looked up the word “fake” for my friend. Even though there is a Germanic word, “fegen” that meant to sweep or thrash, the OED claims an obscure origin for “fake.” The work speculates that it may be Native American, as Captain John Smith used the word in 1607 to mean a fold or coil of rope. It was not until the middle of the 19th Century that the word was used in the sense in which we use it, as in “theatrical fake.”
How could a word that meant fold become something that meant being false or hypocritical? Well, maybe we can be faked out by folds because one is just like the other. Or, similarly, maybe coils of rope all look alike and one can be a false version of the other. Or, and this is admittedly a wild speculation, maybe the fold in a theater curtain came to represent theatrical fakes, or actors as we would call them.
Anyway, I started thinking about fakes and hypocrites. What is it to be one? I suppose it is looking one way on the outside and being another way on the inside. When I was learning to drive the big military trucks in Germany, one of my shotgun riders, Thornton, noticed that I was being extremely cautious and nervous. He said, “Ford, just fake it. Act like you know what you are doing and you will be able to drive this thing like a pro.” I took his advice, and the fake became the real. So, at least in that case, I suppose being a kind of hypocrite was more or less non-blameworthy.
In the same way, when I started teaching college classes at Auburn, I really did not know what I was doing. I had obviously observed a lot of college teachers, so I had a variety of role models to imitate, but I did not really know how to teach. So, I thought back to what Thornton told me about driving a truck. I acted like I had been teaching classes for years on end and the students seemed to believe it. I mean, I didn’t lie verbally, but my behavior misrepresented my inner insecurity. I gained confidence after I realized that the students did not know what was going on in my inner man.

It makes me think of Samuel of old. He was supposed to anoint a new king for Israel, because old King Saul had been disobedient. He was sent to Jesse’s house in Bethlehem, a man with eight sons. He knew one of them was to be king but he didn’t know which one. When the first one came out, he looked every inch a king, so Samuel wanted to anoint him. But the Lord let him know that He looked on the inside, not like men who look on the outside. At length, Samuel anointed little David, a ruddy shepherd boy who looked nothing like a king at that point. You can’t tell a book by its cover. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014


I was fascinated by the shepherd and his flock that was allowed onto Hahn Air Base in Germany. When the rugged man and his ruddy son led the flock through the main gate, I could hear the bleats from the sheep and murmurs from both guys. I think they must have been calling the sheep by name, carefully giving instructions to the wooly mass as it spread hungrily through the grass just inside the base.
It was incongruous to witness such an archaic scene where ordinarily one could only see complex military equipment roaring about. But, according to the base commander, letting the sheep in from time to time was cheaper than mowing and the fertilizer was free. Thus, the military leadership saved the taxpayers money while beautifying the base as well as providing a very peaceful pastoral scene for the GIs.
The shepherd and his boy both wielded staffs with crooks on the end. I saw the elder shepherd use his a time or two for something other than a walking stick. Occasionally, he would reach out with the crook and gather some of the younger and dumber lambs in closer to the flock. Sometimes he would encourage the dilatory with the other end of his staff. The lad used his on an unruly puppy that was slowly learning the trade so I was satisfied that the staff could serve as a weapon. After all, David of old was said to have killed wild animals to keep them off his sheep.
The symbol of a Christian bishop is a shepherd’s staff. The word “bishop” means “overseer” and, as such, his job is to reach out and gather people in, encourage them with the other end and perhaps even to do what Christians call spiritual warfare. So, the shepherd’s staff is a great symbol for what the bishop does. Most of us have witnessed processionals either in person or on television with the bishop in the lead carrying an elaborate silvered and bejeweled staff. What the scene says is that this person is a shepherd of the flock, ready to gather, encourage and protect.
Once when I was working on a military project near an open area on the base, I got an up close look at lunchtime for the shepherd and his lad. They spread a large rough cloth at the edge of a hardwood draw and reclined on their sides to eat some strong-smelling cheese and each drank a little beer from a “snap-cap” bottle. The dogs reclined nearby, casting lustful looks towards the cheese and bread, but they never got a bite. Occasionally the ever-alert shepherds would call out something and the designated sheep would react obediently. If there was any rebellion, they would send the dogs on a mission the animals relished. I had learned to say “it is a nice day” in German, so I said it to the shepherds. The younger replied in slightly accented English that they did not speak much German. They were Dutch.

Oh well. Whatever their nationality, I enjoyed watching them ply their ancient trade and learned something about why Christian bishops carry a staff.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Good and Bad of Somnambulism

Somnambulism could have cost my life when I was a kid. Now that I am old, it could have saved my life. Let me explain by telling you a story. Ice-laden trees beat my house and truck and outbuildings up in the 2000 ice storm so I have been wary of looming limbs ever since. There is a tall pine with some kind of non-healing wound right outside my bedroom. I called the tree cutting man to come take it down and to trim an oak on my yard that is nudging the steeple of the church next door.
This action takes care of two problems borne in upon me by nature: one, I hope I will quit worrying about that pine pinning my wife and me to eternity in the middle of the night; two, maybe the church people will stop looking at the steeple, then me and shaking their heads. Thus, I will preserve my life and that of my wife and return to the good graces of the congregation. It was an expensive process, but well worth it. I can remain in the land of the living with my reputation as a problem-solver, such as it was, relatively unblemished.
Now, here is the problem that could have saved my life a long time ago. When I was a kid, a friend and I built an extravagant treehouse in a sweet gum. I wanted to take up residence there, even sleep there in that primordial nest. My parents would not allow sleeping up there because they were familiar with my tendency to sleep-walk. So, somnambulism may have killed me as a kid and saved me more recently. For example, what if I had been sleep-walking when the pine outside my bedroom finally collapsed. I would have lived! I just hope my wife would have been up as well, trying to convince me I was dreaming, thus escaping the calamity.
Actually, I have not ambled in my sleeping state in quite a few years. I am very glad that I sleep more soundly now. One night when I was a teenager, I had a car that I parked on the street on a hill. I was always careful to turn the wheel so that it was lodged against the curb. But, somehow in my sleep I thought the car was rolling off down the hill and I was on the floorboard looking for the brake. In the real world, I was on the floor working the shuttle of an old sewing machine, making a lot of racket. Pop came into the room to see what the matter was. I said, in my sleep, “My car is rolling off down the hill.” He looked out the window and said, “Boy, that car ain’t going nowhere. Get back in the bed.”

I obeyed, but it took some five minutes for me to figure out that I had been dreaming. In summary, as an erstwhile sleepwalker, I could have been in danger. But as an old man, a little sleep walking may have saved me. And my wife.