Random thoughts from someone too worn out from a bizarre and terrible year to write a one-themed essay:

It’s Long Past Time: First, a serious note. One of the problems with writing about current events is that after a while, they’re no longer current. However, given the magnitude of the events of the last four years, this year in particular, and especially the last couple of unreal, surreal months, this might resonate for a while. I typically write frivolous drivel[1]As if there’s any other kind. in these pages. I try to find humor in most situations. Thanks to medication[2]I have clinical depression that I’m grateful is managed with a cocktail of meds. Without them, not only is the glass half empty – it’s leaking., I try to be a “glass half full” person. But the direction our country has taken in recent years has me a bit concerned. Hyper-partisan Republican “leadership,” utterly lacking in humanity and humility, courage and conviction, has allowed hundreds of thousands to die, left millions struggling, and created a nation divided. (And yes, I acknowledge the Democrats who likewise dig in and refuse to find common ground. Fanaticism on both ends of the political spectrum is a dangerous thing.) The unnaturally-orange, immoral, indecent, inept, inhumane, immature, unqualified, unlettered, resentful, vindictive, narcissistic, racist, paranoid, psychotic, sociopathic failed businessman-conman-bully of a “president” is thankfully – finally – on his way out. But the damage he and his Republican enablers wrought will likely be a long time in the undoing. My hope is that these years have been the last-gasp Hail Mary of the rednecks, and our republic will be saved by a blessedly changing America: a nation of younger, wiser people, of people of color who suffer bigotry and injustice no longer, of all those who have endured the chokehold of the rich and powerful for far too long.

Now on to the drivel …

Rule of Marital Happiness Gift-Giving: In general, a woman’s appreciation for a gift is inversely proportional to its usefulness. I learned this the hard way, many years ago, when my “big gift” to my wife for Christmas was an electric can-opener. Before you judge me, hear the story: the electric can opener we got as a wedding present gave out after ten years or so. My wife and I shared cooking duties – still do. After the electric one crapped out, we used one of those unwieldy hand-crank ones for a year, complaining each time. Well, as I shopped for my beloved, I came across a new electric can opener. “Wow, what a great gift,” I thought. “She will really appreciate my thoughtfulness, not having to grind through those can lids any more. She’ll be sothankful.” Um, no. Because, being a woman, she inferred thus: “So, this is what he thinks of me: just a cook in the kitchen.” But in my defense[3]I know; I don’t have one., it was a top-of-the-line, best-that-money-could-buy can opener. Epilogue: I was a lonely boy for some weeks that yuletide.

Speaking of How Women Think: One of the biggest, er, “discussions” of our marriage happened when we were running late for a wedding rehearsal dinner, a couple of hundred miles from home. In fact, we had to stop at one of those giant combination mega-convenience store/truck stops to change into our evening wear in the car. I finished first and needed to use the rest room. Wanting to make sure we didn’t lock our keys in the car in case she finished and also needed to go, I asked, “Do you have your car keys?” Being a man, I expected a direct answer to my yes-or-no question. However – and here again, I learned a critical lesson about the female mind – she instinctively leapt ahead to where she thought I was going: that I was asking her to give me her car keys. Still feverishly getting ready, she replied, “I can’t get them right now.” That led, naturally, to a, um “conversation” about what I asked vs. how she answered. And further led to me finally realizing that she thinks at least three steps ahead of me. All the time[4]For some reason, I feel the need here to emphasize that we’ve been married for more than 40 years.. Epilogue: lonely again.

Family Vacations: I previously mentioned in these pages that I’m a transplant to the South. My father, an Air Force pilot, decided to buy a farm when he retired from flying jets. Because, hell, why not? Never farmed a day in his life, but as he said years later when I asked about it, “I thought I could figure it out as I went along.” To his credit, he did. But he had the benefit of four free farmhands: his children. If you’ve ever lived on a farm, you know there is rarely time for a conventional “family vacation.” When Dad and Mom stuffed the kids and half the family’s belongings in the big-ass Country Squire station wagon (faux-wood side panels, of course), and headed to the mountains or the beach or the big one: Disney World.

We never got that. Our “vacations” consisted of driving to North Carolina to help our cousins do their farm work (more on that shortly). And their vacations were coming to Georgia to help us do ours.

Some backstory: Dad’s farm was a beef cattle farm. Summers were spent enjoying the soul-crushing activity known as “hauling hay.” In the last 20-30 years, if you’ve driven in cow country, you’ve probably seen those enormous round bales of hay scattered around fields. (That hay feeds cows during the winter, when grass doesn’t grow[5]Duh..) In our time, however, round bales had not been invented. Instead, the sadists at farm implement companies developed a devious machine that took loose hay in one end and spit out 50-60 pound rectangular “bales” at the other. Bales that then had to be loaded onto a truck by hand, then hauled to barns for storage. Hence, “hauling hay.” Here are the ingredients-from-hell that are the recipe for day upon day upon day of hauling hay: 100 degree heat. 90% humidity. Endless rows of itchy, scratchy, dusty, heavy hay bales that we hoisted onto a truck, the stack growing ever higher, the hoisting growing ever harder. Did I mention by hand? Driving the hay-laden truck to a big barn (if you were lucky), where we unloaded. Also by hand[6]You get the idea. It was by hand.. As often as not, though, the hay had to be stored in old clapboard, tin-roof shacks, teeming with wasp nests, mice, bats, spiders, and the not infrequent snake. Bonus!

When each cutting of hay (there were typically three in a summer) was done, we’d drive up to eastern North Carolina to help our cousins “crop tobacco.” Back then, I’m pretty sure it was North Carolina state law that required you to smoke once you reached the age of 13. Remember, this was back in the late 60’s and into the 70’s, when smoking was good for you. (“Nine out of ten doctors recommend Chesterfields[7]Good news: the hold-out caved! All it took was a couple extra cartons…and a well-funded “research grant.”.”) Tobacco was king in that part of North Carolina. My mom’s family had been growing tobacco there for generations. In its field form, tobacco is a large, giant-leafed plant. It has probably been mechanized now, but back then, after it was cut, field hands (meaning me, my siblings, and my cousins) would stoop down, gather the sticky, thorny, unwieldy plants and tack them to long, slender wooden stalks. We’d stack said stalks, now heavily laden with tobacco, onto a trailer. A tractor would pull the trailer to tall tobacco barns that were completely sheathed in several layers of black tar paper, to keep heat in and moisture out; you’ll learn why in a moment. Inside the barn were six or seven levels, sometimes reaching three stories, of wooden rails. The field hands – us, whose parents apparently brought us into the world specifically for this purpose[8]I feel the further need to say that my dad and uncles also helped; it wasn’t completely forced child labor. – would scatter among the rails, all the way up. Then we would pass up the stalks of heavy, itchy, sticky, dusty tobacco hand-over-hand and lay them across the rails. Since the barn was completely sealed, over time, the summer heat (see above) would “cure” the tobacco: slowly dry it out until it shriveled, becoming the nasty brown leaves that get ground up for cigarettes, or rolled into cigars. Do I need to mention that the barn, so lovingly sealed to trap that summer heat for the benefit of King Tobacco, was a great place to keep those pesky extra pounds at bay? No problems with obesity in the Georgia hay fields or North Carolina tobacco barns[9]Note to self: Expand into America’s next weight-loss craze..

Anyway, those were our “summer vacations.” Years later, my siblings and cousins were trading stories about those days. To a person, the Georgia folks said they’d rather haul hay than crop tobacco. The North Carolina folks said the opposite. I guess your own hell is preferable to someone else’s.

Epilogue: To a person, when we grew up, we all left the farms and got jobs in the city. Can’t imagine why.

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References

References
1 As if there’s any other kind.
2 I have clinical depression that I’m grateful is managed with a cocktail of meds. Without them, not only is the glass half empty – it’s leaking.
3 I know; I don’t have one.
4 For some reason, I feel the need here to emphasize that we’ve been married for more than 40 years.
5 Duh.
6 You get the idea. It was by hand.
7 Good news: the hold-out caved! All it took was a couple extra cartons…and a well-funded “research grant.”
8 I feel the further need to say that my dad and uncles also helped; it wasn’t completely forced child labor.
9 Note to self: Expand into America’s next weight-loss craze.

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Image Credit: left to right – Glass half-full via Pixy.org/Creative Commons; electric can opener via Pixy.org/public domain; Car keys by Luanna Strawbridge via Pixy.org/public domain; bale of hay via Amazon/promotional/fair use.

Richard Eisel

Richard Eisel

Richard Eisel lives in Georgia. Besides writing, he enjoys reading, sailing, and baseball. He has been working on his first novel for about thirty years.  So far, he has written three paragraphs, but they are really good paragraphs.