My friend Nancy and I know how to pitch hay, firewood, and a good ol’ hissy fit. We can also pitch a line. In “can-you-believe-it” stories, we touch the other’s hand for added emphasis. We say “ya’ll” and “fixin’ to”. But first, we grab homegrown food from the garden or freezer. And if we shop at the grocery, we use “buggies”; not carts. Next, we cook.
Nancy and I make triple-layer cakes or pies, from scratch. We fix a hot dish of cornbread, beans, and fried potatoes; all cooked in cast iron skillets. It’s not tater-tot casserole, like a hot dish here in Minnesota. (Although, I love Hot Dish, too.) When and if we can, we use “Honey”. It sugarcoats both our homemade biscuits and loved ones. For good measure, we always make more food than we can eat. We were brought up that way. Before we eat, we say grace. We’re grateful for our food. And as we eat, we tell stories…
Nancy asked me, “Have I told you the story about my Aunt Jonny”? I answered, “No, ma’am. You haven’t”. She then asked if I had ever seen a chicken “scoot”. I thought hard for a moment. Then I replied, “I don’t think so”. She grinned and continued…
“Well then… My Aunt Jonny and my mother, Beatrice were both about four-years old. And Grandmother always said she didn’t know what on Earth got in the two of ‘em that day. The chickens were running around. And those girls got a crazy idea in their head. Mother and Johnny found a corn cob. And one of ‘em found some turpentine outback. Then they caught one of those chickens. Either Mother or Jonny held that chicken; I don’t know which. And the other one poured some turpentine on that cob. Then they rubbed that chicken’s back-end with it. And oooh…that poor chicken”! She shook her head. “Grandmother found it scootin’ its fanny all across that yard. And those girls got a lickin’, too”. Nancy slapped both her legs, as we laughed.
We weren’t laughing because the chicken or girls were pained. After all, we both grew up having our own bottoms “blistered”, a time or two. We were laughing at something different. The innocence of four-year old’s, “doctoring” a chicken. The look on Nancy’s grandmother’s face as she discovered it. And the swift consequences of yesteryear.
We also laughed because we were happy. For Nancy, loving memories of her grandmother, mother, and Aunt Johnny hadn’t changed after all these years. And I was happy because Nancy had gifted me one of her treasured stories. It didn’t cost me a dime. But, it enriched my life. I was grateful. I’ve seen chickens do a lot of things, yet I’d never imagined one scooting. Thanks to Nancy and turpentine, now I had.
Turpentine. It comes in a can with lots of warning labels. It’s sold in hardware stores. Most of you’d never put it on any animal. You know it would burn or worse. It’s why many feel sorry for the chicken in Nancy’s story. But, there’s something you may not know. While those girls rubbed turpentine on a chicken, many of you have rubbed it on your children.
You heard me correctly. You’ve put turpentine on your children. Now, I’m not accusing you of blistering their bottoms. But, I am accusing you of rubbing turpentine under their noses and on their chests. Vicks Vapo-Rub contains it. Years ago, doctors even prescribed drinking turpentine. Yes, drinking it. In North Carolina, a hospital doctor once prescribed “’Whiskey and Turpentine every 3 hours’” for G.P. Milton. He was a wounded Civil War soldier. He died the next day; January 8, 1865.
Believe it or not, some folks would argue it was the whiskey that killed him. But, turpentine is a hazardous waste. It can kill you. And like Coca-Cola, it’s a paint stripper, too. Doctors no longer prescribe turpentine. Much has changed since 1865. But not all changes have been in our nation’s best interest. Heck, how many folks these days know that too much water can kill you? So, can lack of exercise or raw lima beans.
As a child, I remember homes that had a “fresh” pot of food on the stove; all day long. It was ready in case anyone came to the door. Whether the guest was hungry or not, it was offered. In fact, the host insisted. It was seldom anything fancy. Often, it was a humble mess of turnip greens, beans, and cornbread. And it was rude not to accept some. It was good for you and them. This applied regardless if you liked it, or not.
Along with hot sauce, a side-dish of stories was served up, too. At one time, someone they loved had gone hungry. And come hell or high-water, no one was going to leave their home without eating. Of course, money was tight. And right or wrong, they were generous to a fault. Even when it meant robbing Peter to pay Paul.
They weren’t out flaunting “not enough”. Why? They probably didn’t have a phone or a car; some didn’t have shoes. Besides, they owned their integrity. They were also grateful for what they did have. And they were busy. They were caring for their kids and elders, tending their gardens, and fighting. What were they fighting for? An education and skills. It would give them the opportunity to work additional jobs. They wanted to pay a phone bill or buy a car. In fact, many refused financial help when it was offered. And others insisted on paying it back; every dime.
Of course, there were still penny-pinchers and tightwads, too. They were financially sound, but not very generous. At the far extreme, there were the misers. Yes, even a child quickly learns who is who. Believe it or not, before the age of five, I even knew their eternal fates. Sure, folks that had plenty of money might have comfortable lives on Earth. But, misers or folks that pretended to be poor, when they had money, were going to Hell; for eternity. After all, we lived in the Bible-belt.
Few of our grandparents grew up with conveniences. Yet, our lives are full of them. Instead of gratitude, we complain. Our grandparents didn’t have the same free-time that we do. Instead of gratitude, we complain. Many of our grandparents had to grow their food, but we have drive-through, 24/7 food service. We not only complain, we threaten hourly workers if we’re not served instantly. And we beat them up if there aren’t more french-fries. Instead of sweating and planting potatoes, we’re couch potatoes with air-conditioning and cable television. Some Americans have the luxury of watching television 24/7, all week-long. They still complain.
Alas, even sports aren’t enough to keep us entertained. So, we’ve developed another national pastime. It’s called, “How Low Can You Go” or “You Have More Than I You Do; It’s Not Fair”. Folks have made poverty a game. In fact, they publicly brag about it, too. However, unlike Monopoly, bankrolls, earnings, and assets are never transparent. They won’t ever be shared. And there’ll never be enough. To win one must convince another, that they are the poorest and can afford it the least.
I‘ve watched such folks. And even if you can’t see them, they make sure you hear them. They argue, that something is over-priced, expensive, or too “spendy”. They exclaim, “I can’t afford it”! Yes, it’s intentional. Many times, it happens within earshot of a person selling something. Sadly, it’s often hand-crafted merchandise, homemade breads, or labor-intensive produce.
Even if the rutabagas are four for a dollar, they’re always “too much”. And, as if the seller didn’t already know, they’re told Walmart has it cheaper. The prospective buyer says the seller should know better. I agree. The seller should know such people aren’t there to buy anything. They come only looking to squeeze blood from a turnip. Unless of course, it’s a steal or better yet, free.
Sadly, such fools –oops, I mean folks, have lots of time to spend devaluing both products and sellers. For them, this is free entertainment. And they’ll gloat when they leave without spending a dime. The only way they’d hush, is if they were paid to take the product. And rest assured, they’d later fuss it wasn’t enough or there was something wrong with it. It’s never enough. No, they don’t go away. Instead, they bring a friend and come back for more. Some demand refunds, too. Folks are lucky if they’re not verbally or physically beaten to a pulp. It’s taxing on honest vendors and our communities.
Such thoughts would never cross my mind. Such words would never cross my lips. And if they ever do, I’d have my bottom blistered and be disowned. It wouldn’t matter if I was ninety-years old. Mama, Daddy, and Granny, told me so. Such behavior is disrespectful. It’s harmful to others. And it insults those who want to buy, but honestly can’t afford it. It’s a good thing Granny and Daddy are in Heaven. But, ya’ll need to be careful. Mama’s still around. And Lord knows, if you make her mad enough, she’ll make you cut a switch, too.
Honestly, there is a gluttony of folks that need a good switchin’. Especially those that work to tear our country apart; pitting us against one another. And there are those that “work” the system. Alas, it pays. Meanwhile, other folks work hard jobs and go without. They’d never stoop so low. Instead, they struggle; day by day. Many are soldiers and blue-collar workers. Most give strangers the shirts off their backs and a penny for their thoughts. Even when they don’t have a dollar to their name. Some give their lives, too. They are not stupid. They are generous. No matter how bad things are for them, they don’t turn a blind eye to those in need. They know that they always have something, that someone else, somewhere else, does not. Even if it’s not money. And they’re grateful.
What happened to folks growing and harvesting their own food? Helping themselves? Tending their own kids and grandparents? Lending a hand to their neighbors next door? Unlike today, we even knew our neighbors’ names. And disciplining a rogue child wasn’t abuse. It was expected. While, a kid might deny engaging in bad behavior, they weren’t living in denial. He or she knew they had it coming. It mattered not if it was your neighbor’s kid or if you were their teacher. And disciplining rank adults wasn’t unfair. It was necessary and welcomed by society.
Maybe, you’ve heard the saying, “One bad apple, spoils the bunch”. Well, I dare you to try it. Truly, you need to see it for yourself. I promise, it’s not hard work. Put one rotten apple in a bag with a healthy one. Just leave it there, while you watch virtual reality. Come back in a month and check it out. Americans have been doing this for longer than a month. It’s been going on for years and entire generations. Hell, we don’t even bother to start over fresh. We just keep adding to the mess. And just in case your Mama or Daddy never told you, when you make the mess, you get to clean it up. Honest, you will earn something valuable. It’s good lesson for both individuals and big business.
Authentic Pride. Americans once had some because they had earned it. It wasn’t the mass arrogance and Hubristic Pride that we see today. What’s the difference? Arrogance is born of entitlement. Authentic Pride is birthed from hard work, a job well done, and the confidence it earns. How do I know? I went to college. How better to watch classism, entitlement, and arrogance? But, I learned hard work, discipline, and gratitude at home. My folks were busy working. After all, this was America. My family didn’t have time to compare themselves to the rich elite. Besides, Lives of the Rich and Famous wasn’t our choice of entertainment. We preferred fireflies and farm ball. It was a life that kept us fit and grounded.
Sure, my daddy took pride in his family and his work. He worked hard for it, every day. He was also grateful he had a full-time job. At the same time, he was grateful he could work his additional part-time job. And all the while, he was grateful he could tend our five-acre “farm”. My mama took pride in her family and her work. She worked hard for it, every day. She was also grateful she could work from home as a seamstress, while she raised us kids. (Yes, I know I didn’t say, reared. Just know that somewhere, a teacher is rolling her eyes. Mine is rolling in her grave.)
Like other hard-working folks of their time, my parents had a dream. It wasn’t a 401 K or retirement. And it wasn’t vacations. They wanted their kids to go to college. And they were grateful to make the sacrifices. Why? This was America. While they were free to pursue their dream, they had to work for it and make sacrifices. Their dream was never free. And they weren’t entitled to it. But like many parents, they believed a college degree would help us do more than, just get by.
I am grateful for my parents’ hard work and sacrifices. I am grateful for the life skills they patiently passed on. I am grateful for the work ethic they modeled and taught. I am grateful for their faith and generosity. I am grateful for my college education that they helped to make possible. So, how do I feel about working as hard as they did, just to get by? I am grateful. Why? My folks set a fine example; one worth their weight in gold.
Some folks may look at me and say, my family’s life was one of “white privilege”. I’m not so sure family members with tribal association would agree. And those that died labeled by the government as slave, may also disagree. However, I can’t deny that white privilege exists, just like other forms of discrimination. Yes folks, discrimination is alive and well.
Wouldn’t it be easier if we were all purple? And the only source of wealth were turnips? Alas, there would still be competitions and fighting. Folks would group themselves by “true purple”, then discriminate against the mauve, violet, boysenberry, lavender, plum, magenta, lilac, grape, periwinkle, sangria, eggplant, jam, iris, heather, amethyst, raisin, orchid, mulberry, and wine. And as for the turnips? They’d still vary in sizes, shapes, and flavors. Some folks would be grateful for the food. Others would loathe them. And the rest would fight over the quality and quantity. Inevitably, someone would steal someone else’s turnip. Then there’d be murder and war.
America has always been a society of diverse groups, tribes, ethnicity, races, cultures, ages, religions, and socio-economic classes, etc. And right or wrong, every person in this country, as well as the world discriminates. Discrimination has been around since the beginning of time. Even four-legged animals discriminate.
Discriminate simply means, recognizing differences and choosing. That can mean the differences between good and bad, safe and poisonous, right and wrong, attractive and unattractive, life and death. It’s a hard-wired, survival tool. But, like any tool, it can be used to help or harm. And I don’t know anyone that enjoys being harmed by discrimination. So, let’s pretend all Americans work hard enough to agree on what helps and what harms each other. What do we do when what helps us, harms another country? Or what helps another country, harms us? Is that not still discrimination?
Have you ever heard about “American privilege”? Our country is full of it. Every second, four babies are born into the world. Most are born into world poverty. But did you know that some studies say 99% of Americans are in the top 13% of the world’s wealthiest people? Sure, Oprah and Bill Gates are among them. But, what if your income is called poverty level in the U.S. (that’s about $11,344 a year)? Some studies still say you are in the top 10% of the world’s wealthiest people. I’ll say it again. If your income is poverty level in the U.S. (that’s about $11,344 a year), you could be in the top 10% of the world’s wealthiest people. Let that sink in for a moment. (By the way, more babies were just born into world poverty.)
I‘m not arguing one way or the other that $11,344 year is enough for an American. What I am asking, is how can so many Americans with this much worldly wealth, lack gratitude? Do we really think 90% of the world pities us? How do they view $11,344 a year from their slums in Asia, Africa, or India?
Yes, America has lots of room for improvement. We must keep working at it; together. Meanwhile, 99% of us can afford to show some gratitude along the way. Many of our ancestors died for our freedoms today. The rest died trying to earn only a fraction of what we have in our possession. Would they be proud of our attitudes, choices, and work ethic? Have their investments in our lives been respected and treasured? Have we done them proud? If they stood before us right this second, would they praise us for our efforts? Let’s hope so, because God knows they’d be strong enough to kick our asses! And frankly, they wouldn’t hesitate to do it.
These days, spanking is highly controversial. Heck, most folks don’t even have a wood pile anymore. (You know, take ‘em out behind the wood shed to teach them a lesson, a.k.a. spanking?) Seriously though, there’s a fine line between any form of discipline and abuse. Discipline is a tool, like medicine. It can heal, wound, or kill. So much depends on what it is and how and when you use it. Children have died. Some have been beaten within an inch of their lives. Others have never been spanked. Then there are those who are grateful our parents disciplined us out of love; the only way they knew how. We lived to tell stories about it. Most of us learned something from it. And a few of us even studied more about it. We’d have more tools to choose from than our parents.
Anyway, there are folks who swear they’ll never hit a child. Instead, they prefer to abuse them through constant entertainment, loneliness, food, words, the legal system, or gifts. And how about those folks who refuse to correct their child at all? It’s too much work for them. They’re busy and distracted by 24-hour entertainment. However, our ancestors were busy working sunup to sundown. Yet, I’d bet most afforded time to mentor and discipline the next generation. Neglect is also a form of abuse. And neglecting to mentor and discipline a child, harms both the child and the community. The child will still pay a price and so will innocent others.
“It’s always cheapest to pay for a mistake today. Tomorrow the price goes up.” Those are anonymous words of wisdom. But folks ignore them, just like their kids. It’s just easier to let bad behavior and ingratitude continue. Then, before you know it, eighteen years has passed. It’s no big deal, right? They’re just kids being kids. Surely, they’ll grow out of it. If not, well, it ain’t your problem no more. America’s legal system can handle it; one generation to the next. Honey, you can buy that fudge, if you want to. Personally, I think it’s full of bull-shit. Besides, it’s so damn (ahem) expensive!
 (Hollingsworth, 2008)
“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” – Melody Beattie
I’m grateful to be an American.