Wisdom and depth are often found in quiet country folk.
We live in a world where it is common for total strangers to confide in us the most intimate details of their favorite subject: themselves. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, I think, and it wasn’t always the case. Once upon a time, a degree of genteel reserve was thought to be one of the fundamentals of politeness. Now it’s all but extinct.
Except, I have learned, among some of the people hereabouts. I am thinking now of my friend Skip.
Skip is a tall man and he isn’t skinny; when you learn that he spent 20 years working in the coal mines — he was one of the fellows who make sure the ceiling doesn’t collapse — you think immediately of Jimmy Dean’s old song, “Big John.” He’s a quiet man, which is not to be confused with unfriendliness. I’ve seen songs about miners bring a tear to his eye, and can only guess the memories those songs invoke.
Over time we’ve discussed a variety of things, from woodstoves to plants — he’s talented at growing things — to his beloved boxer dogs, which he raises, to various wild critters we’ve eaten at one time or another. (He’s the only guy I know who has also eaten possum.) I don’t think his has been the easiest life, and he has a calm serenity not usually seen among the affluent. When you’ve survived a lot, you don’t fear those things anymore, I guess.
He doesn’t preach his opinions the way most of the rest of us do, but that doesn’t mean he has none. A couple of months ago I learned that when events move him to strong opinion, his response is to write a poem. He has recited a few for me, and I think they’re good.
So when he mentioned a few weeks ago that he had written what he called “a dark Christmas carol,” I was eager to hear it. And with his permission I pass it along:
Noel from Hell
Another Christmas in Baghdad
Bandoliers of ammo wrapped like grenades around our tree
The ornaments are painted hand grenades
Seems just right to me.
RPGs whooshing through the air
All my buddies have that thousand-yard stare
If I had one wish for Christmas I might
Wish for just one silent night.
Radar picked up an unknown bogey
But our Patriot missiles shot it down
By dawn’s early light, what a terrible sight
Guess old Santa won’t be coming to town.
Another Christmas night in Baghdad
Everything is shining so bright
‘Cause we have our night goggles on
Wastin’ everything in sight.
You know, it wasn’t supposed to be this way
And every night I kneel and pray
That hearts and minds will be won
All the killin’ will be done
And we can all just finally go away.
Not what you’d expect the first time you meet Skip, and he’s not someone who would come running to recite it to you, though once he knows you he’s happy to share it.
It has been my experience that out here in the woods it pays to get to know people. No, they are not usually walking advertisements of themselves, the way it is in cities. Maybe that’s because in cities there are so many people competing for attention that there’s a need to make your case quickly or you’ll be passed over. It could be that people who live in the countryside don’t require as much attention from others in order to feel complete. Or maybe modern views of politeness haven’t gotten here yet. I don’t know.
What I do know is that taking time to know people here is rewarding and sometimes surprising, and that the people who say the least often have the most to say.
My friend Skip showed me that.
Dennis E. Powell is crackpot-at-large to Open for Business. Powell was an award-winning reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio and becoming a full-time crackpot. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.