Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Day 22 - A Rich Man

I find the avarice of men - the wanton lust for money, power, etc - to be shameful, in any degree. All the money in China  isn't enough to compensate for the damage that bad manners and arrogant greed can create. It's pernicious and I vote we change that right now.

This weekend I witnessed first-hand,  a  snarky little snot-nose of a prep-school bellhop,  at a high-dollar resort  I was playing at - stand not 5 feet away  and watch me struggle with a cartload of guitars and speakers that I was trying to across the plaza and on the hotel elevator, to take to my gig,  one level up.

 The older model Kia I drive and the hurricane hair-do I usually sport, apparently signaled some crucial information to him upon my arrival regarding my tax bracket.  He wasn't about to move a muscle to help me. Looked at me sideways and actually smirked - the little prick smirked!

2 minutes later a quite lovely and, obviously-loaded, grande dame - with a sweatered Pomeranian and a Rolex on each ear- appears from out of nowhere. In a flurry of  near-curtsies? and slobberin' ":how-do-ya's"  - Rob Roy the door-boy just about breaks his neck to cut in front of me and put her on the elevator I had been waiting for , lick her Gucci ski-boots, and get a whiff of her Diner's Club Gold-card - all at the same time. He was grinning like a mongoloid chimp when she handed him a $10 tip.

 I could'a rung the insolent  little shit's neck - just for bad manners.  That poor dumb kid doesn't know what he was missing in passing up the opportunity to open the elevator door for both a wealthy women - and a rich man.

For the record, having money and being rich  aren't even close to the same thing where I come from.

Here's a little story about that:

He was the richest man in town.  Just about everybody in our little burg knew it.  He was not a trifling man either, but everybody respected George. His counsel was often sought by the locals, "unofficially",when disputes would come up between neighbors or kin around town.

He was honest as the day was long, fair to a fault, and everybody for 30 miles in every direction had at least one story about how George had done something or another for them, or their family, when they were in some sort of pickle. He couldn't seem to stand to see someone in a bad way, if he could help it.  He offered his assistance freely and he never asked a thing in return either. Never even mentioned it, like he and his family didn't even need what everybody else seemed to.

Seemingly unflappable, He was always pleasant and polite in public, soft spoken, sharp as a whip. Given to few words - and direct conversation.   He had served his country with distinction as a Captain in the U.S. Army  during World War II. When it was over he put away his bad dreams, came home a hero, bought a used tractor and a 3-bottom plow, married the smartest girl he knew, and took up the yoke of a dry-land wheat farmer, just like his father and grandfather before him.

When circumstances around town would occasionally fall to the chaotic, over some nonsense or another, George was often called upon as the voice of reason. He was on the school-board for what seemed perpetuity. He belonged to The American Legion and The Knights of Columbus, and was always being asked to be on some farm or church committee or board.

Unlike the rest of the "bib overall" crowd, you rarely ever saw him down at the Co-op in the mornings, drinking coffee from styrofoam cups and smartin' off about the government. He was never to be found playing pitch or rolling dice  for red beers at the Hot Spot for an hour or two,  like so many of his less-successful "gentleman" farmer counter-parts.

 He was apparently above all that. Unlike a good many of the locals, the man didn't drink to any significant degree - The wine at communion accounting for the lions share of his alcohol intake. 

He volunteered every August to work the American Legion hamburger booth at the fair, never missed a high school football & basketball games on Friday nights if he could help it,  He always graciously attended the occasional funeral when someone died - or wedding when someone wasn't careful, and he wouldn't dream of missing Sunday Mass with his wife and kids at The Sacred Heart Catholic Church in town.  These forays seemed to be his only indulgences or activities away from the farm.  

He kept to home and his wife and children. His corrals, buildings,  and machinery were kept ship-shape and ready to work at all times. He proudly loaned his farm equipment out all the time - to just about anybody around town who needed it . A small handful of the old sour-puss n'er-do-wells  would make cracks that he was "just showing off" or "putting on airs". That didn't keep those same people from turning to George first when misfortune would find their doorstep. 

For his pleasure, George only seemed to enjoy hard work, and plenty of it.  That's all anybody I ever knew could remember the man doing..He farmed an entire section of ground that his home place sat on, and another 320 acres on the east side of the highway. He ran as many as 50 beef cattle at a time in good years. Most years he ran about half that many. He was not a man given to foolishness or idle behavior. He might have known what the word vacation meant but I truly doubt if he ever took one. 

His wife, Dorys, bought new school clothes for their 5 children every fall after harvest. They would butcher a cow and a hog for meat through the winter. Dorys substitute-taught at the school in town, and they were never hard-pressed in need for anything.

George and  Dorys taught their children well about all things financial. Taught them to save birthday and Christmas money. How to keep themselves from spending their pocket money on candy or other foolishness like other kids. How to set aside dollars for the collection plate at church, and how to open a bank account at Sidney National Bank with $10. How to patiently, with diligently frugal  behavior, watch that grow into much, much more. 

His sons and daughters all bought and raised at least one or two calves each spring, with their own money. Raising their respective critters to market weight, and then using the proceeds to bolster their bank books - providing  themselves with "pocket-money" for non-neccessities such as a soda-pop at the ball games, or a movie ticket at the Fox theatre in Sidney once in awhile. They would all follow their fathers example in establishing a firm financial foundation  for themselves.

His kids were all taught from their earliest recollection, , that there is no excuse for low intelligence. Taught to work hard and study harder. They were all exceptionally smart,  and expected to excel in school - to earn substantial scholarships to good universities.

George had a "nearly new" Massey-Ferguson combine with a 30' header  for harvesting his wheat and millet, and two John Deere Tractors for pulling plows, planters, manure-spreaders, and the occasional tree-stump. The newer of the 2 even had air-conditioning and an enclosed cab.

 He changed his oil in his old pickup every 3000 miles and traded his family cars in for a "nearly-brand-new" 4-door - generally off the back row at the Chevy dealership in Sidney - every 4 to 5 years.Usually in coincidence with one of his 5 children either getting a drivers license, or going off to college.

When the news came  that George was sick, it spread across the county like tear-gas.  Everyone that knew him choked a little.  He and Dorys had gone to a big hospital in Denver at  the family doctors urging, over some irregularities in Georges yearly checkup. He'd been trying to shake a disturbingly worsening cough since late winter, with no success

The minute he wheeled into the admitting room in Denver,  things started going downhill fast.  Each test confirmed their worst unspoken fears.  "Cancer" - "inoperable".

There was no way of knowing how horribly aggressive his cancer was.  I can only imagine what the drive home from the city - 4 hours  in a car alone with his wife of 40 years - must have been like.

With every centimeter that the wheat in the fields grew that spring, with every changing shade of vibrant green that turned daily toward the brilliant yellow-gold  it would soon  become under the hot June sun  - Georges condition worsened.

 In the coming weeks every member of his family publicly displayed their grief  only sparingly - They sadly and proudly, all held their heads with the quiet dignity that George was so noted for himself. They comforted everyone else before themselves.

Anthropologist speculate ad-infinitum about the importance of non-verbal communication among ancient tribes and clans.  In any tribal family there are floods of information that pass non-verbally through nods, and winks, hand signals, body language, etc. Mountains of common "survival-dependent" information, social information, spiritual information,  shared among members of a single clan. Their spiritual ideology and moral inclinations are unified and upheld from one generation to the next, solely through the stewardship of their leaders and holy people. Their healers

 In our town, George was a leader and his wife, "Aunt Dorys", was a healer. They believed in God and the church, they believed in the goodness of each other, and they believed in the goodness of their children and their neighbors.  All his life George had quietly believed it was his job to give all that goodness a place to grow in, and plenty of sunlight, . As a result of their stewardship, we all believed it too.

At his funeral, that's where you understood the full scope of Georges wealth.  The church was full out to the sidewalk and packed up clear to the rafters. There wasn't a dry eye in the place and every single one of us had been given something at one time or another by the man. It looked like a hundred cars in that line that crawled away from the church that day. Out to our little country cemetery, small and lonesome, a quarter mile north of town on the same dirt road that led to Georges farm.

The wheat in the fields around the cemetery  was tall and brilliant gold that day, and just hours away from the magic 13% moisture content acceptable for harvesting.

As soon as the final "Amen" was sang at the graveside, every farmer and able bodied hand in attendance went home, changed out of their suits, and without any significant discussion amongst themselves - immediately drove their own combines and grain trucks to Georges fields first,  before their own.

They descended on the rolling fields of gold  like a swarm of  locust,  the instant  the moisture test at the elevator read 13%.  Nearly 100 men, 20-30 combines and nearly twice that many trucks - made quick work of over a section and a half of wheat before the sun fell that day, and as soon as all the grain was in the elevator - the weight tickets handed to Dorys - everybody went home and began cutting their own fields the next morning.  That's what George would have done for any one of them.

I'll always be proud of my home.  To Hell with politics - When the chips are down, you help your neighbor before you help yourself.  It's an unspoken point of honor among members of the tribe.

When he passed I don't believe George had any more money,  than anyone else around town. If he did it didn't matter. He was rich - with or without it.  He had the well-deserved admiration and respect of nearly every soul on legs from one side of the county to the next. He left more friends than he could count and he passed a legacy of dignity to his children and theirs. He lived simply and in doing so, through good stewardship and Christian decency, changed peoples lives around him  for the better. A simple farmer.

You can't buy that at Wal-Mart

"Peace Out"
"Don't take any wooden nickels"
Until Manyana

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