Wednesday, August 16, 2006

My father's story...

(From Wikipedia)

Everyone has a story, I suppose. Of my father, I can't give an entire account, nor do I know precisely why he grew up to be a hard man, but he did tell me one thing that provoked my reflections on his own tough childhood, and I can extrapolate a bit to arrive at my own view.

When he was bedridden with leukemia, back in 1995, I took my wife -- whom I had just married -- to visit him in the Missouri hospital where he was undergoing chemotherapy. My wife was impressed by how strong he looked despite his illness, and he mentioned that the last time that he had been out of the hospital, he had chopped a lot of wood for his stove, so he seems to have retained his extraordinary physical strength long into his illness.

He also mentioned that he would like to get out of the hospital soon so that he could do some pheasant hunting. I asked him if he liked to deer hunt, too, but he told me, "No, I don't like to kill animals." I then recalled his curious tendency to say "animals" when he meant "large mammals," which I think was what an older generation of Ozarkers used to say.

I also recalled that he was a good shot with a .22 rifle, and asked if he recalled shooting a bluejay in distant flight on his mother's farm back when I was a small kid. He didn't especially recall it, but the shot had probably been nothing exceptional for him.

Thinking about that, I asked him how he had gotten to be such a good shot.

"When I was a kid, my brothers used to send me out to hunt squirrels for dinner. They'd give me three bullets and say, 'Come back with three squirrels. Don't waste any bullets, or else.'"

The unstated threat was a thrashing.

Perhaps the threat was just an idle one. I've met my uncles, and none of them seem like violent men. But as a kid, my father took them to be in earnest. And times were hard. Their father had died in a timber accident when the tree that he was felling had twisted unexpectedly and crushed him, so the many kids and their mother had initially had to fend for themselves. They had little money and needed something on the table at night. Responsibility fell to my father ... at some point.

He therefore must have wandered the woods by himself as a kid in a lonely hunt for squirrels, burdened with the onus for putting meat on the table, cut off from returning without successfully using all three bullets, and forced to become an unerring shot with a .22 rifle.

I imagine that might have been harder than running home barefoot across burning streets and sidewalks, and I suppose that I could feel some empathy for that small kid that my father was.

But I don't. Not much, anyway. He didn't teach me that.



At 1:06 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

Thanks for posting these entries. Plenty of sites cover politics and academia, but a truly good blog anecdote is a rarity.

At 1:37 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Jeff.

Blog entries like these aren't simple because even if the anecdote is intrinsically interesting, one still has to have precisely the right balance between the said and the unsaid to make them work.

Based on the evidence of your own blog writing, I think that you know exactly what I mean.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:18 AM, Blogger Jeff said...

Indeed I do; I have an embarrassingly large accumulation of unposted drafts.

The thing is, very few anecdotes are intrinsically interesting to others. In fact, first-person narratives can be terribly off-putting to discerning readers, often because the writer has larded on too many superfluous details. I completely agree that finding that balance between the said and the unsaid is a large part of what makes an "extremely short story" a good read.

At 4:28 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Jeff, after my wife reads an anecdote on my blog, she occasionally remarks that I've left out some point or other.

Not a criticism from her, just an observation on her part.

I usually tell her, "I omitted it because it would have been distracting."

Better to leave the table a bit hungry than stuffed.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

uYou don't even know Bradley.
Go to Hell!!!

At 4:38 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, I've responded here to your comment.

Jeffery Hodges

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