This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozarks Hills. Spring is barely upon us and seems to be struggling to get here this year. A friend remarked yesterday, not without some apprehension in her voice, that she couldn’t remember another time in the past where it sleeted on the same day the Bradford pears burst into bloom. She didn’t like it, and my guess is neither did the pears.
It occurs to me that a particularly bad marker for the times is when you notice you’re growing accustomed to the outrageous, that things like gun violence and climate change are becoming ordinary, or that the weather you’re in, whether sunshine or storm, is simply one more thing to endure, another bit of chaos, with more to come.
And I wonder how much that has to do with how these days it seems that our very existence is being marketed to death. We long ago accepted our status as “consumers,” after all. Sooner or later, it seems to me, we must begin to base our own self-worth on this, until the description becomes the definition. What are we worth if we’re not buying something. If we’re not consuming, are we of any value at all? Do we even count as real people? Excuse me, but I think that’s creepy.
These are the days when, frankly, I’m glad that I’m old. I place great value these days on the perspective gained from living through enough eras and events that I tend to weigh their meaning and take from them the lessons they offer, instead of just reacting. I realize that may sound a little high-minded, and I apologize. It’s not that I think I’m any smarter than those younger or with other experiences. I’ve just acquired a view that is informed by my own experiences and perceptions, and while I’m not sure it’s right, I’m sure it’s mine, and I can speak from there.
My view of the responsibilities inherent in the possession and use of firearms, for instance, is not informed so much by popular opinion or recent tragedies as it is by a single experience, back when I was just 13 and learning to use the .22 rifle given to me by my mother. I was coming home from a day out target shooting in the woods east of Butterfield, on my uncle’s place, when a rabbit jumped up in the path ahead, and before I even thought about it, I shot it. I arrived at its feet just in time to see the light in its eyes dim and vanish. I had no need of it for food and wouldn’t know how to harvest it. It would lie on the path until some other predator found it and put it to use. Or not. But I saw then the truth of how obscenely easy it can be to take a life for no reason at all. I didn’t know it at the time, but that small rabbit would inform my choices for all my remaining time. I didn’t become a vegetarian. But when I do eat meat, I give thanks for the life taken, and I sorrow at the wound on the soul of that one or ones who took that life. I think part of that must come from my part Native American ancestry. In that culture, those who killed animals to feed their people had to go through a painful ritual cleansing at the end of every year to absolve themselves of the sin of taking a life.
In this culture, on the other hand, if there is a ritual cleansing at the end of the year, we seem bent on spending enough to absolve ourselves of the sin of insufficient consumerism. If the economy is going bad, it must be because we didn’t buy enough. Well, I’m from the Ozarks, and I don’t buy it.
I lost a family member recently who was very dear to me, not just for the family relationship but for his daily demonstrations of what it means to be an Ozarker, a hillbilly, actually, for all his town ways and his delight in having a good job and being able to be a dedicated consumer.
Some years back we met at our favorite aunt’s house to fix a plumbing problem, which turned out to be a serious leak in an outdoor faucet. He removed the faucet’s innards, and when I saw the long stem that came out of the pipe, because it was an insulated faucet, I exclaimed, because I’d not seen one like it, and said, “Wow, do you think we can do this?”
He replied, “Are you kidding? We’re from Butterfield. We can do anything.” I never forgot it. And it has made me very conscious in all the years since that I am more than a consumer. I am an intuitive, intelligent, inventive hillbilly. I may buy something for the sake of convenience, but I am more likely to ask, living out in the country as I do, “how can I solve this problem or build this thing or fix this circumstance without going to town? Ozarks ingenuity. Making do? Making informed choices. I’m still a consumer. But whether because of my age or my Ozarks upbringing, I think before I buy, or before I eat edible food like substances, or the gifts of other animals’ lives. I assess my worth not by what I can consume, but what I can accomplish, how I can be a contributor to my community, and where I can replace my own self-involvement and sarcastic responses by offering loving kindness to my fellow beings. This business of getting old is challenging, especially the passing of friends and loved ones, and keeping up with an ever-changing world. But hey, I’m an Ozarks hillbilly. I can still do anything.