Tuesday, August 22, 2017

David Norris writes

55 Minutes Past the Hour

Pop only had two full fingers on his left hand, the index finger and the middle finger. This gave him troubles in a lot of the things he did. On Saturdays, when we went to town, I’d button the top button of his shirt and slide his tie up to his collar. He always wore the same tie, very wide like the lapels on his suit coat, with red diamonds on a black background. He would wear a long-sleeved white shirt, even in the summer, rolling the sleeves up to the middle of his arm. And he wore a wonderful, gray felt hat. The hat was perhaps the single part of his wardrobe that most contributed to his gentlemanly appearance. Everyone in town called him “The Old Gentleman.” 

He couldn’t wind his pocket watch when it ran down, so I would do that for him. I think of that often when I look at my watches lying around the house. I haven’t wound a watch in a long time; in fact, I can’t even remember the last time I did that. And digital watches have changed the way we view time. In Pop’s day, we had hands on our watch faces, and we looked at the world through different eyes. We divided the hour in half, both coming and going. We’d leave at a quarter after and arrive at a quarter 'til. We’d wait until half-past the hour for someone to show up. 

In today’s digital world, we’ve come to only look at one side of the hour. We are always “past,” as though both time and technology have run off and left us behind. Ask someone what time it is, and the reply will come back as “10:52” or “11:49.” We have become so exact and we are always counting past the hour. 

My friends tease me and tell me that I still travel on “hillbilly time.” None of them ever expect me to show up exactly on time, and the word “early” will bring laughter from their lips. At the same time, none of them have ever taken a slow walk through the woods high up in the mountain ranges either. They lead fast-paced lives in this big city where I now find myself living. 

Boarding an airplane in these days and times has become a dramatic experience as well. After we check in, we have to go through the search procedure. First, off come our shoes to be put into a little box so they can be x-rayed. Then we load our carry-on bags onto the conveyer belt ourselves and then remove everything from our pockets and put them into a little plastic basket to send through the x-ray machine. Then we step through the metal detector doorframe -- mine always beeps! – where we are waved over by a security person holding some kind of electrical magic wand. Then the invasive hands patting down our bodies. Afterwards, we are quickly dismissed and sent off as if we were never there in the first place. We look around searching for a smiling face, a friendly look, but instead too often find suspicion and fear in the eyes of those assigned to protect us. 

Pop never learned to drive a car. Whenever we traveled together, we rode the buses. We once took a Greyhound bus trip all the way down to Miami where I saw a man wrestle an alligator. Another time, we went all the way up to Chicago and visited the Moose Heart Home for orphans, where I saw my two cousins, the closest thing I had to brothers. He seemed to know someone or be related to someone everywhere. 

I remember taking my first shower in Baltimore. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a shower before that trip. Being able to stand up while taking a bath both delighted and thrilled me. It was like taking a bath outside in the rain. The water falling down on my head and back, the soapsuds rolling off me and flowing in a little river down the drain. I still remember that as my first big-city experience.

They say Pop was real good with horses, that he could drive a wagon pulled by a big team of horses. Pop was born in 1879 in Monroe County, West Virginia. When cars came along, Bud bought one, a Model T, and he talked Pop into trying to drive it. Pop must have been in his 40s about that time. They say the car ran off through a pasture of cows with Pop sitting in the driver’s seat, turning the wheel wildly with fear and amazement in his eyes. The car ran on through the field and wrecked. Pop never sat down behind the wheel of an automobile again his whole life. He was a proud and resolute man.

Once he made a decision, he lived by it. I don’t know what he would think about today’s way of traveling. He certainly never flew in an airplane, and I am not sure he would do it today if he were still alive. Momma was in her 60s before she took her first and only flight when she came out to visit me in San Francisco, her first time out of the hills in almost 20 years, but that is another story, a fun one. 

Like I said, once Pop made up his mind to do something, he did it. And if he made a promise, he kept it. The story goes that he once got sloppy drunk, and my great grandmother, a legendary harridan whom I never met, went into a rage. They say Pop got down on his knees and begged her to forgive him and that he swore never to drink again. I never met her, she was gone by the time I arrived, but the whole time that I knew J. D. Sutphin, he never once cussed, nor ever once let a drop of alcohol touch his lips. 

The flight attendant has just come on the cabin's public address system. She says that we are about to land at Incheon International Airport and "The time is 55 minutes past the hour."

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