Ah’m not stupid, though Ah may talk funny to you. But Ah’m not stupid. Mattuh of fact, Ah been readin’—or read to – since ol Heck was a pup, as we say back home. Can’t remembuh anything special mah momma read to me when Ah was little, just remembuh the sound of her many voices (Ah know now she was playin’ all the charactuhs) sayin long stories to me, and Ah later remembuh her hands holdin those red-bound books while Ah was a-straddle her lap, listenin. Mah pa read to me some, too, but he was usually too tired from work to read much without fallin sound to sleep. So mah momma read, mostly. And she read to all of us, my brother and sisters, too.
Those red-bound books had some good stories, lots of ’em about Bible people and how they lived in the olden times. There was fightin and runnin and hidin and comin out of the bushes and attackin folks sometimes, like Ah guess you had to do if you were gonna survive. Sometimes those people got saved by water rollin over their enemies and sometimes one guy got saved from his enemies by just disappearin inta thin air, so nobody could hurt him, until he got caught in the end and they nailed him up on a wooden cross. Ah reckon times were tough back then and Ah know that musta been some God-awful kind of pain!
Anyways, Ah’ve been thinkin a lot about the books and stories Ah’ve read in mah life and Ah just find them plain interestin because they often say things that sound real, like good things and bad things that happen to people in real life whether you want them to or not. Things like this short little snatch from a book of short stories Ah’m about to finish. Ah like stories like this because they seem real:
Watching little Lundy go back to sleep, I wish I hadn’t told her about the Mound Builders to stop her crying, but I didn’t know she would see their eyes watching her in the dark. She was crying about a cat run down by a car – her cat, run down a year ago, only today poor Lundy figured it out. Lundy is turned too much like her momma. Ellen never worries because it takes her too long to catch the point of a thing, and Ellen doesn’t have any problem sleeping. I think my folks were a little too keen, but Lundy is her momma’s girl, not jumpy like my folks.
My grandfather always laid keenness on his Shawnee blood, his half-breed mother, but then he was hep on blood. He even had an oath to stop bleeding, but I don’t remember the words. He was a fair to sharp woodsman, and we all tried to slip up on him at one time or another. It was Ray at the sugar mill finally caught him, but he was an old man by then, and his mind wasn’t exactly right. Ray just came creeping up behind and laid a hand on his shoulder, and the old bird didn’t even turn around; he just wagged his head and said, “That’s Ray’s hand. He’s the first fellow ever slipped up on me.” Ray could’ve done without that, because the old man never played with a full deck again, and we couldn’t keep clothes on him before he died.
Anyways, Ah like the beginnin of that story. Ah ‘spose because Ah know or have known folks pretty much like he pictured little Lundy or his old grandpa who had this amazin power to always know when people were sneakin up on him. Sometimes Ah think a few people have uncanny ability to know what’s happenin, or what somebody else is gonna do, even before they pull it off. It might be nice to be that way, too. Or it might not. Ah ‘spose it could be scary, don’t you? But Ah can remembuh kids Ah grew up with, a few of them, who were so slow you could tell them something or a joke an’ they wouldn’t even understand ’til the next time you saw them and then they’d start laughin like you jus told them a funny story. Weird!
Anyways, when Ah got in high school Ah remembuh mah ma tellin me Ah ought not to read John Steinbeck’s books because Mr. Steinbeck was pretty naughty and used naughty words. So Ah didn’t, even if mah daddy sometimes did talk naughty, not because Ah was good, but because Ah didn’t wanna disappoint mah mom, like he sometimes did. It worked. She was always pretty proud of me right up til the day she died. And she loved to hear me read back to her when Ah became a man. Ah’d read old poems and funny stuff to her and she loved it. Right up til she died. Ah miss mah momma.
But anyways, Ah‘ve lately found Mr. Steinbeck’s books to be pretty funny – at least, mostly so, but East of Eden not so much. One of mah favorites of his is Cannery Row and mah favorite charactuhs in that story are Mack and the boys from the Palace Flophouse – guys with names like Eddie and Gay and Jones and Hazel – some of ‘em kinda weird names when you think about it. But they were all reg’lar guys even if some had weird names. They all lived together and didn’t work much but were always tryin to find some way to help their friends if it didn’t cost too much or require too much work. Except when they went all-out to throw a party for their good friend Doc who ran the marine biology laboratory called Western Biological.
So anyways, here’s a l’il bit of Mr. Steinbeck’s story about Mack and the boys from Cannery Row, and Ah think it’s tellin, too, because it sounds just like some people Ah know, more or less, and these guys are tryin to make Lee Chong’s Model T Ford truck run so they can raise some money without havin to work too hard, just like those other people Ah know:
Probably any one of the boys from the Palace Flophouse could have made the truck run, for they were all competent practical mechanics, but Gay was an inspired mechanic. There is no term comparable to green thumbs to apply to such a mechanic, but there should be. For there are men who can look, listen, tap, make an adjustment, and a machine works. Indeed there are men near whom a car runs better. And such a one was Gay. His fingers on a timer or a carburetor adjustment screw were gentle and wise and sure.
* * *
One twist – one little twist and the engine caught and labored and faltered and caught again. Gay advanced the spark and reduced the gas. He switched over to the magneto and the Ford of Lee Chong chuckled and jiggled and clattered happily as though it knew it was working for a man who loved and understood it.
J. Steinbeck, Cannery Row, 57-59; The Viking Press, 1945.
But anyways, Mr. Steinbeck seems like he understood people very well and especially the ever-day people that make up the most of this world, the way Ah see it. Ah mean, how often do you really see someone you’d described as an “inspired mechanic”? And yet they’re out there, more’n we know about prob’ly. Else how could some of the old clunkers we see on the road even today stay runnin if they weren’t attended to by an inspired mechanic the likes of Gay. Know what Ah mean? Ah mean, they aren’t stupid!
Just like Ah’m not stupid, even though Ah talk like Ah talk — with words that may be funny-soundin’ to you but aren’t at all funny-soundin’ down where Ah come from. Ah know folks, ‘specially northern and western folks, that think that guys like me are stupid because we talk “funny.” But we don’t talk funny, least not where Ah come from, but it won’t do to tell ’em, those other folks. They’re the ones who talk funny, those western and northern folks, as far as Ah see it. Ah mean, Ah’m not stupid, even if you think Ah sound like it. Ah’ve been readin—or read to – since ol’ Heck was a pup.
Carpe diem. Vita brevis.
© Sep. 10, 2011, by Michael E. Stubblefield. All rights reserved.