I went to the Walmarts the other day. I had finished my shopping, gone through the check-out line and had a basket full of groceries. I sat down on one of the metal mesh benches they have at the entry to the Walmarts. I was waiting for my sister, and this was the designated spot where I said I would wait. I hadn’t been there very long, when lo and behold…one of those Old Crusty Guys I mentioned in my ‘Loose Morels’ post walked through the double doors and sat on the bench next to mine.
I’m kind of shy, and I don’t strike up conversations with strangers…they usually strike up conversations with me. I’m usually a pretty good listener. I glanced over at him and quickly sized him up. I instantly recognized that he was one of those Old Crusty Guys. His whole being was leaning to the right. His right arm was bent at the elbow resting on the back of the bench. His right leg was stretched out, foot hanging loose, lolling to the right. His head was lightly tilted to the right, too. My guess is that he leaned toward the right politically, too. He was wearing his blue jean overalls and it looked like a basketball was pressing out against his waist line. The wrinkles on his face and liver spots on his arms belied years of a life hard won. His gray hair (or what was left of it) was slicked back with Brylcream (or maybe Dippity Doo.)
Shortly after he sat down, I noticed that he was saying hello to people who came through the door of the Walmarts. It wasn’t just a ‘stranger saying hello to other strangers’ kind of thing. These people responded enthusiastically, like they recognized him…like they were his friends. The more people came through that he greeted, the more I began to wonder how he knew all of those people.
I don’t remember exactly how our conversation started, but the first thing I DO remember him saying to me is, “Most people don’t even know how to grow things anymore.” He spoke in that wheezy, gravelly, short-breathed way that most Old Crusty Guys do, and our conversation was easy, not forced. He began to tell me how he bought a small plot of land when he was just 20 years old. I don’t remember how many it was, but 5-10 acres sticks in my mind. He told me that he put in some fruit trees right away. He had a pond, which he stocked with three kinds of fish. Catfish was one of them; I didn’t recognize the other two he mentioned. He said that he could go fishing and catch enough to feed him for three days each time he fished. He had chickens for eggs and meat. He also had some pigs he raised for slaughter. When I mentioned that I hoped to have a milk cow someday soon, he told me that he had a milk cow, too, but he also had goats. He liked goat’s milk better than cow’s milk. He said he would feed them sugar beets while he milked them, and that made their milk taste really good. He grew the sugar beets himself.
I said, “Wow, that’s the way to do it!” He said, “Yep…I was….I was…it didn’t cost me anything except the cost of feed.” I think the fancy, city-slicker term he was looking for was “Self-Sufficient.” I was in love with this guy. Who wouldn’t be? Well, not REALLY ‘in love’, but he was speaking my language and we had a meeting of the minds. This Old Crusty Guy knew where it was at! This is my dream, but somehow, it’s costing us a lot more than it seems to have cost him. This guy was only 20 years old, and had the foresight to set up for himself a way of life where he wasn’t reliant upon the government, or what ‘city slickers’ call a ‘real job’. He lived the simple life.
One thing led to another, and I came to find out that he no longer has his place.
Incredulous, not believing that anyone would choose to leave that kind of life, I asked, “What happened? Why did you leave it?”
He looked at me with a look of regret, and maybe a little shame. “My wife divorced me and she got it.”
“I’m sorry,” I said awkwardly.
I saw what I think might have been tears well up in his eye as we made eye contact. “Ahhh….it was probably for the best.”
He quickly moved on out of the awkward silence. “I didn’t get fat until I moved away from my place and started eating at McDonald’s.”
We talked a bit about the quality of food these days and the skyrocketing prices, and then shortly, my sister appeared through the double doors with her basket of stuff. I told him it was nice to meet him, and left…but I kept on thinking about our conversation. Mostly, I wanted to know why his wife had divorced him. By the nature of the conversation, I didn’t get that he had cheated, nor that he wanted the divorce.
I don’t know a fraction of the story, and I only know one side. What I had learned, was that he was friendly, he was industrious and hard working, and he loved the outdoors. He liked being self-sufficient and taking care of himself…and he knew what life was really supposed to be about. He knew that ‘work’ shouldn’t take up so much of your time that you don’t have time to enjoy nature, people and the important things in life. Taking care of your basic needs in a simple way is more important than working yourself to death in order to live your life in such a way that the rest of society claims is ‘acceptable.’
Maybe this guy was a wife-beater or an alcoholic, but I really don’t think so. He certainly didn’t strike me as a ‘bad person’. I suspect that he probably farted loudly and often. Maybe he left his socks on the floor, or left the toilet seat up, or put the toilet paper on the wrong way, or left his dirty dishes in the sink, or squeezed the toothpaste tube the wrong way…or maybe he didn’t talk enough, or maybe he talked too much. Maybe his wife was just ‘fed up’ that he wouldn’t get a real job so she could have a better car, or cable t.v. or that thing she saw on the home shopping network. Maybe she divorced him because he just didn’t do what she wanted him to do (fill in the blank).
In my divergent way of thinking, here is the take-away message from my encounter with the Crusty Old Guy at the Walmarts:
1) What an animal eats affects the quality of it’s milk and meat. Treat your animals well, and they will serve you well.
2) If you can learn to grow food and raise animals, you don’t need much else to keep you happy, and healthy…not to mention ‘lean’.
3) Ladies, you fart too…only you do it at night, and it’s the ‘silent but deadly’ kind. On a side note, sometimes, the big, blustery, raucous ‘show’ from a Crusty Old Guy just might be better than the silent, demure, unannounced side-swipe we ladies deceive ourselves with.
4) Don’t throw away your man because of stupid reasons. Everyone has faults. If you are looking for the bad in people, you’ll be sure to find it. If you focus on the good things, you’ll find those things, too, and you’ll be much happier for it.
5) If you are stressed, adding things to it will only make things more stressful. Simplify your life, and you will have more without trying so hard.
6) Go sit on the wire mesh bench at the Walmarts and watch and interact with people instead of buying things. It’ll cost you less money, and make you happier.
7) If you want a friend, show yourself friendly.
8) Eating at McDonald’s will make you fat.
9) Everyone has a story to tell.
10) Sit down and shoot the breeze with Old Crusty Guys. There is a lot more to them than first meets the eye.