Tuesday, November 16, 2010
A True Renaissance Man
In this day of computers, cell phones and every gadget made to enhance our lives I wonder all the time what would happen if suddenly they all just quit. How would we communicate? How would I listen to music? Simply put, how would I make it through the day? We have all become so dependent upon these machines. I find myself reaching for that cell phone as a comfort (kind of like a baby clutches his blanket) or running to the computer to check e-mails or look up something. I recently ran across a set of books, The Foxfire Books, a compilation of magazine articles written in the 1960's. This series of books explains how to do a myriad of daily chores like dress a deer, make bread or even build a cabin. Just those pesky day-to-day things which are necessary to exist if you don’t have modern conveniences. We, as a modern society, have forgotten how to milk a cow or take the milk and make butter or can our own food or even how to sew a dress (okay, some of you probably can do these things but we don’t as a rule because it’s easier to run to the store and buy them ready-made). Are there actually people out there who still survive on their wits and know-how?
Yes, and I have the rare privilege of knowing one. A true Renaissance man. A modern day De Vinci who lives his life building things without a calculator (he carries a flat pencil stuffed behind his ear to “figurate” if he needs to), who kills his own food or grows it and can fix just about anything given the time. For the sake of anonymity, I will call him “Billy.” Billy usually works alone – he cannot be bothered by slower, lazy people. I met him when we hired him to build our first barn. A huge undertaking with eight stalls, a loft and a feed room. Billy showed up in his ancient truck, pulling a trailer of materials and set to work. He did not bring twenty guys with him to help. He did it himself, by himself, and he did it well. Billy finished the barn in under a week and charged me a lot less than any other bid I had taken from modern contractors with crews. Thus began a relationship with Billy which has continued for years. If I have a problem I can usually call him and he will know how to fix it or build it. No blueprints, no written instructions, just his brain. I have always maintained that Billy, if he had finished high school, would have been an architect or an engineer. But then, I wouldn’t have him to call if there was a problem.
One day, a few years ago, I was going to the barn to feed the horses. I made it out the back door and almost to the barn when I heard a snuffling noise. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a black blur headed directly for me, then another one. Survival instinct kicked in and I began running, leaping over the paddock fence (I really climbed it but leaped sounds so much more exciting). I turned to face my attackers – two rather large Vietnamese pot belly pigs! And they weren’t friendly. Snorting and pawing, they seemed intent on getting to me through that wooden fence. Memories of my grandmother’s warnings that a pig will eat your face off flickered through my brain. Thankfully I had my cell phone. My husband insists I carry it around the farm in case of emergency – this was definitely an emergency. The only person I could think of who would know what to do was Billy. He had pigs and maybe he would help me. I called his house and his wife said she would send him right away. In Billy parlance “right away” could mean a few minutes to hours. I settled in behind my fence and watched these creatures who kept watching me.
“Right away” this time meant only about thirty minutes. Billy pulled up near my barn and got out. The pigs were not distracted by him. I guess they sensed I was more vulnerable prey. He waved at me and started taking ropes out of the back of his truck. Without hesitation, Billy began chasing the pigs, throwing lassoes at their back legs until he snagged one. The pig hit the ground and Billy, excuse me for this, “hog-tied” its legs together. On to the next one which proved a bit more difficult. He had to use the Gator to chase it, sort of like they chased animals in a jeep on Daktari (remember that show set in Africa?). Eventually, I had two “hog-tied” pigs lying in my pasture. I emerged from my fortress and went to inspect them. Billy, dripping sweat, threw them (I would guess they each weighed around three hundred pounds – Billy doesn’t lift weights but maybe he should compete) in the back of his pick-up and turned to me grinning. He had enjoyed himself! Without much wordy conversation, he left, headed for home. I just assumed those pigs would become his daughter’s pets. Vietnamese pot belly pigs were expensive and were always sold as pets - unless they happened to end up on the wrong end of a rope held by Billy.
A couple of weeks later I ran into Billy at a local convenience store. I asked him about the pigs and how they were doing. Was his daughter making them into pets? Now Billy is a hard man to read. He doesn’t talk much and his face rarely gives him away. This time, however, he smiled and said they were just fine. With a brevity of words which only he is capable of, he told me that was the best bacon he had eaten in a long time. He went back to his pick-up and left me standing there.
Do you know someone like Billy? A true Edison or Frank Lloyd Wright? Who would you call if there were marauding pigs?