Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Hermitry Sans Misanthropy

I've returned from another trip to Missouri, which perhaps will be my last. This time was more madcap than usual, with an assortment of misadventures. Greg was suffering from shingles and had been bedridden before I arrived but managed to revive himself enough to participate in activities. On the way to cut and remove trees that had fallen on the barbed wire fence surrounding the farm, Greg's new tractor got stuck in two feet of mud that had formed after a heavy rain the previous day. Not long after Greg was towed out by another tractor, Greg's son-in-law's pickup truck also got stuck in the mud and had to be pulled out. Anne, who went to Grubville once years ago, did not accompany me this time; she aptly refers to it as "Mudville."

The crowning fiasco occurred the next day, when four of us decided to take a paddle-wheel boat on a tour of the lake. It was a small, plastic, air-filled boat probably designed for teenagers, but in this case there were three overweight adult passengers plus me. With great effort and very slow progress we made our way down to the opposite end of the lake, where we could see a beaver dam and a few turtles sitting on rocks. About halfway back, Donny, the school bus driver visiting from Tennessee, informed us that we were taking on water at his end of the boat. Before long, the well in the boat where Donny had been sitting filled with water, the boat tilted backward and Donny fell into the lake. He floundered there for a minute before I could grab his hand, and shortly after that the entire boat flipped over and all of us were thrown into the lake. We were in over our heads, and I helped tow the boat to the shore, where two walked back in the water and two walked back on land. There were no injuries, but Donny seemed shaken up for the rest of his visit.

The following day the door opener to my rental car, which had been in my pocket when I fell into the lake, stopped working. My rental car from the airport was a new VW Beetle and had no keyholes visible on the exterior. I removed the battery cover and dried out the opener with a hair drier to no avail. As the hour of my plane departure approached I called Hertz and was informed that there is a keyhole hidden under a piece of removable plastic next to the handle on the driver's side, and sure enough there was. I made it on time to the airport without incident.

Other parts of the visit were more enjoyable. Donny had come with David, a friend of Greg's sister. David is a cattle rancher from Jackson, Tennessee and has a good sense of humor. As a gift, he brought two donkeys, which his father had been trying to get rid of. We sat next to his truck and trailer and listened to country music. I tried moonshine for the first time, and it wasn't bad at all, though not fine liquor by any stretch. Greg's neighbor, Mike, stopped by, and he likes to talk. Mike is a good example of the complexity that can reside in a person. He is a retired pipe fitter, usually carries a pistol in a holster and likes to hunt. Many would assume that, living in rural Missouri, he must be an NRA member and a conservative Republican, but they would be wrong. Mike used to be a pot dealer and still smokes it. He likes Elizabeth Warren and hates Dick Cheney. If you look beyond stereotypes, this country is far more complex than it seems, particularly if you rely on the news media for information. David and Mike's wives were a nice change from the starchy Yankee wives of Vermont. They exude a Southern warmth that doesn't make it this far north. I have to give the South a few concessions after all. We also managed to get in a game of croquet, which used to be a tradition.

Most of Greg's family was assembled, and he has been the patriarch since his father died. As mentioned in an earlier post, they're an unusual group. Over the years I have come to like them individually, even though we have little in common. I had hoped that more friends from college would be there this year but they weren't. One died recently, and the only one who showed up is a regular, Greg's closest friend.

Thinking about all this for a few days, I've decided that, rationally speaking, there isn't much reason for me to keep up with these people anymore. On the whole they are less thoughtful than I am and incapable of engaging in the kinds of discussion that I appreciate. They are interested in me to some extent while I'm there but do not think much about me or anything that I've said while I'm away. They are unlikely to visit me in the future. From my point of view many of their habits are ones that I tired of decades ago. I don't care about March Madness or sports at all. I have broader interests than they do and would not make many of the choices they made. Those who were in a loose sense friends during college have drifted off permanently. The same happened much earlier with high school friends. The prevailing judgment I have is that neither I nor they would benefit much from future contact.

You will have gathered from many of my posts that I have some of the characteristics of a hermit. To me this is perfectly acceptable, and, for the sake of clarity, I think a distinction must be made between being a hermit and being a misanthrope. Although I prefer being alone, I actually like and am interested in people. Sometimes it even seems that a minor paradox exists in that I like people more than they like me. However, I have to admit that they wear on me quickly, and I must soon be on my way.


  1. This post was fun. Falling in the lake was amusing however I am sure at the time it was not and would be cold and upsetting. My daughter lives in Georgia and southern warmth really does exist. The last random thought…I just finished Gulliver's Travels and your adventures reminded me of Lemuel. In his last adventure he comes to prefer horses to people and he really did become misanthropic and quite mad. Your warm description of your friends is far from his lonely, miserable interpretation of humanity and I hope you go visit again if only for the (my) entertainment value.

    1. I have to admit I don't get out much, so even when unpleasant surprises occur they can do me some good. Even so, I'm getting a little tired of Greg's family. I used to camp out in the woods there, and now we're all packed into the same little house with one bathroom. Greg isn't as much fun as he used to be due to health issues - he completely quit drinking!

      Yes, as I recall, Jonathan Swift was a bit of a misanthropist - a good writer, though. I'm in the process of getting rid of books that I'll never read again, and I'm keeping Gulliver's Travels.


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