THE IDLE AMERICAN: A most unusual day

Published 1:31 pm Saturday, March 21, 2020

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Don Newbury

My Uncle Mort, who lives so far out in the country that nobody passes his house going to town, called the other day.

 “I’m going to shock you, nephew,” he said. “’Cause I’m planning a ‘give-away’ that folks won’t be able to refuse.”

He had my attention. I felt flushness in the face–sure that my breathing had shortened. And what about the palpitations in a heart worked over with four bypasses and a valve job more than two decades ago? Were these multiple signals that I might be next in line for the feared coronavirus?

This was a “new tune” from my 106-year-old uncle who is best known for “get-rich-quick” schemes that have always turned to “clabber.” Could Mort’s proposed “giveaway” represent a sudden 180-degree turn toward “get-poor-slowly?”

I’m sure I missed several details, stunned with hearing such from one who seems to have grown charitable, no longer interested in riches.

Formerly, his “riches” were always right over the next hill. He dreamed of opulence, including a change in names for his homeplace from “Billy Goat Hill” to “Angora Knoll.”

Luckily, it seems, lean-to’s, sheds and barns on his spread have made it possible for Mort to “save up” as “hoarders” do. He has a stockpile of yardsticks. And in another shed, a barrel of small hinges, the very size needed to connect two yardsticks to make a simple six-foot measure. How handy is this for help with social distancing?

The gist of Mort’s plan makes sense. “We’re at a place in history where we’ve never been before,” Mort opined, mumbling about “uncharted waters,” and the need for well-intentioned inhabitants on this planet to “come together” while staying six-feet apart.

“I’m gonna run ads about my ‘giveaway’ of doubled yardsticks. There may not be a big run on ‘em, but I can make ‘em as needed.

 “While folks are here–staying six feet apart, mind you–we’ll talk to each other. I’m gonna hand out Bibles, hymnals and other Christian materials. If any ‘back-biting’ breaks out, I can make a really long “poker” since I’ve got plenty of wood and lots of hinges. We’ll nudge ‘naysayers’ toward the back so the rest of us can talk, pray and sing.”

Who knows? Uncle Mort may even come up with a poem about coming together while staying apart. Clearly, there’s evidence of the need to put much else aside as world leaders come together to determine what’s best for a planet quickly coming unhinged. There may be much more to fear than fear itself, with respect to late President Franklin Roosevelt’s well-known quote.

As we grind to stops where we used to speed on, we are forced to think about the world and our place in it.

Mort spoke of his preacher’s current sermon series entitled, “Broken Before Breakthrough.” Perhaps it “fits” both his congregation and the world at large.

Mort recalled the words of a childhood poem that might be helpful for the living of these days.

The author is unknown. It’s about a couple of frogs:

          Two frogs fell into a deep cream bowl. One was a pessimistic soul;

          “I will drown,” he cried, ‘”and so will you.” So with a despairing cry, he

          closed his eyes and said, “Good-bye.” But the other frog, with a merry

          grin, said, “I can’t get out, but I won’t give in! I’ll swim around till my 

          strength is spent. For having tried, I’ll die content.” Bravely he swam 

         until it would seem, his struggles began to stir the cream. On the top of 

         the butter at last he stopped, and out of the bowl he happily hopped.

         What is the moral? It’s easily found. If you can’t get out, keep swimming 


I thanked my uncle, assuring him that I’ll visit the thicket soon, eager to pick up my yardsticks.


Dr. Newbury is a former educator who writes weekly and is a longtime public speaker. Comments/speaking inquiries to: Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: Twitter: @donnewbury. Facebook: don newbury.