THE IDLE AMERICAN: Mort and furrowed brows

Published 9:46 am Wednesday, April 1, 2020

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Don Newbury

It’s a challenge my 106-year-old Uncle Mort hasn’t faced–not ever–and the same is true for the rest of us.

The world teeters on a fulcrum of fear, much of it unknown. Enough is known, though, to shiver the strongest timbers and shake boots previously used for putting “get-along” in little “dogies” (pronounced “dough”’-gees), along with kicking aside rattlesnakes, and other critters that think it’s their home and their range.

Mort has been hanging around the general store down in the thicket, giving directions to lost motorists, happily engaging in conversation. He also pondered stories, riddles and memories accumulated in a long life. He considered hopes for humankind that have “risen to the top” over previously longstanding political ranting, and numerous other topics that no longer seem nearly as important as before.

Still, he had to smile when some occasional visitors to the store made observations ranging from the reasonable to the absurd.

A minister, gassing up, mused about amended biblical instruction warranting more specificity when mentioned today. “Jesus said, ‘Get thee behind me, Satan.’ Today, we’d add, ‘by at least six feet.’”

Mort grinned, “That wouldn’t be rocket surgery, would it?”

My uncle figures that most Americans are enduring “cabin fever,” and that this term deserves clarification. “Suddenly, the expression is expanded to include many other structures, including houses, tents, apartments, barns, duplexes, mansions, hovels, shacks and double-wides,” he said.

There are more shortages than “longages,” and folks are learning that the preferred spelling of “canceled” has just one “l.” Formerly seldom-used words now commonly include “canceled, postponed, extended, temporarily, suspended, and, the most spotted signs in supermarket aisles are ‘out of stock.’”
In most cases of daily life for the masses, the “old normal” seems preferable to what we often currently refer to as “the new normal.”

One 18-year-old–using both bills and silver to buy a half-tank of gas–had hoped to work at a grocery store during spring break. He learned, though, that his services weren’t needed. “Full-timers have taken on shelf-stocking, spreading themselves even thinner,” he said.

The customer said, “As I drove to the thicket, I thought of sights and sounds I’d heard while working at the grocery store. And, last night, they returned in my dreams, including scenes of empty shelves that used to bulge with products. Frequent announcements called for ‘clean-up on aisle four.’”

Sadly, when there’s nothing there to spill, there’s nothing left to clean up, he lamented.

Mort mentioned that he was going to spend the rest of the day “frog-gigging.” The young man wanted to know more about the sport, and asked if he could come along.

My uncle invited him, of course. They went down well-worn trails on the beautiful spring day. Trees were budding, and early bluebonnets cast bluish tints on hillsides awakening from winter. Birds sang, frogs croaked and fish splashed. A jet plane droned in the distance, but most sounds were from creatures unaware of viruses, and issues related thereto.

Mort said he then told campfire stories, and that they fried up a mess of frog legs for a light dinner. “Then, just before going to bed, I read a chapter from a Newbury book,” he said. “Soon, I fell into deep sleep–with little on my stomach and nothing on my mind.”

Mort’s telling me of the “put down” didn’t faze me. It was simply “Mort being Mort.”

I yearned to visit him and get his take on these strange days. I’d tell him about lights spelling out “Wash Your Hands” covering an entire side of Dallas’ Omni Hotel, and how businesses, churches, organizations and individuals are “pitching in” to “flatten the curve.”

I would savor hearing birds in the thicket sing at spring’s awakening. My uncle and I would claim that day that the Lord had made to rejoice and be glad in.

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.