Having nothing to say doesn’t seem to be a malady many suffer from, but I think this perception is deceptive, since, not hearing from them, they get no attention. There’s lots of folks who have something to say, say it, and never get heard from again, having said it only within the confines of their home. Others bite their tongue entirely, saying nary a word about things that irk them. Sometimes, it’s the ones who say nothing who have the most valuable things to say. We’d like to hear more from them, but they are most likely too busy.
Al Sharpton has a lot of things to say, and he frequently says them, since saying things is what he does for a living. He has at least one sibling, a half-sister by his mother, who took up co-habitation with his father, Al Sharpton, Sr. He doesn’t say much about that, and I can’t blame him. Subsequent to this, as Al’s fame has grown, his father and step-sister’s silence about their behavior has been overwhelming, or at least, overwhelming now that I know about it. It’s must be a terrible thing for a young man’s father to run off with his mother’s daughter by a different marriage, But Al, Sr., and Half-Sister haven’t said much about it. I am not making fun of Al, since this all apparently happened when he was a youngster and caused a terrific change in his life as he moved from a middle class neighborhood to tenements, but I am certainly saying something about the behavior of his father. I think his half-sister is more-than-a-bit suspect there, too. But they ain’t talking. Mum’s the word. I only brought Al up to juxtapose him against any silent siblings he may have. His half-sister is the only sibling I found a reference to. I regret that a scurrilous event like this happened in any young man’s life. Shame on Al, Sr.
If one keeps a low enough profile and keeps his mouth shut, one can get away with lots of things. “Dead men tell no tales,” the old pirate’s slogan reminds us, but that was before they knew about DNA. Dead men speak all the time now: they incriminate themselves, they exonerate themselves, they both absolve and admit of themselves charges of heinous crimes. Sometimes it’s hard to keep quiet in spite of our best intentions, and sometimes, one can’t obtain single a reliable word for love or money.
I tried to say nothing for about half-a-day one time as a teenager. By 10:00AM I was about ready to explode for teen-aged persons know everything that is to be known about any subject and must proceed with enlightening everyone who will stand still out of politeness appearing to listen, or at least merely refrain from telling them point-blank that bullshit seems to be the primary thing they know about without knowing that their mind is full of it and it is spewing out of their mouths at an alarming rate, much faster than bulls with the scours can produce it at a stockyard sale. Sometimes our elders were kind to us by remaining silent and just letting us blow. I guess they figured we’d blow up if we didn’t blow forth, or maybe they thought that eventually we’d realize just how foolish we sounded. I thank them for that, now, and for the bluntness of their correction, though thankfulness was not on my mind at the time.
“Son, you don’t know what-the-hell you’re a-talkin’ ’bout,” said an old dairy farmer to me at the barbershop one morning. “I reck’n you jus’ run yo’ rattletrap t’ hear y’self a-talkin’.”
I remember marveling at his speech as he was a-talkin’ to me, me a-talkin’ the same way but it sounding much more intelligent coming from my lips and into my ears than from his. I suspect he was right. No, I’m sure he was right, since I recall trying to instruct him on some of the finer, more esoteric points of bovine husbandry, as I had had some significant experience with it myself at that time, mostly consisting of picking up hay bales in the summer and putting them out in the winter, the cows doing the most important part of the latter, and neither of which was done to my grandfather’s satisfaction, which illustrates the point that I thought I knew more about it at the time than he did, just like I did that old dairy farmer at the barbershop.
Just as I was getting on to the finer points of bovinity, the old dairy farmer leaned over and farted big, long, and loud. Of course, that sent me into fits of laughter as it would any teenager. I thought he was just trying to be funny and launched into a soliloquy of the finer aspects of flatulence, but the farmer said nary another word to me, nor did he even look in my direction. I think he had made his statement, and made it loud and clear, if not somewhat poignantly as it lingered…his silence, and its presence. I had been outclassed by one who had said far more yet spoken much less. It was only some years later before the full import of that lesson descended upon me. It was so effective, ultimately, I have used it a time or two myself. I hope that it was not wasted, which is not possible because it served a dual purpose; only the timing of it served as commentary. In comedy, music, and piercing auditory commentary, timing is everything.
There are millions of voices that have no forum, nor are they looking for one beyond the ballots they cast in the elections, and the homes over which they preside. They don’t attend protests. They’re never on local TV talking about awareness. They may be down at the local food-kitchen preparing meals, but if you stuck a microphone in their face from the front side of a video camera they may simply say that they don’t have the time for talk at that moment, being rather busy, and to catch them after the lunch rush. Catching up to them after the lunch rush may prove harder than previously imagined.
The Pharisees did a lot of religious things, but they also talked a lot about all the wonderful religious things they did. Sometimes they talked more than they did, or worse, they said one thing and did another. Pharasitism is alive and well. It never died out, nor ever really got unpopular. It is remarkably durable. It is remarkably sneaky. It is remarkably poisonous and will blind you to every bit of goodness in the world than what one mistakenly perceives in himself. This is not a new phenomenon, in case you didn’t know; the Pharisees have been around for a long time, though we mostly use a different name for them now.
My great-grandmother didn’t have a lot of things to expound on, but she did have lots of questions. Questions are never really about talking, unless it was my great-grandmother asking them.
“Did you read in your bible, today,” she’d ask.
“No, ma’am,” I’d truthfully answer knowing better than to lie about something like this.
“Why not?” she’d ask, then whack me in the head.
“Did you say your prayers when you got up this morning?” she’d ask.
“No, ma’am,” I say, mournfully this time, less because of the lack of said prayers and more because of the whack I knew was coming.
“Why not?” Whack!!
“Did you say grace over your food before you ate?” she’d ask.
“Yes, ma’am,” I’d gleefully report, knowing that I could get off on this by a technicality without actually having to lie in the strict sense of the word, since I was mentally saying the blessing as I was washing down the sorghum-molasses and butter soaked pancakes with a big glass of apple cider.
“That’s a good boy!” Whack!
There was no escaping the whack, for good or ill. It seemed to me that the whack was a necessary expression of her love for us, since I never saw her whack anyone she cared nothing about, though I did see her get the shotgun after a man trying to steal a chicken one time. She fired both barrels. Fortunately she was a bad shot, or perhaps wanted the terrifying effect more than inflicting any real violence, which, after all, may be a lot like the whack. She never said. I never dared ask her since accusing her of being a bad shot was good for a whack, and meddling in her business was good for a whack.
Other than the questions, she never said much to us at all, speaking seldom but abruptly, every measured word a loaded freight car, moving, unstoppable, obliterating anything idle left in its path. She was a powerful woman, and other than whacking time always displayed a saintly smile, but never displaying levity or laughter. I learned to stay just outside the reach of her arm. My cousins never did. They were too busy talking to observe what was taking place about them. I expect their ears are still a bit sore, and I’ve noticed, after all these years, a mite cauliflowered at the tops from multiple whacks. Had they paid the least bit of attention, they would have noticed that our great-grandmother never called you to within range to receive a whack, just whacked you if you were within arm’s length. I learned to sit all the way across the room from her. When she talked, she had more mojo than E.F. Hutton.
Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” These, undoubtedly are those we never hear from, else quiet could not be used in their description. Some said little, like Calvin Coolidge and his famous, “You lose,” to the lady who told him she had a bet with her friends that she could get him to say more than two words; no one will ever forget this glorious brevity. Some said little but wrote lots, thus what they said in writing has been preserved for posterity. Some said lots and their words were preserved by those whom they influenced. Some just talk all the time, influencing no one, having nothing worthwhile to say, expecting quantity to somehow supplant quality, which only worked on wide open battlefields with muskets, cavalry, and artillery; even those days are gone. The full-time, non-stop talker gets the least recollection, for how would one decide which things were worth remembering?
That could easily be me. It’s not hard to wind up using thousands of words to say nothing at all. Word Press informs me that I have used one thousand eight hundred and thirty-two words to say this, and I was really just getting started. I guess I better quit before I say too much.
If my great-grandmother were here, she’d say, “Get quiet!”
©2015 Mississippi Chris Sharp