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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Bess Factor

Yesterday I had an extremely varied selection of visitors in Blues Alley, from a bum on the streets to a 91 year old west Texas philosopher... and John Echols, who lies somewhere in between.:) Like many conversations in recent days, these individuals found themselves discussing with me the obsession of most people I run into: The slippery slope our civilization is descending on.

The elderly gentleman had done something about the problem, and had a calling card plastered with wonderful wisdoms, like: "For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat." (the Apostle Paul)

And something much more intriguing... "The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been two hundred years. These nations have progressed through this sequence: from bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from great courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependence; from dependence back again to bondage." (Alex Tyler)

Everyone seems to agree. We have gone too far, and it started way before the current Administration in Washington, who has the honor of heaping on the last straws. But we cannot blame the President or the current Congress for most of the mistakes we made which have us now sliding into an abyss like crushed aluminum cans into a recycling vat.

More than our economy, which is a total scandal but could be resolved, we are even more concerned for our children. The ones who, seemingly in mass, are moving back home, broke, jobless, divorced, often with children in tow, to take refuge in our largess. I dare not take stock of how many of my friend's daughters are living with their parents, struggling with life, usually raising their babies without benefit of a male bread winner. These are beautiful young women from good families, the kind that used to make their daddies proud.

One of the better preachers I ever knew, Dr. Jim W. Adams, once coined the phrase that has stuck with me... when he said (twenty years ago!) our children are like hot-house tomatoes. They looked like people, acted like people, but they had been raised in a false environment, and like hot-house tomatoes, would be tasteless and useless... raised in a "hot-house" they would shrivel if ever exposed to the real sun. They would never survive. Adams explained that it was the sun... the heat, the rain, that made a vine-ripened tomato taste so good. Same with grapes. It was the conditioning that the elements provided through wind and temperature changes that made hardy plants, and good fruit.

Conditioning. Yet we worked like hell to save our children any suffering... as if that was a bad thing. We gave them everything we never had. We never made them do any kind of chores, like we had to do. We indulged them far beyond what our parents would ever approve. We never required that they get part time jobs while in high school, you know those kind of jobs where a kid is paid what he is really worth (it would have been illegal!) ... or do anything like work. We let them while away their childhoods staring into computer screens and jabbing buttons on games that we did not understand. And we wonder why they have no coping skills, no people skills. No survival skills; Hot house tomatoes.

Even sadder, we had fewer chidren, so they had less opportunities to learn about sharing, teamwork, anger management, and reconciliation. So they are getting married later and later, and... in turn they are having even fewer children, until.. our culture just goes extinct in an orgy of selfish fulfillment. All while others from impoverished cultures flood in to enjoy this wonderful country we created. We are handing it over in bulk, while we watch our culture fade, our influence in this Nation be trivialized, as our numbers diminish.

So what went wrong? I call it the Bess Factor. We completely abandoned it. For centuries, families functioned as a work unit. Most of that work was agricultural, but the "Bess factor" still worked in cities where young people contributed to the family welfare and even the community; Paper routes, grass mowing, baby sitting. I did all of those, but I like to point to Bess for my most effective "conditioning." Bess was our Guernsey cow, she had to be milked twice a day, and produced around three gallons of milk per day. We raised two teen-aged boys and numerous suckling calves on her.

The Bess Factor; Bess had to be fed, watered, sheltered, milked and yes, LOVED. Having a living organism dependent on me to make sure she stayed alive and healthy and content was life-changing. Life-giving. And for that she gave my family milk. That was a relationship. My first reciprocal relationship. If I came out and cussed her or threw the buckets around, she hunched her back and refused to be milked. She would kick the milk bucket into the next county. If a talked nice to her, she dropped that milk like I was her firstborn. I learned responsibilty to something bigger than my selfish teen interests. Something real-life; To negotiate, to bring in the milk, every morning, day after relentless day. When it was freaking 16 degrees, sleeting, or amidst hurricanes, or just hot as Texas can be. And to share that duty with my brother. To churn butter, crank ice cream, shoot skunks in the feed bin, scoop cowpies, and even more eductional things; To understand the powers of Nature when the cow was in heat. Suddenly she could jump a barbed wire fence like a wildebeast! I learned how to wrestle a beligerent, gluttonous calf who did not want to be taken off the cow. And I drank a lot of wonderful fresh milk. The milking gave me large powerful hands. My handshake was quite firm for a skinny kid. I could bring bigger men to the ground. Many complained that I hurt them; All those hours in the milkshed, sweet-talking Bess.

I rolled my sleeves up so my bulging forearms could be seen, looked like Popeye. I wore the red wing boots that I wore in the barnyard with pride to school. Other kids were fluffing their heifers in 4H, while I was selling milk to the neighborhood. I dreamed of my own dairy someday. I had part time jobs... sacking groceries, bartending, cedar cutting, hay hauling. When I went to college, I could, and did work my way through school. Until my art professors told me to get lost. By the time I was twenty, I had my own remodeling business, worked at a restaurant, worked as a projectionist on campus, sold my artwork, whatever it took. There was not net to catch me. And I made it because of the Bess Factor.

So when your children move back home... start over... buy a milk cow...

See how long they stay!

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