How Little I Really Do Know

Oh, this hits me in the face over and over again every day. I run into so many challenges just trying to take care of and maintain my simple home here in West Topsham. Technology is my bane. Oh, how I cross swords with technology and can barely gain a temporary truce. I want my life to be more simple and this is a losing battle today.

Just the other day, I went to use my Estwing nail hammer. These were the Cadillac of nail hammers back in the 60’s when I bought mine. I was working for Paul Vermette, a small contractor in Washington, Vermont back in 1969 when I bought this Estwing hammer. I was hired as a carpenter’s helper at the princely sum of $.35 per hour. An Estwing hammer cost about $16.00 back then and I saved and saved to buy that hammer. When I finally had mine, I felt like I truly belonged to the guild of carpenters and my price of admission was paid.

That first year working for Paul, my main tool was a shovel, or what was affectionately called an “idiot stick.” I got very good at using an idiot stick. Maybe this was fitting as my Dad used to say when we moved to our farm for the summer, that, ” Usually summer folk went into town and hired the village idiot for the summer, but that we did not need to because our family had me.” This was in the days before folks really thought too much about self esteem and I seemed to get past this anyway. Oh well, my Dad also said, “I was like the salt of the earth,” and this probably rang true. If anything, I was born about 100 years too late.

To return to my theme of how little I really know is my easy challenge. I am reminded of this over and over. I do try hard to have a bountiful garden every year and I am quite proud of my high bush blueberries and my red raspberries. I freely admit to spending a great deal of time reading and trying to learn how to grow these crops successfully. I have become quite a student of composting and this is my continual project. My soil is the beneficiary of all my work and study. I am always learning and maybe that is what keeps me going. My library shelves are filled with books that I turn to over and over to help me past my latest challenge.

I built most of two of our homes myself, most of these skills were learned in my carpentry days working for Paul. And, I will admit to sometimes turning to some carpentry and construction books in the evening so I could take on the next part of my project the coming day. I guess it was more about just being willing to learn.

In most of the daily doings of my life, I am making a full fledged effort to keep it simple. I get frustrated with much of the educational writing that comes out of our Vermont Agency of Education. To me, most of it seems to be written for the person working in the cubicle next to the person doing the writing. My dying words will be that the last thing the world needs is more three-ring binders chuck full of policy. I have very few friends in the world of bureaucracy as you can imagine and I have some less the gentlemanly words for all of this, but I will spare you my language right now.

I was recently reading some E.B. White essays on democracy. White is my hero and I find great wisdom and comfort in White’s writing. Many of you will surely remember his wonderful story, “Charlotte’s Web,” or the little English grammar and writing handbooks we all were given, “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk and E.B. White. E.B. White wrote regular essays for “The New Yorker” magazine and we are blessed to have all of this in print. White’s essays are often my bedtime reading as I cannot seem to get through a novel much any more, but a good essay is just the right length to hold my attention and get me to think.

White’s piece I was just reading had to do with F.D.R. trying to pack the U.S. Supreme Court in 1936, hoping to get a court that would look more favorably on his New Deal programs during the 1930s. A sometimes supporter of Franklin Roosevelt, but White was not enthralled with the court packing episode. E.B. White wrote this in response to F.D.R’s attempt to pack the court:

“Americans should decline to follow a leader, however high minded, who proposes to take charge of affairs because he thinks he knows all the answers.”

Damn, but this resonates with me today, especially because I know so little. Enough said, I think you all can connect my dots here.

Take care and be safe.

Ed Pirie, West Topsham, Vermont

This is when I am really learning.

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