BY KEITH HUFFMAN
A bittersweet emotion, nostalgia can inspire a wealth of positive feelings and social connections, as evidenced by research in psychology. Keith Huffman, who has written newspaper columns about Southern nostalgia since 2008, shares some fond reflections about family he cherishes, all of whom are prime examples of good ol’ country smarts.
Kason, my 2-year-old, curly-haired munchkin, is the greatest multi-tasker I know. Just recently, I watched in awe as he simultaneously sucked his thumb and picked his nose, single-handedly.
It was an amazing sight, one offering more evidence to my assumption that my little boy is destined for things requiring lots of brains. He’s already obsessed with toy rockets, cars and trains, especially if they happen to be in the hands of his 7-year-old brother, Kaleb, who’s long since shown signs of possessing mad scientist-caliber smarts as well.
Hand Kaleb some cardboard, string and glue, and that young’un can invent practically anything, ranging from impenetrable bug pens and money vaults to nifty booby traps for his ornery little brother. A genius armed with a massive imagination, naturally, can do things like that. Expert visualizers, they simply funnel their good ol’ country smarts into a special knack for planning ahead.
If that’s the case, then I reckon the little kid who used to bring a handkerchief to school each day for Pawpaw Jim Sanders, way back in the 1950s, must have had some good ol’ country smarts, too.
Back then, an elementary school-age Pawpaw Jim frequently got into fistfights with bullies older and bigger than him. Without fail, Pawpaw Jim’s nose always got busted and sprung a leak. And, without fail, the little kid, who was a year or so younger than Pawpaw Jim, always handed a fresh handkerchief or rag over to Pawpaw Jim once the fists stopped flying.
I reckon the kid figured Pawpaw Jim just might make a good bodyguard, should unfavorable circumstances ever arise on the schoolyard. Meanwhile, as the years went by, Pawpaw Jim got lots of practice in the fighting realm, ranging from high school wrestling and teenage rumbles to barroom brawls.
Of course, when it came to fighting in some really rough bars, Pawpaw Jim always deemed it smart thinking to take along his wiry cousin, Charles, whose brute strength easily rivaled any tough mule in its prime.
“Boy, when Charles hit somebody, you could always hear it, real loud — POW! — just like in the movies,” Pawpaw Jim used to say about his kin. “One time, he punched straight through a car window to hit someone. That man was somethin’ else. But, yeah, he was the kind of person you’d want in your corner if a big fight ever broke out.”
No doubt, good preparation is a sure sign of some good ol’ country smarts. Even my father, Mike “Doe Doe” Huffman, has shown potential of this sort — like the time, many years ago, when he’d gotten a little spot of land and had to deal with someone whose bitterness drove them to drive donuts on the property when my father was away.
Apparently, the donut maker had had their eye on the property before my father got hold of it. But ol’ Doe Doe came up with a remedy for discouraging the makings of future donuts. Strategically planting long nails, pointy-end up, in various areas on the land, my father warned us to be extra careful where we stepped.
“This oughta do it,” my father said, grinning. “Our good buddy will come one last time. Hell, I’m lookin’ forward to it.”
Come they did. One last time.
My father undoubtedly inherited his preparedness from both his momma’s and daddy’s sides of the family. A noteworthy example of proof from his momma’s side emerged several years ago, shortly after my father got divorced again, when he went cruising through a few bars with his mother’s sister, Aunt Nean Nean, to help fill some lonely hours.
At one juke joint, as Aunt Nean Nean passed time shooting pool by herself, my father noticed she put her empty bottles down on the pool table, having placed a single bottle at each corner. Offering to throw them away for her, my father’s amusement surged when Aunt Nean Nean abruptly paused her game to give him a grim look.
“Oh no, son,” she said. “We might need ’em before we leave this place.”
Now, that’s some expert preparation. Of course, my father’s daddy, Pawpaw Buck Huffman, possessed this caliber of country smarts, too.
Years ago, shortly after Pawpaw Buck passed and was buried, family offered to help my father clean out Buck’s apartment. One helping hand was my father’s father-in-law at that time, “Pop,” a firmly devout Christian who volunteered to pack things up from Buck’s bedroom.
The cleanout had barely begun, however, when everyone was alerted to a sudden burst of laughter. It came from Pop, who stood over an open dresser drawer filled with packs of condoms. I reckon Pop figured the Good Lord did command His children to “be fruitful and multiply.”
In his own way, Pawpaw Buck was simply complying with the Lord. And when it came to managing a variety of courtships, he was known to be a brilliant multi-tasker.
It sure wouldn’t surprise me if Pawpaw Buck single-handedly picked his nose and sucked a thumb back when he was a munchkin, too.
Keith Huffman is the author of “The Portable Creek: Southern Nostalgia and Other Shenanigans.” He lives in Opelika.