Keeping up with the Joneses

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For lo the winter is past
The rain is over and gone
The flowers appear on the earth
The time of the singing of birds is come
And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.
Song of Solomon, 2: 11-12 (KJV)

I love the King James Version of the Bible.  Written, a good Christian woman once told me, “just the way Jesus talked.”
So naturally I did not take to later “versions,” especially the one that turned “turtle” into “turtledove.”
Dang revisionists.
But I digress.
Spring is upon us and along with recalling the “Song of Solomon,” the season reminds me of the Joneses.
The Joneses were a family in my boyhood town.  (Not their real name though I doubt if anyone around today would recognize them from what I am about to write.)
There was a mother, who was the matriarch of the brood, a father who we seldom saw, but who worked hard to keep them fed and clothed, and five children – two older and three younger than me.
They were a clannish bunch, stuck together, and woe be unto anyone who bad-mouthed one of them – as a friend of mine learned when the whole lot cornered him in the brickyard and taught him to have a little more respect.
When my Aunt Gertrude (the one who kept whiskey in a medicine bottle because a nip a day had been prescribed by her doctor) read me The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I  immediately assumed that Huck was one of the Joneses.
Like Huck, the Joneses wandered about town without apparent adult supervision.  They were unkempt and uncontrolled.  As winter approached and pecans began to fall from the trees, homeowners knew to pick them up quickly or the Joneses would descend on the yards like locusts and leave them nutless.  Same with berry bushes and plum trees in spring and summer.
Part scavengers, part entrepreneurs, the Joneses scoured trash piles and garbage dumps for returnable bottles and sellable scrap iron. I dare say that today one or all of them are millionaires living large in some tropical paradise.
But back then, my mother and the mothers of “respectable” middle class boys and girls like myself, pointed to the Joneses as examples of what not to be and do.
So naturally we envied them all the more.
Especially on Sunday.
Every Sunday our sainted mothers would roust us from our beds and dress us in stiffly starched clothes and take us to church. There we would sit quiet and uncomfortable, listening to stuff about talking turtles and wondering what the Joneses were doing.
Because the Joneses weren’t there.
In a town where the church you attended was part of who you were, the Joneses weren’t anybody – at least as far as formal churching was concerned.
Twice a year, Christmas and Easter, they appeared at the Methodist church, arrived after the service had begun, and made a great show by sitting right down front and rubbing the congregation’s nose in it.
Although the town was full of evangelical sects, none of them pestered the Joneses to join their denomination and attend on a regular basis.
All the more reason for boys like me to envy them.
Yet of all the enviable things the Joneses did, the thing I and my friends envied most was that at the first blush of spring, when the earth began to warm, the Jones children took off their shoes.
I do not know at what point someone attached a social stigma to going barefoot, but in my youth one of the spring things to which we looked most forward was naked feet.
So when the trees began budding, our campaign for shedding shoes started.
Mothers, for reasons beyond our youthful grasp, resisted.
Our goal was to have soles tough as leather by the time school was out.
Whatever was the goal of the mother’s, it wasn’t that.
So we, the boys, sought a strategy that would cause the Mothers to relax the shoe restriction.
One of us proposed we try for “shoeless after Easter.” but when we realized that Easter could come well into April that idea was shelved.
Another of the group thought we might argue for a date coincidental with redbuds blooming, but that was dismissed as “sissy.”
Then someone came up the bright idea that we should ask to take off our shoes when the Joneses did.
You can see where this is heading, can’t you.
You will never lose money betting on the collective stupidity of adolescent boys.
We had as much chance getting our mothers to let us follow the example of the don’t-follow-their-example Joneses, as we had finding that talking turtle.
The plan failed, we kept our shoes on, and continued to envy the Joneses.
Harvey H. “Hardy” Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.

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