I’m still reading Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry with the followers of Michele Morin’s Living our Days blog at https://michelemorin.wordpress.com
We’re at it every Thursday. See my About page above for the reading schedule and join us, or just come along for the conversation ( :
This week, having returned home to the people who knew him when he was 10, Jonah Crow who has for so long gone by the initial “J” becomes ‘a propertied man ready to “settle down and take hold”’. And with the settling comes an official occupation and a new nickname: Jaybird, which shortens to Jayber, the name he will carry for the rest of his days. Though he isn’t exactly a stranger in Port William, as a bachelor he finds himself in a class all his own, treated kindly by most but not quite an insider. Nevertheless, he feels at last that he is home and has gained a friend in the wise and kind father-figure of Burley Coulter. A smorgasbord of customers becomes his treasured community.
Once again I’m enjoying Wendell Berry’s keen sense of human nature, his quaint vocabulary and his all-around way with words:
A way with words
But it’s a fact that knowledge comes to barbers, just as stray cats come to milking barns. p.94
“How was it you got here?” “Well,” I said, “by enacting my ignorance of geography—which is to say, by being lost the better part of three days.” p.96
Burley Coulter with reference to the ownership of the barbershop that is for sale:
“Oh, it ain’t mine. I don’t own anything I can’t carry or that won’t follow me when I whistle.” p.100
Burley Coulter’s admission is curious in light of the fact that he is so very eager to see Jayber purchase the shop and so be encumbered with property which is clearly not Burley’s own personal preference.
I would be back in my garden all the time, working or just looking….I knew better than to expect a visible difference in an hour, but I looked anyhow. p.130
Ha! What green thumb can not relate to this! We look and look as if we might see things grow like magic. I’m reminded of that darling old children’s story by Ruth Krauss: The Carrot Seed.
‘A little boy planted a carrot seed…Everyone kept saying ‘It wouldn’t come up’… But he still pulled up the weeds around it every day and sprinkled the ground with water…And then, one day,
a carrot came up
just as the little boy had known it would.
The Carrot Seed, by Ruth Krauss. Pictures by Crockett Johnson. copyright 1945.
Wendell Berry shows himself to be a sensitive student of human nature…
He looked right through your eyes, right into you, as a man looks at you who is willing for you to look right into him. p.101
Eye contact is an interesting thing. There is a fine line between no eye contact and too much eye contact! Maybe it’s a cultural thing? But I have known the occasional person to stare so intently into your eyes when talking that you feel as though they were trying to read your mind. Or worse yet, that they are suspicious of your heart toward them?! Eek.
And I sat there trying to think, and failing, thinking only that whatever I would say was probably going to be a surprise to me. p.102
( : I love this admission! Not being quick with words, I have been known to say things I didn’t see coming! And then to have to do some quick back-pedaling! For this reason I prefer to write; there’s always a backspace key ( :
You will appreciate the tenderness of my situation if I remind you that I had managed to live for years without being known to anybody. And that day two men who knew who and where I had come from had looked at me face-on, as I had not been looked at since I was a child. And now there I sat with about a hundred and twenty dollars in bills in my shoe and in the lining of my jacket and, as I remember, thirty-five cents in my pocket. p.102
Ah…To be known and accepted. This is home.
You can imagine, though, that becoming so quickly and surprisingly a propertied man ready to “settle down and take hold” required a long thought, and that I didn’t finish thinking it that day, or for many days afterward. p.103
I didn’t need to explain much or renew acquaintance. The town took care of that. In no more than two days the town and practically all the countryside knew that I had come and who I was and where I had got my start. p.104
For better or worse, small towns are infamous for this quick passage of information.
“Predict!” said Sam Hanks. “How do they know?” “Because they know! They’re smart men. Not like me and you.” p.105
This was interesting to me because it is a response that can still be heard today when in debate over quasi-science/political issues. This is the trump card that gets pulled. ‘Well, I don’t understand it but surely the smart people who claim these things can be trusted…’ And so the ‘common man’ checks his brains at the door of ‘science’ or theology or whatever topic seems too daunting. I guess it’s nothing new!
We were all involved, I think, in a form of self-induced mental retardation. p.117
And when we finally gathered ourselves together again among the ruins, we were changed. It had been a beautiful night and now it was a splendid day, but embarrassment and sorrow had come over us. p.118
So we stood there, not knowing either how to stay or how to go, and felt the weight of that failure. We felt sorry for Roy, who was a quiet, smiling, unhappy man, and sorry for Cecelia, who was a beautiful, unhappy woman, and sorry we could think of nothing to say that would help. p.119
So much is captured here of the after-effects of what seemed to be a good time… and of the sadness of broken relationships, and what an apt description of drunkeness–‘self induced mental retardation’. I just read this verse this morning in the New Living translation; it seems apropos: “For God can use sorrow in our lives to help us turn away from sin and seek salvation. We will never regret that kind of sorrow. But sorrow without repentance is the kind that results in death.” (II Cor.:10)
I knew, or was soon reminded, that most of them were not necessarily eager to know things by names that they did not already use. Until I read the deed, for example, I did not know that Barber Horsefield was in fact Peter A. Haussfeldt. p.104
The barber lived on what would nowadays be called a “renewable resource” and so would never be out of work, p.122
Quaint words and pronounciations:
And then the quietus came upon me, and I slept. p.117
This, the effect of a night of drinking. The meaning is an archaic one: something that has a calming or soothing effect. And I can’t help being reminded of the soporific effect of Mr. McGregor’s lettuces on little bunnies in The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies by Beatrix Potter ( :
“juberous” for “dubious.” p.127
perquisites—though initially I read this word as prerequisites I quickly realized by the sense in which it was used that this was a new word for me. It’s actually an old way of saying ‘perk’. Among the perks of his new position as the barber of Port William were:
–at last finding a classification for himself:
I quit wondering what I was going to make of myself. A lot of my doubts and questions were settled. You could say, I guess, that I was glad at last to be classified. I was not a preacher or a teacher or a student or a traveler. I was Port William’s bachelor barber, and a number of satisfactions were available to me as the perquisites of that p.123
–living and working in the same place
“Yessir, it’s hard to tell whether he’s working or living.”
–the friendship of the wise and kind father-figure Burley Coulter who first envisioned him as being just right for this position
–the smorgasbord of customers
I came to feel a tenderness for them all. p.127
Despite his natural aloofness to human society, Jayber was in fact very sensitive to people’s opinion of him. Due to attending a drunken party in the woods with some of the town’s male citizenry he gains the disrepute of one of their wives which he is never able to live down or make amends for by his own courtesy. This clearly hurts him.
Most people treated me well from the start, and some a lot better than well. But it only takes one or two, like Cecelia Overhold, to keep you reminded of how you fit in. So far as she ever let me see, Cecelia never looked straight at me again in her life. I got so that when I met her in the street I would tip my hat to her, if I was wearing one; if not, I would make a little bow. She always went by without looking at me, her head tilted to indicate not that she did not see me but that she had already seen me, and once was enough. p.123
Death and Loss
A significant theme of these chapters is the sense of loss that returns with being back in the place where his greatest losses occurred. It is as though grief had been put on hold all the years that he was away being merely J. Now that he is home and once again has a name he has to face his grief and find the joy that underlies it. In addition there are more losses as one or another of his customers nears the end of life.
And this man, your foolish neighbor, your friend and brother, has shed somehow the laughter that has followed him through the world, and has assumed the dignity and the strangeness of a traveler departing forever. p.129
I began to live in my losses. When I was taken away from Squires Landing and put into The Good Shepherd, I think I was more or less taken away from my grief. I was just lifted up out of it, like a caught fish. The loss of all my life and all the places and people I had known I felt then as homesickness. After I got over my homesickness and learned in my fashion to live and get along at The Good Shepherd, I learned to think of myself as myself. The past was gone. I was unattached. I could put my whole life in a smallish cardboard box and carry it in my hand.
After all those years of keeping myself aloof and alone, I began to feel tugs from the outside. I felt my life branching and forking out into the known world. In a way, I was almost sorry. It was as though I knew without exactly knowing, or felt, or smelled in the air, the already accomplished fact that nothing would ever be simple for me again. I never again would be able to put my life in a box and carry it away. p.130
The place itself and its conversation surrounded me with remindings…—all the people of that early world I once thought would last forever, and then thought I had left forever—were always coming back to mind because of something I saw or heard. They would turn up in the conversation in my shop. They returned to my dreams. In my comings and goings I crossed their tracks, and my own earlier ones, many times a day, weaving an invisible web that was as real as the ground it was woven over, and as I went about I would feel my losses and my debts. p.131
The child I had been came and made his motions, out and about and around…—weaving over the ground a web of ways, as present and as passing as the spiders’ webs in the grass that catch the dew early in the morning. All my steps had made the place a world and made me at home in it, and then I had gone, just as Aunt Cordie and Uncle Othy had been at home and then had gone. p.131
The grief that came to me then was nothing like the grief I had felt for myself alone, at the end of my stay in Lexington. This grief had something in it of generosity, some nearness to joy. In a strange way it added to me what I had lost. I saw that, for me, this country would always be populated with presences and absences, presences of absences, the living and the dead. The world as it is would always be a reminder of the world that was, and of the world that is to come. p.132
What can I add to that? The world as it is–so much beauty, a token of what’s to come, so much pain and loss, an incentive for gratitude for what was, and hope for what will yet be… Lovely.
That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are quite small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us an immeasurably great glory that will last for ever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see right now; rather we look forward to what we have not yet seen. For the troubles we see will soon be over, but the joys to come will last for ever!
(II Cor.4:16 NLT)
Thanks for sharing my ponderings this week.