Of mules and how to talk to stepsons

Published 7:24 pm Friday, June 24, 2011

One finds insights in the strange corners sometimes, a simple observation that makes a mountain of sense.

The strange corner came from the magazine, Southern Living. On its last page, a section called “Southern Journal,” one finds insightful observations of southern life.

The writer was Rick Bragg, author of two best-selling books, Ava’s Man and All Over But The Shoutin’.

Email newsletter signup

He was contemplating what wisdom could a 46-year-old man impart to his 17-year-old stepson?

Bragg through the years since the boy was 11, taught him about bad habits—how to cheat at cards, how to pick variety in girlfriends, how to throw an elbow against your opponent when you make a jump-shot, how to properly throw a punch, how to drive a go-kart on the interstate.

Bragg said he taught him bad habits because those were the things he knew best.

But he imparts this human observation to his stepson as he gets ready to leave for college, he said—“In a world that grows more selfish every day, where people use politics and even religion to build higher walls between the lucky and unlucky, we should see the value in the lives of people who work hard for a living but never have much luck.”

Yes, we do build walls today, walls that keep us separated. There are walls of issues that divide us, issues that drive a wedge between one group to another. Walls to separate the lucky and unlucky. Walls to promote intolerance, ethnic cultures against ethnic cultures.

It is remindful of partisan politics, where issues are clouded in bombastic rhetoric promoting fear and uncompromising points of view. Be prepared for it to be extremely loud as we move into the next presidential election.

We continue to build walls of intolerance against those in lifestyles counter to the mainstream. (And will this abortion wall ever crumble?) This issue like many issues goes on and on and on, then finally dies once the hoodwinked open their eyes discovering they have been had.

Be careful of TV political ads and the 30-second sound bites as these put a wall of untruth in front of us. Remember, they can lie to us without legal recrimination in political campaigns. And candidates will do it.

Rick Bragg pops up again in another issue of Southern Living, this time talking about dead mules in southern literature. What a contrast.

There’s no imparting of strange insights here, but he does allow that to be a true southern writer, one has to have dead mules in the story. They are rampant, he writes, and lists southern writers who have included a dead mule in their narratives.

He even quotes William Faulkner, who wrote about a mule: “A mule will labor 10 years willingly and patiently for the privilege of kicking you once.”

Now that’s insight.

So in one Southern Journal article in the back of Southern Living magazine, Bragg gives us some advice on how to impart wisdom to a teenage stepson, then in the second instance, gives us insight on what makes a great southern writer.

OK Rick Bragg, now it is understood. We build walls to separate the lucky from the unlucky then discover the cause of it all was a dead mule.

Well, somebody has to take the blame.