by Nicholas P. Snoek
There's a lot of wood lying around the farm, some from the building of the barn, especially the leftovers from the other barn that was pulled down, and Dad has also been bringing home trim ends from a sawmill and planer close to where he works. To make use of all this wood, Dad gets a buzz saw installed on a rolling rack built onto the front of the tractor, so the pulley on the side drives a five inch belt that runs the saw. Together, Dad and Jack cut up a lot of the wood for firewood. And they go out a few times cutting wood for others, at first for the men who helped with the barn, and then for other acquaintances.
Soon Dad withdraws from this, as he is busy with his own work, and it becomes a part time job for Jack. He learns to file the one inch teeth with a flat file, and to set them (bend the tips out so the kerf will be wide enough that the blade doesn't bind in the wood) with a brass punch. Most of the men who want him to cut wood have full time jobs, so there's not much time available except on the weekends. And that means working on Sunday. Jack doesn't like that. He has been brought up to keep the Sabbath day holy -- and it cuts into his treasured reading time. In trying to come to terms with this problem he has a bitter exchange with Harp Rosenburg, one of the men who helped with the barn. He's a short strawberry blond character, slight of build, with a chip on his shoulder, always pugnacious.
Harp, "You won't come and cut my wood?"
"Sure I'll cut your wood, but not on Sunday!"
"Well, I'll just get your dad to do it, then. He's not the bloody hypocrite you are!"
But Jack doesn't give in, and Harp's wood gets cut over two Saturdays. Jack is surprised -- there's no significant resentment or any unpleasant repercussions. He finds yet again, it's not at all difficult to deal on an even footing, even to manipulate, adults. Strange, that such a thing should be possible. Adults do not seem very adult. He wonders where his self-assurance comes from. It seems almost outrageous that he feels justified, sometimes almost compelled, to question and even face down grownups, whom he should regard with respect, who should by all civilized standards and force of instilled custom, dominate him.
And he ponders his origins. Who were his parents? What was his mother like? What sort of person was his father? And why did they abandon him. Are they alive?
What is happening in Bhutan. Did Brother Andre locate his monks? He wishes he could find out some of these things. He should write that letter!
/// "Hello, Jack." It's that lady in blue with long dark hair again, in the same park. Deborah, right.
"Oh, hello Deborah. How are you?"
"Great. And you've been doing better, Jack, at being yourself and not fretting about what name you use. It's a bit awkward having people call you Vick and thinking of yourself as Jack, isn't it? But you can handle it. The experience of working with the men building that barn has been good for your sense of self and for your self image, both."
"You know about that. Yes, I guess so. It worried me a lot at first, but it got better after a while, when I could tell they weren't going to be difficult about it."
"So, what's on your mind?"
"What's on my mind?"
"Yes, what brought about this meeting?"
"But I didn't ask for a meeting! Not that I don't want one, of course. The talk we had before was very helpful. Although I'm not so sure very much of it came with me when I woke up."
"You asked for this meeting. You asked for it by being very concerned about something, to the point that your questions brought me here. I got the message, you see, I'm not sure how.
As to not remembering what we talk about when you wake up, that's also part of the way this is designed. The new knowledge and the better attitudes are in your mind, and they're available to you below consciousness. They will become conscious as you search for them, and as you make them real or realize them, in your waking and self-aware life. But don't worry too much about it, they play their part in your thinking whether you know it or not. They'll always be there for you."
"I'm learning in spite of myself? Without knowing it?"
"In this state, as in any state, you learn if you want to learn, and you jolly well know it, too."
"I guess so. Sorry."
"That's okay. Let's see, you were bothered by the treatment Tonto receives, overshadowed as he is by the superior Lone Ranger. And you were thinking about farmers, here and in Bhutan and in Holland, about how independent they are. Two opposite cases of self development. Right?"
"Yes. That's it exactly!"
"Someone in Tonto's position, which is like that of a child in relation to his parents, is overwhelmed by the superiority of the dominating person, and his development of self is affected in one of two ways; he either rebels, and forms an extra strong identity, or he submits and hardly forms one at all.
Now Tonto is not a very good example, being a fiction to begin with; he achieves very little reality. But with children it's more apparent. As a child gets older and enters the teenage years the choice of rebel becomes easier to make because of the growing awareness and increasing influence of alternate models in the peer group and in the local culture's heroes. And that's the way it should be. Parents complain about rebellious children, but the rebellion is often a sign of a healthy growth, be it ever so annoying."
"I can see that. But what about the farmers?"
"Farmers the world over spend long days by themselves in the fields. They carry on their interior monologue the whole day long with virtually no opposition. After they arrive at a point of view, what they mostly do is just develop it and justify it to themselves in ever greater detail.
The result is that a different world view emerges with each farmer; they are eccentric, the way older persons often are, and for the same reason, the absence of a countervailing opinion. With the farmers, because they work alone, so no one is there to disagree, and with the older persons because no one much bothers to talk with them anymore. As a certain wit put it, their inconsistencies sharpen with use.
In either case, the self that emerges is not well balanced, and will not likely inspire much confidence for any luminous wisdom, but there is often so much strength in the integrity, consolidated as if by long relentless sedimentation, that we still admire this sort of person, and we typically use words like doughty, dour, stoic, and staunch to describe the farmer."
"We do, don't we? But this discussion, interesting as it is, doesn't seem to me so critical. Am I missing something?"
"No. You have some struggles ahead of you yet in this regard, and hopefully this little talk will help."
"I see. But what about you. I keep wondering, while you're talking, who or what you are and why you're doing this. Also, how do you know the things you tell me, and how reliable are they? Can I always put my faith in what you tell me?"
"Well, that's quite a tall order. Let's take one at a time. I can see that thinking of me as Deborah helps only a little.
I am a noncorporeal being whose function it is right now, for both our sakes, mine as well as yours, to provide this teaching service. So don't feel uncomfortable about taking up my time, or imposing on me in any way -- we both benefit from these encounters. Okay?
How do I know the things I teach about, and how reliable are they? I know what I teach the same way you know what you know. I have some advantages in not being quite so restricted by time as you are, but by and large the process is the same. No matter in what state or from what history, all created beings learn in essentially the same way, by adding to and refining more or less rudimentary beginnings, even though such beginnings can vary tremendously from one situation to another.
I expect you're wondering if what I tell you has some sort of infallibility. I admonish you, it does not. The notion of infallibility is a sort of echo from alchemy and astrology. There are elements of truth and adumbrations of greater things, but no absolutes. This side of Paradise, from our point of view, there are very few absolutes, and that applies especially to the three dimensional worlds of space and time such as this one."
"You mean there's other kinds of worlds?"
"Yes. Many other kinds."
"What are they like? And where are they? Can we see any of them in the sky at night?"
"I think it would be premature for me to say a great deal about that, Jack. Partly because you're not ready, and partly because I don't know very much about it. If this becomes very important to you, someone else with more of the needed knowledge will come to explain those things to you in this same way."
"You said you're a noncorporeal being. Does that mean you come from another type of world?"
"That's a good question. And the answer is going to be confusing to you. I come from a world like your earth, but I've been working or growing my way towards Paradise since that time, and that does involve long sojourns on such other worlds.
But here too we are straining the outer bounds of my mandate with you. It may be that we're almost done, you and I. It'll depend on what may trouble you in the near future."
"Do you teach others this way?"
"Oh yes. Many. That's one reason I try to put as much as possible into each of our sessions; I can only see you when the need is great enough. But don't let that give you the idea that we have to hurry, or that what we say is seriously critical, that we might miss something. All this is under good management, and nothing is ever lost. What isn't done now, if it needs doing, can be done later. Will be done later. If not by you and me, then by you and another helper. You understand?"
"I think so. Tell me, though, what sort of being are you? You say a noncorporeal being. Why would I not expect that? I wondered before, what would happen if I tried to touch you. You seem to be solid, your feet push the grass, and your dress moves with the wind. Please tell me something more about noncorporeal beings."
"If you tried to touch me," reaching out and putting her hand on his cheek, "you would find I have a body like yours."
"But you said you were noncorporeal!"
"Yes, but you see, that's the interesting part. Right now you are also noncorporeal. Your body is asleep in your bed. The part of you with me here is something like your mind, or your soul. And the same goes for me, except that my three dimensional body has gone to dust ages ago."
"You're an angel?"
"No, I'm not an angel. In some ways I'm a bit like an angel, but angels are not evolutionary in origin the way we are; they never had bodies such as ours. What I am I cannot put to you in a simple word because your language is almost totally time-space determined, and has no word that will serve the purpose."
"If you came from a world like earth, but it wasn't earth, how is it you're speaking English to me?"
"Good point, Jack. It takes time to learn a language, and in this long journey ample time is available for any purpose we need it for. I speak English to you because you speak English. I learned it so I could speak with you, and with others who speak English. So you see, there isn't anything mysterious about it."
Sighing, "I guess not. Thank you for your patience."
"You're welcome. Tonight my patience was exercised. But that's how we all learn, isn't it? Good night, Jack."
"Good night." \\\
With his increasing height and the growth in his legs, Jack notices that at school his right knee pries up against the bottom of the desk when his left one still swings free.
Strange, the distance from the floor to the top of my right knee is greater than in my left. So when I'm standing, my right knee must be higher than the left. But that should cause a tilt in my hips, and a slope to my shoulders.
That doesn't seem to be the case. So my femurs must be different lengths to compensate. Is this why I get so tired when I'm on my feet for a long time? And walking slowly is such a chore?
I wonder if this has anything to do with what the lifeguards in Holland were talking about when they were looking for a reason that my swimming was angled. Dogtracking.
Hey, mom and dad wherever you are, whoever you are. I'm gimped! How come? Are either of you like this?
And of course, that's why I'm not good at sports! My running must be cockeyed the same way as my swimming. And if there is this skewedness it would affect the path of my swing with a bat.
Am I an egghead because my body wasn't built right? Can a shortcoming or a failing be a source of excellence? Like a bully, compensating for his feeling of inferiority by overmuch asserting his dominance?
An increasing number of girls show more than a casual interest in Jack. He is six feet, around 170 pounds, and is not badlooking. He also has a quiet reserve about him; females of all ages seem to like that quality. And he projects confidence, a self assurance that he doesn't always feel. He has become quite an impressive young man, even at the age of fourteen.
Some girls chum around with his sisters to get close to him, and more and more he is faced with having to deal with the question, "Do you like me, Vick?" without hurting a girl's feelings. He finds that `I don't mind you' seems to work not too badly. He can maintain some space that way without doing any real damage.
His size is deceptive; everyone assumes he's older and more mature than he actually is. He has a very strong interest in sex but it is not yet a romantic one. It's still almost wholly physical, what is sometimes called polymorphous perverse. His experiences with girls at this time are still more or less the playing doctor variety.
On occasion, one of the five or six girls who have taken to hanging about comes to the barn when he is doing chores, and they get undressed together. They make a sort of mat out of their clothes, and hug and kiss and roll around. All that nice skin warmth! This happens sometimes with two of them at once, and then they like to tease him, provocatively posing for him. And he likes to have them do a sort of mini model walk, all nice and naked. They all enjoy that.
Jack plays with them without actually having intercourse, though, partly because he's afraid that problems could result and partly because he isn't circumcised.
He explains to them he's a cerebrotonic ectomorph, which is to say he's a slim tall brainy type with very sensitive skin, soft like cheese. He's content to just play with and not penetrate his playmates. He's pretty sure it would hurt and he's just not ready. And the girls seem to accept that. They all know this is a dangerous game, not to be taken too lightly; parents would frown, to say the least.
That may be one reason they take to calling these activities `playing dirty'. Shades of Gerry! He puzzles about the moral implications.
He finds it strange, that he doesn't have the troublesome conscience problems about playing with girls this way that he does about masturbating. It must be because he hasn't come across any clear injunctions against it. Now why wouldn't there be? Because it doesn't occur to the adults that kids might be doing this? Why not? Didn't they, when they were young?
He doesn't have this understanding with just any girl. The ones he likes most he can hardly bring himself to talk to. He writes notes to them, and he isn't even brave enough to deliver these in person, preferring to leave them in their binders, their lockers, their coat pockets.
Alice, foremost of these nubile nymphs, corners him one day, and complains with an embarrassed smile that she can't possibly answer all his notes! Jack, feeling like a real dolt, only mumbles, "Sorry!" and walks away. He hadn't really expected she might consider answering him!
He muses about the two kinds of females. Girls you can romp around with, rub shoulders with, relaxed tomboy types, and the others, angelic and feminine and unattainable.
Touchable toms and seraphic virgins.
Dad and Mom have been in business on their own for many years, so this working out does not sit well with them. The farm is not that far out of town, so they decide to build a new business, an abattoir and meat shop, right from scratch. A lot of restrictive stipulations have to be met and dealt with, even out here, a couple of miles from town. The slaughterhouse has to be six hundred feet from any building, and drainage has to be tested. A separate access road has to be built from the highway. The plans have to be approved for a building permit. But eventually all requirements are met, the money from Holland is sent for, and all is ready.
A contractor does the main part, but Dad quits his job to supervise, and to help with the building. The contractor who builds the road will get paid in meat, over time. Jack helps too, where he can. It will be a combination wholesale abattoir and retail deli and meats; local farmers take a keen interest. So does the Dutch community -- they will have access to Dad's fine meats and treats. Everyone is looking forward to it.
Dad reasons that since he's not working for wages, he should qualify for unemployment insurance, and he files for it. And after a while he receives a notice of censure, and an order for repayment. He decides to dispute this with the Commission, and enlists Jack to come along to Kalowna and argue his case.
It's clear enough to everyone that Dad's receiving unemployment benefits while attending to the building of his new business is not in keeping with the spirit of the legislation, but law is often very literal. Jack is thinking back over what happened about the black market profits in Holland. Worth a shot, here.
So he argues, as best he can, that Dad was not working, he was not being paid. And no, he was not supervising or cleaning up or doing any work that would otherwise be done by someone else, since the job was done by an independent contractor, not under Dad's immediate control.
But it doesn't wash. Dad has to pay back the benefits, with a fine to boot. Maybe Jack should have stayed home from school, to build, and Dad should have kept his job a bit longer.
With everyone so busy with the building, it's mostly Jack who gets to sit with and help the sows when they farrow. He enjoys the animal warm barn, the permeating living vibrancy. But he's a little uneasy at the power of life and death he has over these animals. It doesn't seem right. Like with the cats.
He's alone one day, delivering a calf. The cow is a young one, just a heifer, and doesn't have the stamina to expulse the calf, which is too big. And Jack doesn't have the strength to pull so long by hand. He gets a long steel bar, puts binder twine around it and around the calf's feet and, using the leverage of the bar with one end in the sod, he pulls out the calf. And it's just fine! But he knows he could have injured or killed both cow and calf. His decision was binding, so to speak.
He struggles to get the cow on its feet. Poor thing. Can't just let it lie there, it might get bloated. He learned that from Dad. When you transport cattle you have to make sure they stay upright, especially in the early part of the year, when they've had fresh green feed. Alfalfa is the worst, for setting off the bloat-causing gases.
Dad has a stick, with a worn down boning knife sticking right through it. He uses that when there is a bloating problem so bad you can't get the animal on its feet. Sometimes a farmer calls him to come and help with a bloated cow. Dad is keen to play home remedy doctor that way. Jack hasn't seen it done, but Dad describes it with obvious relish. If you swing that stick to pierce the swollen gut in just the right spot, it sounds just like a punctured tire. That gas just whistles! And it solves the problem. Saves the cow. Can't argue with that at all.
Dad must enjoy that savior feeling.
A butcher uses three or four types of knives, all different in shape, length and thickness. A boning knife is very thick and the blade is only about seven inches long, so it can be used to follow tight along the bone and pry off gristle and sinew. As it wears down from use and frequent sharpening, the blade gets less and less deep across, till eventually it's almost a stiletto, practically forming a triangle if seen in cross section, which is of course exactly the shape and size of hole Dad makes with his bloat relief device.
The hole made that way is so small there is no need to disinfect; it's just a sharp little jab. Little more than an insect bite.
One day the god power of man over animal really comes home to Jack, when he decides to save time and effort by ending with a club the struggles of a couple of sickly piglets that have been losing the competition for drinking spots at the sow's nipples.
He is amazed at how strongly even an infant sick animal will cling to life! What a paradox, that a healthy one is easier to kill! How does that work?
When brain activity is low, one part of the brain doesn't know what goes on in the other? Is not aware that the other part is bashed in? But does it make sense to talk about the brain knowing, or being aware of anything, let alone its own condition? It's an organ, like the liver.
But then, what is it that does the knowing or being aware? The mind? Do these tiny piglets have mind? Did he, when he wasn't much more than a tiny piglet? At what point does a human embryo have mind?
What is the significance of life. The strength of it, the living force in these tiny creatures. There doesn't seem to be any relation between the size of an animal and the strength of its hold on life. Dad says you can butcher a horse in a kitchen, without disturbing anything.
But if you don't shoot a cat just right the first time, you almost have to squash it with a truck, to get it to stop kicking, to put an end to it. And he has heard that if you drown kittens, and someone comes along and takes them out of the water later, chances are they will revive. That is awesome. How can that be? A cat has nine lives, and a horse just half of one?
The seasons go by. Jack gets older and bigger. He stands out a full head over his classmates. So too with his schoolwork. He has the reputation for being at the top. But he no longer has the satisfaction that used to give him.
He is troubled. Being on top is something he just expects now; it's not the challenge it once was. His only competition for marks are a few girls who are fanatical about studying -- ones with teacher parents who force the poor things to excel at any cost. In talking with them he often has the feeling that they don't go very deeply into things, not the way he does. He cannot really regard them as any sort of competition. He has other things on his mind, more significant.
He's not that concerned with having straight A's; his interest is more in being solidly in control. As a matter of fact, his independence often loses him marks; he will not agree to something just to get a mark.
And instead of the extra studying to turn a high B into an A he would just as soon spend more time on his extracurricular reading. Solid A's are not worth the extra effort. But mostly he gets A's anyway.
His reading is taking him into popular theology and devotional mysticism. The writings of the mystic saints have a strong effect on him. How could anyone be so pure! And they are so hard on themselves! Inhuman, somehow, or extra-human.
The thorough decency of Father Burns is an abiding example of almost wasted goodness. Jack is ambivalent between admiring the man's saintliness and bemoaning his ineffectiveness as leader and teacher.
He worries about knowing Father Burns so well as a person, and how it might affect the validity, the scope and the sincerity of Confession.
On top of his questioning about the teachings of the Church he is second-guessing his confessor's thoughts and reactions. Not that Father Burns ever makes any direct reference to what transpires between them in the little darkened booth, but they're both aware of a barely buried layer of meaning between what they think and what they say to each other. When they talk about things like celibacy, conscience, temptations of all kinds, they're obviously both thinking back over what Jack has lately come up with in confession. And of course that results in some hesitancy, some reservation.
And bit by bit Jack starts to omit the more troublesome of his transgressions, not wishing to exacerbate this awkwardness. And confession starts to lose its special value.
Jack can get so lost in his reading. One day he's with a group of students in front of the school and the bus is late, picking them up. He sits down on the edge of the sidewalk and reads his book. The bus comes, everyone gets on, and the bus leaves. Jack is still sitting there, reading, oblivious.
And how many times does he miss his stop! The bus goes right by his house, while he is reading. Or he has an erection, and it's pretty hard to hide -- when you stand up in a bus your crotch is right at eye level with the girls in the seats.
So he tries to think about something ugly and smelly till the next stop, to make it subside. And then he has to walk back half a mile. And think about his foolishness.
One Saturday, as Dad is frying some quick meat for lunch on a little gas burner in one corner of the sausage room, he complains, "I was explaining to Charly Smith how a fresh side of beef will lose fifteen percent of its weight from moisture loss while hanging for the meat to set, and he made a very sarcastic remark about how that gets even worse when somebody goes in there with a big sharp knife. I really hate that. I've never stolen a pound of meat from anybody, never!"
After a minute or two, Jack asks, "What's for lunch, Dad?"
"Oh, it's a couple of strips of tenderloin from an animal that Wes Jones brought in. Smells good, doesn't it?"
"Sure does. Did we buy it from him?"
"No, it's a custom job. We're just cutting and wrapping it for his locker. Oh, don't worry, he'll never miss this little bit of tenderloin."
Must be an idiolectic definition of steal. Or is it the weight maybe, less than a pound.
Mom quietly looks at Jack, but doesn't say anything.