Or: Fear of the Unknown Can Be Debilitating
While part of me hates to use the old, ‘outdoors-and-basement’ cat as a crude illustration, I also believe it is fitting. And it’s not just because I’m aging that I hear those ‘adult’ voices that say:
“But you cannot do that, because of ____________. <<Insert favorite justification, of your choice>>
Even though I genuinely admire spontaneity in others, I have rarely suffered from that malady. Some would call me ‘staid’; some would describe, ‘overly cautions’; and others would just say, ‘predictably a stick-in-the-mud’. All those monikers are accurate, but still sting in their contemplation.
Okay, back to the old cat. My wife named the cat “Josie” (aka Mama Kitty) after we ‘adopted’ the cat as a pregnant stray that happened to find a feeding spot and refuge at our house, some 12–14 years ago. Our younger daughter is a large-hearted sort and we did not discourage her showing love toward the hapless cat. When my wife named the cat, the name came from my wife’s preteen days of watching the Hanna-Barbera Productions of “Josie and the Pussycats” the animated series shown on Saturday morning network television, starting in 1970.
Now, I need to get back to my use of the phrase in the title of this essay. A friend of mine told me recently of his intention to move from the East to Colorado, likely to occur near the middle of next year. At the time of his disclosure, he also threw in the line, “You can come visit and we can do adventures.” I know that he was sincere. But instead of hopping on that invitation-to-adventure bandwagon, my first thought was, “OMG, what would I do with Mama Kitty?” What sorts of warped thought processes have I, to avoid a spontaneous and instantaneous agreement to my friend’s kind offer? It took me too long to reply, “Gee, that sounds great!” I don’t really know whether it was convincing or not, but the conversation went forward to other elements of the move without further comment.
I use this off-the-wall incident to say that we often interject really-flimsy rationales into our cranium, to (secretly?) avoid doing things out of fearfulness which may, if done, delight us. If my friend’s move happens, in a pinch, I can probably make arrangements for the care of the old cat. No problem.
I think it takes a certain measure of fearlessness on the part of truly-spontaneous people to immediately decide to take some given action or activity. Unfortunately, as a boomer, I was raised at a time when both parents had survived (with their parents) the Great Depression, In their case, the Depression happened in already-poor Appalachia.
Fear of not having ‘enough’ pervaded life and it was appropriate. There were 10 siblings in my father’s coal-mining family. He’s now 90. As a quick illustration of over compensation for deprivation, it would be safe to say that my dad has shoes enough that he could easily go two months without wearing the same pair twice. Why in heaven’s name is that necessary? It is likely because his parents could afford only a limited number of shoes, for 20 always-growing feet. He wore hand-me-downs from older brothers, and did his own, amateur repairs to keep shoes in service. When my brother and I were growing up, we occasionally, (and clandestinely of course) referred to our dad as the Imelda Marcos of finer men’s dress shoes.
The maternal side of my family were subsistence farmers. Although a skilled stone and brick mason (as well as carpenter) my mother’s father made little money during the Depression, because customers didn’t have money to hire him. One survived only by spending endless hours of garden and field work, in raising or fabricating essentially everything needed to live. The produce of the gardens and fruit of the orchards were preserved for winter use for my mom’s small family. She had only two siblings. Her mother was a master at stretching every cent that entered the household, and whether she ever used the expression or not, she exemplified the adage, “Get all you can and can (i.e., preserve) all you get.” Her root cellar was always full, because she devoted — from daylight to dark — nearly every day of her life in the interest of her family. I do not recall her ever having been seated during a meal. She stood, near the cook stove, ladle in hand, ready to serve the rest of the family at table.
It was from my maternal grandmother, then, that my mother was coached to fear the unknown, the unpredictable and the unforeseen. My mother dutifully and effectively passed that message on to me. “Save this, because you never know when you will need it.” Sociologists term it ‘relative deprivation’. In addition to the physical world, it became entrenched in my psyche, as indelibly as any other perceived truth (or ‘trauma’?). Without realizing it at the time, I was effectively taught the line, attributed to the Chinese, “Make haste slowly.” Or conventionally, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”
Overeating in my grandmother’s or my mother’s household was identified as being ‘hoggish’. One did not take an excessively-large portion of anything. No one was permitted to waste anything. One automatically changed clothes after school, from school clothes into play clothes, because school outfits would be too-quickly worn out if used for play. Sewing repairs and darning socks were always ‘in-process’ at my house, even thought my father was a relatively-well-paid industrial worker as we were reared. There were carefully-sewn patches on the patches sometimes. When cloth was so thin that the mountain expression, “You can read a newspaper through it” was realized, it then was bundled with a number of similar pieces to sew a rag mop for cleaning.
The so-called ‘culture of poverty’ and all of its intrinsic fears and hesitation is still alive and well in my home state and certainly still exists in many parts of Appalachia. That culture rings particularly true in matters of employment and education. For at least the last 150 years, my state leaders told the youth, “The only way you will ever make a living is to work for someone else.” While untrue, it did help spur a huge out-migration from our state, whenever the industrial and extracting jobs declined. Increasingly that ‘someone else’ employer was located in some other state or region. Once-close-knit Appalachian families will never recover from that diaspora, driven by the need of finding work.
And speaking of educational systems, during my lifetime to date, there was not one secondary-school course available that elucidated starting one’s own business. ‘Self-employed’, or much less ‘entrepreneur’ may as well have been foreign terms and phrases. Just a scant three years ago, both high schools in my county dispensed with the last of the business courses in their curricula. Meanwhile, the chances of finding a plumber, electrician, HVAC technician and the like diminish by the day. Those people still in the business cannot attract an apprentice. The owners simply close the shop when they retire.
I feel some of the strongest social fears — still a part of our hill culture — are the ones which are gender driven and harm females disproportionately. I have witnessed too many occasions where bright females who have excellent grades — and sometimes fully-paid scholarships to college or university — suddenly decide not to pursue higher education. It is often a result of the subliminal but continuous instruction from parents, who persuasively reinforce the message, “If you go away to school, you will later leave home for a job far away. Who will take care of me in my old age?” (Playing the ‘pity’ card). Or, “Why leave the security and comfort of your home and expose yourself to the dangers of large cities?” The list of precautionary warnings becomes part of a child’s life.
Rather than give the reader the invalid impression that I am a reclusive, stay-at-home type, during my time as a fleet sailor and during my full-time working life I traveled extensively for business and pleasure. Of course, following the events of 9/11, TSA and the ill-conceived and horrendously-expensive Department of Homeland Security took all the joy of travel by air from me. It is simply not worth the bother to me to exchange my individual freedom (No, that does not mean a ‘right’ to carry an AR-15) and my right to privacy to undergo the hassles of flying.
When I receive an invitation to join my friend, someday, for the occasional visit, I will leave home and drive to Colorado. A change of scenery may be nice.