Mr Stutts

There is a man who lived down the road for as long as I can remember. His name was Mr. Stutts. Opinions of him were mostly the same, from what I heard my daddy's friends say.

I wish Stutts would clean up his yard. All that junk is driving down the property values.

Did you see Stutts' house? He got another broken down car. How many does that make now?

Well. What do you expect? He doesn't know any better. Trashy people will always be trashy. I just wish he didn't live so close.

I live in the country. The Southern US is full of the uneducated masses. They don't read. They don't write. Their concession to technology is "being on facebook". We are, for the most part, a simple people. These men my father always talked to were also among those uneducated masses. They went to school, and maybe they graduated high school, maybe not. But they have made a place for themselves. They support their families. They have the nice things they want. But they judge as much as anyone else. What did they really know about "Stutts"?

When LB was a baby, we had the normal frequent visits to the pediatrician's office. There were two in my town at the time, and so all of the babies born that year were split between these two, and after a few weeks, I saw there were a few people who were likely to be at the doctor with their kids while I was there with LB.

In the South, when we meet someone, we seem to need to find a connection. I don't mean we need to like the same sports team or have had some trauma in common...I mean we have to know who you are. So after introductions are made, some form of this conversation usually ensues...

What's your name again?
Joe Smith
Are you kin to Josie Smith?
Josie Smith that lives over by the water tower or Josie Smith that died last year?
The one by the water tower.
No, the one that died last year was my great aunt, but the other one is a different Smith.
Now that other Josie...her brother was Tim, wasn't it?
Yes! That's my great uncle.
My Daddy was friends with Tim Smith. They used to  go fishing together when they were younger. 
Who's your daddy?
Tom Jackson
I remember Uncle Tim talking about him! 

After this connection, the two people can speak freely. If you don't find someone you both know, you find out where the other person lives. Surely there is someone you know who at least  lives near them. (Aside: I have no idea where this ritual came from. I just know we do it. Maybe it's the need to feel connected, maybe it's some vestige of feuding days, and making sure you're not a Capulet talking to a Montague or something...)

Well, this was the case with one of the couples at LB's pediatrician. After a few times of seeing their little guy play with my little guy, and the exclamations of how cute they were and their milestones were exhausted, we started talking. These people were She's wearing sweats, he's wearing overalls and an old tshirt. Their son is wearing faded clothing but is always clean. He is a happy baby who willingly comes to me and smiles freely at anyone who looks at him. His mother and his father have cared enough to come to every doctor's visit I've seen. My first thought is they don't have a lot of money but they are good people. I think you can tell a lot about a person by how clean and happy their babies are.

These are nice people. I happily talk to them and play with their baby at the doctor's office. But we don't run in the same circles. Despite all three adults being from the same very small town, I don't know anyone they know and they don't know anyone I know. We move on to the next part of our little ritual and start talking about where we live. Turns out we live down the same little country road. Eureka. We're going to be okay after all. Now we have to figure out where we live in this little maze of backwoods roads. She gets excited. She knows someone she believes everyone must know. We can connect. Do I live by Mr. Stutts? I have to think about this. I remember the name, but can't place it. I tell her I don't know him. I call out my neighbors' names. She doesn't know them. She says Mr. Stutts lives by the fork in the road. The guy who has the trucks in his yard. 

Oh. (weak smile) Yeah, I know the place.

I think this part of the conversation is over. But she starts talking about this man my father and his friends have been so annoyed at over the years.

He's such a good man. (Huh?) I've never known a kinder person. (okay...)
He owns the land across from his house too, did I know? (I didn't.) 

She tells me a story that brings tears to my eyes. About a poor man who plants a big garden every year. "Big" as in over an acre...and freely gives of his produce to anyone who needs it. She tells of people she knows who have lost jobs, and how Mr Stutts would bring bags of fresh corn and tomatoes and squash and beans to them every week. Of families who try but can't really make ends meet on their own who always have fresh produce because of him. She tells of a man who helps out those in need in any way he can. Working on cars. Home repairs. All out of the goodness of his heart. He just loves to help people. Doesn't need the accolades. Just hates to see people down and out.

This little country road has all kinds. We have the people who have owned this land for generations and built up their little country empire over the years, people who moved here from the city to get some air, a couple of subdivisions for city folk who want the country, but like the security of having close neighbors...and we have the poorer people. The ones who live in run down homes. 40 year old mobile homes, houses that were built so long ago they were old and in disrepair when I was a child. These are the ones who scrape by, and sometimes don't really make it. The ones who live in shoddy houses and drive beat up cars. They live in the country because they cannot afford to move somewhere else. The ones who will never go to a fancy restaurant in nice clothes - or rarely even to a fast food restaurant...They have never and will never go on a vacation at some tropical resort. Who have never even had a twenty dollar bill to just spend on silly things they don't need. Mixed in with all of the rest, we have true poverty right next to where I live. These are the proud poor who don't want handouts. They're living the way their grandparents and parents lived before them...getting by. 

We don't really mingle here. Mostly we drive to see neighbors if we want to chat. Houses are too far apart. It's easy to dismiss people who seem less than desirable. To shun those whose homes drive down our precious property values. But I can't help but think that Mr. Stutts would have noticed if our pretty lawns started to fall into disrepair. I can't help but think he might stop by in the spring and tell us that he had more tomatoes than he could eat...would we like some?

Mr. Stutts died last week. At his home. As I said, we don't mingle. I don't know the details. Don't really need to. He was not a young man. Not physically fit. I don't know anything about him other than what I have heard. I have never spoken to him. 

But I wonder...

I imagine some people on this road have the shameful thought that maybe whoever gets his house will clean it up. Get rid of all the junk in his front yard. But what about the others? The ones he helped? The ones he gave so freely to? 

The woman in the pediatrician's office said that day..."He's such a good man. I've never known a kinder person."

That day in the doctor's office, I learned something. Watching my son play with this other child. Neither of them were aware that one of them was wearing faded clothes and the other had on a new outfit. They didn't know that one of them was wearing socks and the other had expensive shoes.They just knew they were having fun together. How often do we dismiss people because they are not in our "class"? How often do we look past someone because they're not dressed the way we think they should be?

John Lennon promoted the concept of "bagism" -- the idea that we should be encased in bags when we talk, so we can only judge someone on what's inside...What would my legacy be if I was judged only by my ideas and actions? What would yours be?  I daresay that Mr Stutts legacy will live long in the eyes of many people. And that we could all do well to be more like him. 

onceandfutureglow onceandfutureglow
31-35, F
Jan 20, 2013