Carving out the conservations

By Rick Houser – 

I know I have written before about how the pocket knife was a must for a man on the farm. I, of course, stand by those words still. At this time though I see them as tools of education. That is in no way a typographical error. Since I was a little boy, I began to notice two things that came together almost every time.
When the men in our farming neighborhood stopped and gathered, either at one of the barn entrances or in one of their yards, they would greet each other, look around for a comfortable place to sit, and pull out their pocket knife. It might be a Barlow or maybe a case if they had dressed to show off a little. With the pocket knife in hand, they would look for some small sticks to whittle on while they talked.  To this day don’t understand the connection, but there was one. As the whittling began, so did the conversations. These would range from how their individual gardens were doing to how inflation in the United States was ruining the country.
I figure every neighborhood had a group that did this and solved just as many of the world’s problems as the others had. In our neck of the woods, there were three permanent members. They could and would be joined by a different person from time to time. You know, that guy would be the guest speaker, so to say. Our permanent group was headed by my Great Uncle Roy Houser, who as a young man had been a worrier but after 65 had become a retired eccentric(at least that was what the folks I listened to said). Then there was Joe Bolender. Joe and Roy had grown up together and were as different as night and day. As much as Roy worried, Joe didn’t. When ask if he did worry, his steely blue eyes would dance with devilment and a smile that warned you that if you kept asking him you would receive more than you wanted. (More times than not Uncle Roy got just that.)
As Uncle Roy was sixt feet, three inches tall Joe was about five foot seven. They were opposite in every way yet very good friends their entire lives. The third member of the group was Ed Maus. Ed or “Dutch” as he would be called, was also just as opposite as those two. For as much as they talked, Ed listened just as much. In most cases, Ed would answer questions with only a grunt and an “I don’t know”. He was a township trustee for 32 years and just that length of successful service to his township confirmed he did a lot more listening than the average man. The first impression of Ed Maus was that he was a grump, but I grew up and felt him to be one of my closest friends.
On a late afternoon these three would gather under some shade and find twigs and sticks, and get out pocket knives that were so sharp you could shave the hair on part of your arm. These blades were as sharp as these men’s observations and views on our world or just their neighborhood. For instance one summer afternoon they gathered at Uncle Roy’s along with Dave Bell, who was living just down the road at the time. Also in attendance were my cousin Walt and myself. The men got some old lawn chairs and a wooden bench to sit on and Walt and I sat on the ground. We were there only to hear them and observe them anyway. At this particular time they were heading into their late 80’s and had definitely acquired some solid opinions.
Uncle Roy started with the question of “What are you going to do about your fences as there is a lot of work to keeping them up?” Without missing a swipe on the twig he was whittling, Joe snapped back that he was going to let the dang fences fall down. His daughters didn’t want them and he didn’t own any livestock anyway.
Of course it did what Joe had planned to and that was to disturb Uncle Roy. Roy looked to Ed and he looked up from his stick and shrugged his shoulders and grunted ‘I don’t know”. So Uncle Roy asks, “What are you going to do about your barn?’ Joe snapped back the same answer and that was he was going to let it fall in. Roy looked to Ed and he got a slight smile which was unusual and he said, “I will let my brother Chris keep the barns up. He is younger than me and will need those barns more.”
This went on for a good while and Uncle Roy changed the subjects and got into government and politics. This was an area where he always swore that the elected president was worse than the one before, so he got little feedback on that topic. But when he hit the topic of farm produce prices, which at that time were very low, they all were in agreement and this included Dave Bell.  I feel I need to mention that by this time the wood shavings pile was growing because they had really never stopped whittling. However, the sticks and twigs pile was almost gone. The day was moving towards supper time so all the men felt it was time to head to their homes and agreed to meet again soon. You could be on that.
That day I learned a lot. I learned that Joe was going to let his barn and fences fall down and Ed was going to have his brother keep their barns up. The current president was worse than the last one. Inflation was so bad that a dollar was worth only 59 cents so just think how much a penny was worth.  All the township roads had just been maintenanced for the summer and it was a unanimous decision that Mrs. Winston was a very poor driver. Like I said, I learned so much around these gatherings and it is safe to say that each neighborhood had a group that met these standards. These men reported the news just as well as Paul Revere did.
Rick Houser grew up on a farm in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics. If you would care to read more he has two books for sale: The Are Places to Remember” and “Memories ARE From the Heart”.