“If you gave some people a deed to the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, they wouldn’t be satisfied until they tore down a wall and put a side room on it.”
— My Daddy, the late Wade Bullard
It is not often that I find myself in any social situation that I can’t handle, but I found myself in one over the Christmas holiday. I simply made my excuses and left giving my host a “thank you,” rather than to say anything, as I knew if I said anything it would be “too much.”
What was the famous line from the movie and play “Steel Magnolias?”: “An ounce of prevention is worth of pound of manure.” Well, let me relate to you, the person I was escaping had enough “manure” to fertilize two sections of land (for those of you who don’t know that’s 1,280 acres) and still have plenty to spare, but their manure was not witty and it smelled of a lot of pretension. In this area, there are some unwritten rules that are inundated into the culture so deeply you know them from a very young age if you are born here, and if you are not, the education for you can be right hard to comprehend. Sometimes a few folks have been taken to the cloakroom for a good paddling, not literally but figuratively. I am going to school some folks on a few of the unwritten rules of the area, and I don’t have much sense, but I have sense enough to know I don’t have much. I am, still at heart, an old school teacher:
- I can talk about members of my family all I want, and I can talk about them to other members of my family, BUT, if you are NOT part of my family, you don’t have my permission nor my leave to make comments about members of my family. You will find that pretty well universal across the area. Whether one makes a sin of commission (doing it on purpose) or a sin of omission (being brand new and thinking within 3 or 4 years you know everything there is to know about where you live and make a wrong comment), you can find yourself stuck in the middle of the flat woods and no one offering to pull you out, and they never will offer.
- The observation about family is comparable to making less than complimentary comments about this area, especially if you are not from here. Those of us who have lived in this area for generations are right petted on it, meaning we love it pretty well. So, when some who are fairly new to the area start slinging comments around about how awful it is here, “yadda yadda,” my advice is to learn by heart that old saying “Sometimes it’s better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt,” AND, if things are so much better “UP THERE” or “DOWN THERE,” then why are you “HERE?” Despite what Thomas Wolfe wrote, “you can go home again.”
- Some folks never, ever quite get this one. They never do. They are not really upset with members of the old guard; sometimes they just hold some us, shall we say in a bit of disdain, in an area like this it takes a long time for folks to learn to trust and respect, and it’s earned, not given on a silver tray, and the folks in our part of the world are a group who know a show when they see one, and who know “genuine” when they see it. You can’t fool all of them, not all the time. So if you are brand new to the area, or fairly new, my advice is to act like you are new for a while and look around at what traditions are very meaningful to the area at large, and either embrace those or keep your mouth closed about them and don’t be mad that you are not part of the old guard. You won’t ever be. You must live with that. You have many contributions to make, but that, you will never attain.
- The glass really is half full if you will see it that way, and there’s so much to experience and do in this area. We have a number of beautiful state parks. We have a good Suwannee River Regional Library system. We have volunteers needed all the time at local schools, at hospice, and in so many areas. If you want to get involved, you can, and you will be welcomed with open arms.
- If you see a problem in your community that you feel strongly needs “fixing,” think about a viable solution before you begin complaining. Figure out a way to be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem.
- There are no truer lines written than part of Longfellow’s “Psalm of Life”: “And things are not what they seem.” “Hearsay” and “They say” can be less than accurate at times. There’s usually more than two sides to a story. Many times the truth is like a prism, and that has a lot of sides, and sometimes the truth lies on the other side of silence.
- When you have an opportunity listen and talk to elderly citizens who have lived here for a while. You can learn a great deal from them. Not too many years ago, Suwannee County was able to have some oral history recordings made of some of its senior citizens. One was a recording of the late Mrs. Howard (Eumera) Taylor. I think of so many in my own community I wish had been recorded including my Dad. I love folklore and folklorists, and I thank God that Dr. Peggy Bulger Leatherbury caused us to see, in the state of Florida, that what we considered every day or common occurrences, such as quilting, making lye soap, singing old songs, using herbs for certain cures, were really a valuable part of our folk culture. We never thought much about it, and Peggy created a program utilizing that knowledge. What a gift to all of us. By the way, she went on to become the Director for the Center of American Folklore at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. She was a recipient of the Florida Folk Festival’s “Legends and Legacy” Award this past year, and, in this writer’s humble opinion she should be a winner of the Florida Folk Heritage Award.
- Encourage those around you every chance you get. We all need encouragement. Encourage the local press, the newspapers, encourage those who are in law enforcement, and EMT’s. Encourage those working in the medical field. Encourage those who work in nursing homes, and encourage your ministers and those working in your churches. Encourage those who are elderly and those who don’t feel well. Be an encourager.
- Now this one is in the term of suggestions from Johnny Bullard and Johnny Bullard alone: Firstly, the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park, needs someone to fill the vacancy left by Mrs. McManus in the Craft Shop. You must have someone in charge there, and another thing, and if this is the state of Florida, then shame on you, if folks are kind enough to say “We will come and volunteer at your state park; you can’t dictate to them in what area they WILL volunteer. Now this may be hearsay, and I hope it is, volunteers are volunteers, and employees are employees, and management of state parks or schools or whatever know the peak times of needing “all hands on deck” during certain times of the year, and don’t grant employees vacation time during those peak times, you encourage them to wait a while, and remind them kindly and gently they have a good job and that other folks out there are looking for good jobs with retirement and insurance. Secondly, and I am through with this for good, I have done everything for Jasper, Florida, except write a letter for the city regarding a marker to be placed in the town honoring Jasper, Florida, native and famous Southern author and Civil Rights activist, the late Lillian Smith, (1897-1966), and I can’t do that, the City Council of Jasper has to request that. Like her, hate her, the woman sold a million copies of a book “Strange Fruit” in a month’s time in 1944, and she was born in Jasper. Don’t you think a Department of State Marker might be good for someone of her stature to be placed somewhere in town?
- Resolve to do the best you can, with what you have, where you are. And those who are in leadership positions that depend on the electorate including me, stay humble. You don’t have a bit of prestige outside of what the people have allowed you to have, and you are a public servant in one of the poorest counties in the nation, know that, and there are many opportunities for improvement all of us can make. If you think you being elected adds to your prestige, you are, indeed, one silly human being. The people conferred that on you, remember it.
Well, I feel a little better now, and I wish everyone a continued happy, healthy and wonderful 2020. Remember that kindness is usually always the right thing to do and, as the late Mrs. Virginia B. Chandler used to say “No one monkey stops the show.” If you think you are indispensable, “Die,” and I hope neither you nor I do anytime soon, but I can assure you the world will go right on without missing a beat. Think about that one when you consider your own importance in the grand scheme of things.
From the Eight Mile Still on the Woodpecker Route north of White Springs, wishing you a day filled with joy, peace, and, above all, lots of love and laughter.