After Jr and I knew each other well enough to risk popping a bubble without consequences, I was telling something about Tom when Jr felt it necessary to let me know in a gentle way, Tom wasn't all that bright, in case I thought he was. I realized I had left out knowing that about Tom in our conversations. When I speak of Tom with anyone it is only in praise. There have been people who thought Tom really had the wool pulled over my eyes, but I didn't care. I knew Tom's weaknesses. I just didn't care to tell them around, out of respect for Tom himself, who he is/was. I was more interested than amused by Jr noting that I had only let on like I knew nothing but the best about Tom.
It's that way with Jr too. I never remark about Jr's weaknesses. The funniest was the time one of my friends said, like he was letting me in on something everybody knows but me, "You know, Junior is a redneck." I laughed inside, some of which spilled outside, thinking, Duh; saying, "I'm aware of that." Of course, then you get into definitions and I didn't care to get technical about a silly word like that. Instead of a Larry the Cable Guy redneck, Jr is a Flatt & Scruggs, Don Reno redneck, a banjo pickin son of a gun.
Jr told me he never let Tom use any of his horses. Tom was unnecessarily rough with animals. Tom was known for taking a two by four and beating a cow with it. Tom, himself, had told me that sometimes you can't get a cow to do somehting without a beating. He told me, when a cow gets out of control and starts acting up to hit her just behind the knot on top of the head with a 2x4 with all you got. Anything less than all you got won't do it. You want to bring her to her knees. A few years later I found myself in such a situation helping Gene Dysart with a cow that refused her calf. He had her tied to a post in the little barn across from my house. He kept trying to force her to accept the calf while I held the rope that went around a post a couple of times so I could tighten and loosen it at will.
The cow got frisky, tired of his shit is more like it, and kicked Gene in the knee, then tried to break loose from the rope, jumping about. I had thought the whole thing a bad idea, but it wasn't the time to discuss that. I had to take a board and hit the cow like Tom said. First time, I hesitated, not wanting to hurt the cow and gave it less than all I got. It just bounced off the cow's neck and made the cow mad. So I had to hit a home run and sure enough, she dropped to her front knees. I hated to do it, but everything got out of control, as I knew in advance it would, and it was up to me to bring events back to order or something like it. She calmed down and gave in to the calf eventually, though not that day. Gene's knee hurt him for a long time. Gene thought Tom funny as a "bigger hammer" man, the bigger hammer the solution to everything. There Gene was too, forcing something that could be handled better more gently.
It was true about Tom, however, as the bigger hammer man. One time we were working on some piece of farm equipment and Tom was fumbling around with whatever it was and called for me to bring him "a bigger hammer." I don't like to admit it out loud, but Tom had perceptions that were truly unique. When I experienced or saw the same thing I heard Tom telling about later, I'd never have recognized it in the telling without him first reminding me of when and where it was. There was the time the remains of a kite string was up high in an oak tree over the road. Over years of wind, weather and chance, a twig a couple feet long and maybe half an inch diameter, was caught on a piece of the string. The stick had a curve to it and it turned in the wind lengthwise making it look alive and wiggling like a snake. We were together when I noticed it first time, I said to Tom, pointing at it, "Look at that stick turning in the tree." He saw it and said, "That aint no stick. It's somethin livin." I didn't know what to do with that, so I let it be. I already knew I could never explain it to him. There was no need to convince him anyway. Just two different ways to see the same thing.
When he was in school, the teacher said the earth was round like a baseball. Little man Tom said, "I aint never seen no mountains on narry baseball." Of course, my impulse I edited out was to note that you take a steel ball the size of a baseball, polished as smooth as steel can be polished, mirror smooth, enlarge it to the size of the earth and you'll have mountains that make the Himalayas look like molehills. The threads on a baseball would make unimaginably high mountains that could never be crossed because even the gaps would be way high up out of the atmosphere.
I had a feeling Tobe thought the least of Tom of all his boys. Tom had a hesitant relationship with his daddy who drank a good bit. Tobias was a rough and hard working man. He was never good to Tom. I think it was because Tom was a little slow, and quiet. I'd venture that he was a boy who had a hard time learning to catch a ball. But maybe not, he liked baseball too much to have a disability with a ball. I never liked to guess Tom, draw conclusions about him, because every time I came to some conclusion about Tom, the next time I saw him he'd bust it without even knowing he was doing it.
Tom was the one who took care of the whole family during the 1918 flu epidemic. Everybody in the house had it but Tom, so he was the one to take care of everybody's chamberpots, the cooking, cleaning, everything, night and day, a kid. Tom took care of them and they all came through. Tom was never interested in appearing to be a tough guy, never cared about being tough. His entire life he had to be rough and tough to take much of it. He'd been screwed from every direction, but he was never one to want to be a macho man. Who needs tough when you have a .32 in a shoulder holster uinder your jacket and aint afraid to use it?
Tom had a rough life full of troubles and trials, another man of constant sorrow. Once, he sang for me his favorite hymn, When Sorrows Encompass Me Round. Tommy Jarrell sang it very much like Tom sang it. When he sang for me, I knew him well enough to know a great many of his sorrows and how immense some of them were. Up in his 80s I took him to the dirver's license office to take the test, knowing he could only fail, and he didn't need to be on the road anymore. A test situation was the same as from outer space for Tom. The examiner started mocking him and ridiculing him about his age and ignorance, only speaking to him in wisecrack smart remarks. My face was getting red. She kept it up and my ears started steaming. She took a look at my face and backed off. I was on the verge of saying something she didn't want to hear when she saw what I had to say in my face. I was that way with Tom the way I am with Jr now. Treat him with respect or the dog starts growling and the hair on his back stands straight up. Tom was not to be judged by the rules of a test-taking society. Neither is Jr. In both cases, experience taught them everything they know, which was considerable. The best of what they know test questions can't be made for.