|Where I'm From|
|Big Eyes in "The Big Easy"|
by Jim Allen
Leslie Underwood’s family were members of an Anabaptist sect of Christians that, like the Amish, stressed humility, family and community, but did not particularly promote separation from the outside world, i.e., they didn’t have televisions or subscribe to secular magazines or newspapers, but they did own utilitarian pickup trucks, modern farm equipment and fired up old radios to listen to the news and farm market reports.
They were renowned for their hard work and though they liked to consider themselves "plain people" they were held in great esteem by the rest of us. While the agricultural economy back where I’m from stalled and other family farms were lost to the auctioneer’s hammer, Leslie’s people seemed to prosper.
The ladies of the community sold homemade pies, cakes and cookies at a small bakery on part of their property adjoining the state highway that runs through the county. The men from Leslie’s clan were farmers... very efficient farmers.
They had a ready-made work force within the families. They bred their own beef cattle and had dairy cows for milk, butter and cheese. They also raised chickens for meat and eggs and had a smokehouse with rafters sagging from the weight of pork. They’d repair old equipment instead of buying new and built their own houses and out buildings.
The children of these farmers worked in the fields or apprenticed for a skill instead of wasting their time interacting with less hardy people like us. Pretty much all they did was work. So, to say that Leslie Underwood was all but oblivious to what was happening in the real world would have been an understatement. He’d been with his father and uncles around the state and even into other states to buy equipment and livestock, but that was about as far as his travels extended.
Their self-sufficiency kept their heads above water, but they also stayed informed. They kept abreast of the latest technology in agricultural inputs by keeping up with what was offered at their Co-op store, by talking to their county agent and by attending farm shows.
One of the biggest Farm and Equipment Show Extravaganzas ever was going to be in New Orleans and Eugene Capps, another young farmer, asked Leslie if he wanted to go with him and a couple of other guys for the two day event. Since he was old enough (he’d just turned 21), the crops were in and it was too rainy to do much of anything else, he decided to go.
Leslie, first of all, didn’t understand, when they got to the hotel, how Eugene could just hand his car keys to a perfect stranger and watch him drive off. He couldn’t figure out why a fellow in a red army uniform with a funny looking hat kept trying to take his luggage. He walked to the reception desk looking up with mouth and eyes wide opened. He reckoned this place to be bigger than the Indian cave near Hick’s Hollow. He hadn’t gotten over the queasiness of the elevator ride when he crept out onto the terrace of their room. They were on the 23rd floor…by far, the highest off the ground Leslie had ever been or ever wanted to be. Eugene suggested that they all go find something to eat. Leslie insisted that it was nearly 9 p.m. and that nothing would be open. They laughed all the way down the elevator as Leslie sat on the floor with his head between his knees to avoid further nausea.
The other young men had been to New Orleans and knew about some really good oyster bars. Once in the restaurant, Leslie agreed with his friends that an oyster did look like something from an ox’s nose and with considerable trepidation, agreed to try one with a Saltine and a goodly portion of horseradish sauce. And then he had another. Then another, then another until he’d eaten upwards of two dozen. He would have eaten more if it hadn’t been for the insistence from his buddies that they had a lot to see and had to sleep some before the next day’s show.
He’d never seen anything like it. Before that night, the most people Leslie had seen in one place were at a couple of high school football games he had attended with Eugene. This was incredible. It was midnight and the streets were wall to wall people: skinny people, fat people, tall people, short people, people with suits on, people with tunics and robes, men with capes, people dressed like American Indians, people of all colors and nationalities…all there on the street with him.
He was grinning uncontrollably when suddenly everybody ducked and shuffled toward the side walk, pulling him in tow. He looked back to see a very tall, muscular woman with a deep voice and a three o’clock shadow waving a stadium glass in one hand and a Derringer in the other while shouting hurtful words at no one in particular. Almost as soon as it started, the big woman stuffed the little gun in her bustier and staggered into a darkened doorway. Leslie thought that he could live to be as old as Methuselah and never see anything like that on the farm!
Street musicians were on every corner…and they were good! Never seen that back home. A man was spurting flames out of his mouth, straight up into the air! He’d never seen anything like that before. A contortionist tied up in a knot while balancing on a stool! Never again would he see that. So many people had tattoos. Nobody on the farm did.
When his friends told him they were headed to a gentlemen’s club, Leslie thought, as he followed them, how his momma had always been on him about being polite and watching his manners. Having done these things properly all his life, he surely must qualify as a gentleman by now. But, no sooner had his eyes adjusted from entering the glaring red, yellow and green neon lighted doorway, did he grab his face and nearly knock a bouncer down as he ran back into the street yelping something about going blind! Strangely enough, Leslie HAD experienced something like this back on the farm. At about age 12 he accidentally walked in on his visiting cousin Sylvia as she stepped out of the shower. Eugene was lucky to have chased him down so soon there in New Orleans. After the Sylvia encounter, it took his folks the best part of a day.
Disclaimer: The story you just read is based on reality. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. Any likeness any character in this story has to you, your family or anybody you know or have known is completely coincidental.