Christianity and Middle-Earth

Monday, November 08, 2004

The Salt of the Earth

There is another thing about the Hobbits of old that must be mentioned, an astonishing habit: they imbibed or inhaled, through pipes of clay or wood, the smoke of the burning leaves of an herb, which they called pipe-weed or leaf, a variety probably of Nicotiana…

There is much of the Shire in Eastern North Carolina. It is a very green and pleasant land - if about thirty degrees warmer in the summer than is civilized - and mostly farm fields and forest. Old Toby and Longbottom Leaf aren’t as much in evidence as they were even ten years ago; acres that flaunted sturdy tobacco plants every summer for nearly four hundred years have gone mostly to cotton; and the old wooden barns and packhouses are sagging into oblivion, helped along by the upsurge in hurricanes and changes in tobacco-technology.

Here where I live, people still pull to the side of the road when they meet an oncoming funeral procession. Little ancient family cemetery plots are a common sight, (there’s even one like a moated grange in the parking lot behind the mall) still tended and sometimes still used: my ancestors lie in a wee graveyard off a dirt road in the woods of Duplin County. I don’t know how old it is, but the stones date to the mid-1800s at least and I remember wooden markers now long gone.

The ancestral home, known in the records as Stallings Old Place, succumbed to flood and fire just in these last few years; my father was the last to live in it, (and mercifully died before it was destroyed), and it was even further out in the woods than are the deceased ancestors. My daughter did most of the hole-refilling when it came time to bury his ashes in the little graveyard; we dug the hole and placed the stone ourselves. You can do this sort of thing in Shire-places.

Two of my uncles earned their livings raising chickens commercially. It’s a high-reality occupation, farming, especially when you step in manure. I’ve done my share of feeding and watering with my cousins – it was a major job involving wheelbarrows full of feed and scoops and hoses and upside-down mason-jars for watering, at least when the chickens were newly hatched. As soon as they got large enough to reach the automatic waterers, that part got easier. But the one uncle never did get the automated feeders, so it was twice a day, day in and day out for weeks, slinging feed into troughs for thousands and thousands of chickens in two enormous barns like long-houses.

Carpenters, mill-workers, sheet-metal drafting, and farming – no riches here- deer-hunting and shad-fishing and tobacco-raising; burning the corn-stubble, butchering hogs on a cold day; fish fries and picnics and reunions – all very much like Birthday Parties - with so many first and second-cousins-once-removed that to this day, I don’t know who some of them were. (But I haven’t forgotten the food.) Bible school and Sunday school and singing in the choir - mostly for the women, though the men always showed up for the church picnic.

My father found his wife in New Hampshire, so Sam would definitely have considered her a foreigner, (I was the little Yankee cousin come from up north, suddenly in the midst of a vast extended family ready-made, so to speak) but some of my aunts-by-marriage were foreigners, too, brides fetched from other counties and one even from so exotic a place as Baltimore. My grandmother came from the sea-coast, days away by wagon; her brother ran fishing boats out of Carolina Beach. Great-aunt Emma never married; but she was a schoolteacher in her youth and had an ancient organ in her front parlor, the kind with a foot-pedal. And there were quite a few medals floating around, vintage WWII.

All these things are dear to me, perhaps the more so because I came to them as an outsider, a descendent of New Hampshiremen and Canadians. (I still talk through my Yankee nose, only with a slight drawl these days.) My extended family had – and have - their flaws and their strengths, their good points and their bad, but mostly good. My father’s generation is nearly all gone now, and the children are scattered, but there are still some living on the various once-farms, and I have two hundred years worth of family papers in a closet here, awaiting archiving and returning to the cousin who inherited the good earth where Stallings Old Place once stood.

There has always been a Baggins at Bag End and there always will be…

Two hundred years’ worth of roots and family names and hard work and history – and this is what the elites have to say about it:

Ignorance and bloodlust have a long tradition in the United States, especially in the red states… Here is how ignorance works: First, they put the fear of God into you—if you don't believe in the literal word of the Bible, you will burn in hell. Of course, the literal word of the Bible is tremendously contradictory, and so you must abdicate all critical thinking, and accept a simple but logical system of belief that is dangerous to question. A corollary to this point is that they make sure you understand that Satan resides in the toils and snares of complex thought and so it is best not try it…. The history of the last four years shows that red state types, above all, do not want to be told what to do—they prefer to be ignorant. As a result, they are virtually unteachable.

That’s Slate.

Garry Wills of the New York Times calls last Tuesday “The Day the Enlightenment Went Out.”

The Daily Mirror is even more eloquent on the subject of my inheritance (snipped to make it fit for a Victorian website – and there’s plenty more where this came from): The self-righteous, gun-totin', military lovin', sister marryin', abortion-hatin', gay-loathin', foreigner-despisin', non-passport ownin' red-necks…

I shall die as one of them.


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