Social Distancing WG style ©
Averyell A. Kessler
I’ve had a nasty cold all week. Not COVID-19 thankfully, but enough irritation and ick to plunge my imagination into deep freeze mode. As a result, this story is a reprise. It first appeared last spring.
For me, the term social distancing seems like it’s been plucked out of a sociology textbook or an old Emily Post tome. It could be a succinct phrase describing edgy teenagers at a seventh-grade mixer, or a video gamer refusing to see daylight. Who knows? Now it’s part of our everyday vernacular. As I recall, my grandfather WG knew social distancing very well, and he would have laughed at such a stilted phrase.
It started when his mother hung an acifidity bag around his neck during a flu outbreak in southern Indiana. From that moment on, he was marked for trouble. In case you don’t know, an acifidity bag is a tiny cloth sack filled with a blend of repellant herbs and spices. It was available for purchase at every small country store in Warrick County and was guaranteed to keep disease at bay, defeat trouble, and ward off evil spirits. For the unfortunate wearer, it was the equivalent of eating a garlic sandwich, swallowing castor oil, and working below deck on a shrimp boat in the middle of July. In short, it smelled worse than a dead skunk. Because WG attended a one room schoolhouse, children wearing acifidity bags were relegated to the back of the classroom enabling the beleaguered teacher to get an occasional breath of fresh air. If I wore one today, no living soul would come with six feet of me. That’s a guarantee.
WG’s distancing continued in his daily life at home. His family’s isolated farmhouse was warm and dry during the winter. In summer, high ceilings and large windows admitted every summer breeze drifting up from the family’s cornfields and filled the house with the sweet aroma of apple trees. The only trouble spot lurked behind the house. It was the privy standing a good 10 yards away from civilization. It must have been a critical part of WG’s growing up life, because he took special care to make sure I learned the basics of privy construction.
Always locate the privy on low, flat land. The slightest slant can be a monumental disaster, as can a blazing thunderstorm on a high windy hill. (Guess I don’t have to explain that). Keep the boards tight and cover the air vent in case it rains.
A two-seater is not a good idea. One should visit the privy alone. Except for an emergency, a privy duet is ghastly.
Hang the corn cob box within reach. If you are lucky enough to receive a Sears and Roebuck catalog, that’s handy as well.
Make sure the door opens in and not out. If you’re sitting on the privy and the door opens out, a full-blown exposure is certain. If it opens in, your knees may be bruised, put you can catch the door’s rope easily.
Voila! Reliable advice from a man who’d been there. I’m not planning to build a privy; but just in case, I know what to do!
My grandfather continued the practice of social distancing all his life, adopting Dr. Tichenor’s as a pungent aftershave, removing deodorant from his shopping list, eating horehound candy, licorice and chicken gizzards, and smoking a cigar all day. He also spat frequently, and no one wanted to be in the line of fire.
His ultimate social distancing event occurred early on an April morning when Avery Garden’s azaleas were in a full bloom riot of color. It was barely daylight and graveyard quiet, so he thought it was safe to slip out of his house. Still wearing a frayed undershirt and saggy boxers, he trotted down to the front gate and fetched the Sunday Clarion Ledger. He was halfway back to the house when he heard the rumble of a distant motor. After a moment, it was no longer distant. He turned and saw a church bus crawling up his driveway. It was filled with women wearing linen suits and frilly hats. He hid behind a Purple Dawn camellia and hoped for the best.
As the bus drew closer, he saw a bald, bespectacled man waving his arms and speaking through a megaphone.
“Here we have a perfect example of Pride of Mobile right next to a Delaware white,” he said, pointing from an open bus window. “What a perfect pair on this glorious Sunday morning.”
WG parted the camellia’s sturdy branches and fell on his hands and knees. Megaphone man continued. “Look, ladies, there in the distance. It’s a magnificent Purple Dawn. Isn’t it beautiful?”
My grandfather held his breath and swallowed hard.
“And here we have….” the man said. “Oh, who’s that? I believe I see Mr. Avery himself. Look, he’s right there under the Purple Dawn.”
WG had little tolerance for fools, so he rose, brushed dirt from his hands and knees, and stepped into the sunlight. The bus ladies gasped. Might as well give’em a show, he thought. He hitched up his boxers and strode toward the bus. A lady seated behind the bus driver lifted a Kodak Brownie and captured his image.
“Good morning, Mr. Avery,” megaphone man yelled. “You have a lovely garden.” He ignored my grandfathers’ underwear, as well as his knee length black socks and steel toe work boots.
“I’m not Mr. Avery,” WG replied. “He lives up north.” It was not the first time he’d falsified his existence.
“I’m the caretaker. I do all the work around here.”
“Is that so?” the guide asked, wide eyed.
“Mr. Avery is a mean SOB. He won’t even buy me overalls. I work in my underwear cause my wife doesn’t like me coming home dirty.”
“Hit the gas,” megaphone man shouted. As bus jolted forward; the ladies laughed and waved gloved hands.
WG waved back. No doubt he was more than six feet away.
No doubt, the ladies were familiar with men in underwear.