T h e N o t e
I learned some important lessons from Ray Shelnut. Ray was the father of one of my childhood friends, Paul Shelnut. Of the Benton, Arkansas, Shelnuts.
Ray was more or less a plumber by trade. He also kept a few rental houses around town. He and his wife and boys lived a few doors down from us on Algood Street. We were 401. They were 420. They had the nicest house on the block. Ray was a plumber, like I said.
I learned some useful things from Ray Shelnut. I sat with him one time while he used several pieces of broken glass to scrape the outside surface of a steer horn. Detached from the steer. These things—horns—were used to make horns—the kind you blow to coax hunting dogs back in from the woods at night. Ray would pick up a shard of glass, scrape the horn with it for awhile, and then discard it and pick up another. I guess I said something like "Wow, broken glass is really sharp." And Ray said, "yeah, but really sharp things get dull fast." So, I learned that.
I must have asked Ray something about what you need to know to be a plumber. He said "You have to know who's gonna pay you and you have to know that shit rolls downhill."
Shit, I learned from Ray, does indeed run downhill. Trickle-down economics, as it turns out, is a case of shit running downhill, although I don't think Ronald Reagan necessarily believed it worked that way.
I am a child and adolescent psychologist. I practiced for 25 years or so and then retired from clinical practice and now work in a school system. I enjoyed my years of working with children and teenagers. I was good at it. One of the more useful pieces of knowledge for that work was from Ray Shelnut. Shit rolls downhill. In families, also, I've seen lots of evidence of Ray's Shit Rule. Trouble at the level of the adults in the family, routinely runs down onto the heads of the shorter members of the family. Teenagers and children often get the business end of flowing family crap. Down onto their heads. It's gravity, you see.
Ray never seemed to mind having kids around, but he also didn't go out of his way to arrange for it. But what I most remember is that Ray, who was a pretty relaxed and cheerful guy, interacted with kids pretty much how he did with his peers. He didn't talk down to us. Presumed we knew things. Figured we were ok unless proven otherwise. It's a hard thing to describe in black and orange.
I spent 25 years refusing to speak to youth as if they were idiots. Never thought of them as particularly precious or special. Ignored the silly, standard advice to squat and crouch when I spoke to them to "meet them on their level." (Hey, moron, stand up straight. You're 2 feet taller than I am. And while you're at it, dump the sing-song voice.) Instead, I stayed upright, stuck my hand out, smiled, and said, "Hi, I'm Dr. Wisely. It's nice to meet you." This is how I'd treat you if we were to meet.
Anyway, it all worked out well. It helped me make my mortgage payments, while very likely helping a bunch of people along the path a bit. So, that's good. Thanks, Ray.
When I was still a kid, Ray abruptly died in his yard of a heart attack. Way too young. For a while, I had reconstructed memories of his death in such a way that I was present for it. I'm not sure now that I was, although I have an amazingly vivid movie of it in my head. You know, after a while, you can't tell the documentaries in your head from the dramatic recreations starring similar-looking third-string actors.
Ray had bought a side of beef, I think. Brought it home in his truck on a hot summer day and went in to hang it up in a freezer in a building he had on his property. His son and another kid in the neighborhood, who may or may not have been me, were sitting on a picnic table nearby. Ray walked out of the freezer, walked a few steps toward the boys, said "This is it," and dropped to the ground.
My aunt Ruth was an R.N. and also lived on the street. I believe she was summoned and attempted CPR. As is true more often than not, it didn't work. It's something we do in hopes of hitting the long shot.
Some people die in hospitals after staying there awhile. My father did and my mother did. Others hang up a side of beef and die right then and there. This is it.
I once heard a Buddhist teacher lament that, if we look up and see that we're about to be hit by a bus, the last thing we'd say is "Oh, shit." That's a shame really. I mean, it is understandable, but still a shame. Better, maybe, to say this is it.
Anyway. I think I learned something from Ray's death, but I don't have the language to express it. Not in standard prose. Not in poetry. Not in art. Can't improve on what Ray said.
Here's issue 76 of Right Hand Pointing, featuring some of our old pals and some new ones. Thanks to all who submitted. Thanks to the F Troop: F. John Sharp, F. J. Bergmann, and F. Laura M. Kaminski. (Laura doesn't normally have an F, but she needs one, for obvious reasons.)
Have a lovely month and enjoy your summer, North Hemispherians.