RUFFIN-IT: MR. PATE’S GRANDSON COMES FOR A VISIT
Recently, though traveling is quite taxing since I became an inVALid, I managed to get out to West Texas again and visit with my old friend Mr. Pate, who lives in a river valley not far from Junction. He’s always fun to talk to, especially when he gets off on family members he’s recently had less than pleasant dealings with.
This time, while Amber and Mrs. Pate discuss Junction schools and the best cookie recipe, he’s kicked back with a beer grousing about a recent visit with his grandson. The boy’s around fifteen, I’d guess, and he’s declared his intentions to go to college and become an astronomer or weight lifter, depending, I suppose, on whatever job opportunities seem most likely to be out there when he graduates from college. I don’t think I’d weigh in with the weights.
“One of the worst parts about gettin’ old is havin’ to deal with little snots in the family that think they know more than you do, just because they totin’ around the little smart phones that can hook them to the internet and learn the answer to any question that comes up, whether the person providin’ the answer knows what he’s talkin’ about or not.”
I nod. “Yep, everybody’s an authority on the Internet. The world’s encyclopedia is right there in the palm of your hand.”
“The kid comes out here. Well, his folks thowed him off on us for a week. Comes out here filled to the gills with information to make us healthier and our lives better. Fifteen-year-old guru, you might say. Gon’ show us the light.”
I start to ask him exactly what the kid’s advice was, but I knew that that was coming anyway, so I opened another beer and waited.
“First thang he done the minute they drove away was take his T-shirt off and start struttin’ around flexin’ his muscles, braggin’ about what all weight trainin’ had done him. He said that he could press 350 pounds. I asked him what did that mean exactly. I mean if you was pressin’ grapes or olives or somthin’, that kind talent could work for you.
“So he told me that it meant he could pick up and lift over his head 350 pounds of weight. I asked him what he would pick up that weighed that much, a truck motor? And he said, naw, weights at the gymnasium where he does his training.
“So I told him that I’d have to have a real good reason to try to lift something that weighed that much, and if I did, I’d use a jack. Then I ask him didn’t his dadddy have a jack, which he didn’t seem to think was all that funny.”
“I like that bit about the jack.”
“Thanks,” he says. “Then he started in on how much good weight lifting did the body, and I told him if he’d like to hang around a few weeks, I could introduce him to plenty of things to lift, and he’d be doin’ me and hisself some good.”
“Bet he went for that.”
“Fersher he did. You can imagine.”
We sit in silence a bit and study the far cliffs. Once this place was called Cliffdale, since if you stand in a certain spot, you can see eleven cliffs.
“Then he started braggin’ about how fast he could run, something like a hunderd yards in four seconds. I told him that runnin’ for me was somethin’ I did chasin’ somethin’ or bein’ chased.”
I shake my head. “Mr. Pate, I think that the world record for a hundred-yard dash is somewhere around nine seconds. If the kid’s that fast, he’ll make a real name for himself.”
“Mighta been more than four. He was doin’ some powerful braggin’ about it, so I asked would he mind puttin’ some of that speed to work and round up a couple of heifers that had strayed off to the other end of the property. He said that he didn’t have the right shoes with him for runnin’ and didn’t have any short britches with him since it was cold weather.”
“I don’t suppose he was willing to maybe trot over and round up the cows?”
“Oh, no, no. Said he had some messagin’ he had to do on his smart phone. Had to do a little Internet work too, which I figger meant lookin’ up pitchers of nekkid girls, but I didn’t say nuthin’, just walked off and left him to his tellyphone binness.”
“Yeah, they can’t live without those phones. But I guess that if I’d had something like that growing up, I’d be hooked on it too. It would have beat the Sears catalog.”
“Not me,” the old man says. “My daddy woulda smacked the thing with a hammer and had me out in the fields or pasture.
I’da been doin’ my weight trainin’ with bales of hay and sacks of feed and runnin’ wide open chasin’ cows.”
“I take it that his trip out here was not altogether a pleasant visit for you.”
“Lemme put it this way: He take’n in about a hunderd times the calories he burned. I don’t know what the world record is for boltin’ down a big bowl of chicken and dumplins’, but he’s gotta rank purty close to the top.”
We sit in silence again for a long while.
Then the old man turns to me. “You want to know he told me about the universe?”
[Next week I’ll tell you what the boy told him.]
Paul Ruffin is a novelist, short story writer, and poet who teaches at SHSU.