July 13, 2013

The Humble Farmer: To those compelled to help, whether it's needed or not

The real heroes are people who admit they know nothing about whatever it is you’re trying to repair.

By Robert Skoglund

Every week, I try to make a television program. Unless you wear a J. Peterman hat and white gloves while manicuring your raised beds and are therefore able to boast that you don't own a TV, you might have seen it.

If you have noticed on your television screen a shabbily dressed old Maine man struggling with a seemingly insurmountable problem, you know that the show itself is a simple affair. It is the product of a single stationary video camera, which was a gift from some friends who wanted me to make a real Maine television program. There are no zooms or clicks or tricks. It is the rural Maine man's answer to "Citizen Kane."

Every week I set up the camera and show a Maine rustic struggling to repair our water pump or replace, with boards salvaged from the dump, a rotted wall in a 200-year-old farmhouse. Sometimes the old dubber wanders about the pasture, hoe and flat shovel in hand, collecting cow nutrients in a five-gallon bucket for his cucumbers.

Up until a recent date, no high-speed car chases or sudden deaths have been recorded -- although two days ago, Timmy Polky's calf got through my pasture fence and courted disaster in the road.

Tame fare, indeed, for viewers expecting -- perhaps hoping -- that someone will be shot, arrested or blown up.

Although my truck has only 294,000 miles on it, yesterday a spring must have let go in the right front wheel, the brakes locked up on my way to the dump, and our trash will now have to accumulate until I take the wheel apart and analyze the problem.

You can see that here again is an opportunity to set up the camera and pass along for analysis an old man's struggle to survive in a strange and unfamiliar world.

And herein lies the tension -- the appeal, if you will, of the show. How many times have you flub-dubbed with some project, not really knowing what was wrong with the machine in front of you? Either you didn't know what you were doing or perhaps you were wondering why something that you knew should happen was not happening.

That's when a friend drops in to borrow a can of snuff, or your wife's cousin, the rich one from Massachusetts, drives into the dooryard. If you are not careful, someone who thinks he knows more about the project than you do will soon elbow you aside. In Maine we call them the "Lemme Show Ya Boys," and they would swear on a stack of NASCAR magazines that you would be lost without their help.

By displaying my indecision and incompetence on television, I am providing a necessary public service for countless Lemme Show Ya Boys. They look over my shoulder in a vicarious manner and cry out at the screen, "You do not need an ax. It has a left-hand thread. Look at this goofball on TV, Alice. He doesn't know that the Access 204 has a left-hand thread on the commutation spline."

Any mature woman who has really listened to her husband's chatter for years will tell you that a man is a creature that thinks it can do anything better than its neighbor.

There are, admittedly, some very clever people, like my brother, who intentionally fumble until the Lemme Show Ya Boy finally screams, "Please give me that wrench and let me do that for you."

For almost 60 years, my brother has polished this skill and long ago mastered the art of sipping a cold drink in the shade while some sweating Lemme Show Ya Boy either repairs the machine or completely destroys it. You know as well as I do that it is hard to keep from elbowing aside an incompetent friend who is silently crying out for help.

How many times have you seen a man admit defeat and then quietly stand aside and ask you how to fix the catch on his wife's dishwashing machine? If you are ready, we are about to salute those precious few who are strong enough to do an about-face and walk away from anything resembling a mechanical challenge. Only an exceptional been-there, done-that man who is mentally mature can execute the maneuver with panache.

I handed my digital camera to Steve, who was sitting next to me at the breakfast table, said that there were 172 pictures in that camera that I'd like to erase and asked if he knew how to do it. Steve, who used to teach psychology at Penn State, handed back the camera and said, "I don't know a thing about it." 

The humble Farmer can be seen on Community Television in and near Portland, heard on WMPG Community Radio and visited at his website:

www.thehumblefarmer.com/MainePrivateRadio.html

 

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