Nothing special but also nothing lesser.


Even as a child, I understood that families like mine, poor rural farmers, were low in the pecking order. Television shows and movies portrayed us as buffoons and hicks, always the butt of the joke. Our presumed incivility, and even monstrousness, was suggested in conversations, often to laughter, by humming the banjo tune from the 1972 film “Deliverance,” present in many VHS collections during my 1980s childhood. “Squeal like a pig,” some jokers continued — a reference to that film’s infamous rape scene.

We didn’t need those cues to know that society held us in low esteem, though. All we had to do was look at our bank accounts.

We worked the land and killed animals so that others would eat, so that we would afford propane for the winter, and so that the rich, rigged industry we supplied grain to would become a little richer.

The profound humility instilled in me by my upbringing left no room in my worldview for exceptionalism of any sort. It also left me troubled by the ways that most humans calculate the value of things — animals, plants, land, water, resources, even other people — according to hierarchies that suit their own interests.

More than once, while wrapping meat, I sliced my finger on the sharp edge of the butcher paper. There was nothing special about my blood. It was red just like the pigs’ and the cows’. It was clear to me that there was nothing special about me or my family, either, doing that most essential work of feeding others. Nothing special but also nothing lesser.

Sarah Smarsh, excerpts from an essay titled “What Growing Up on a Farm Taught Me About Humility” (NY Times, December 21, 2022). Smarsh is the author of “Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth.” (Named a Best Book of the Year by NPR, New York PostBuzzFeedShelf AwarenessBustle, and Publishers Weekly)

Encourage all to read the entire essay….

Comments

  1. Can‘t – need to have a NYT sub…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. this gave me chills. such power and pride in her words. and she is right.

    Like

  3. Thank you for sharing, DK.

    I cannot say that I grew up in the same conditions. But I’ll proudly say my father made sure we never forget his upbringing. A harsh upbringing that he speaks of with tremendous pride.

    He always said, “we make white-collar money, but carry ourselves like Blue-collar forever. ”

    This essay reminds me of dad’s words.
    The hum near the engine. The warmth near the engine. Nothing lesser.

    Like

  4. Wow! Smarsh is a powerful writer. I’m reminded of so much…Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” about the horrors of the meat packing industry (remembering how the animals were slaughtered); and Katalin Karikó, who helped develop the mRNA use in our covid 19 vaccines–she watched her father (or uncle) butcher meat and noticed about blood flow when she was 5! Then, we have the well known professor Peter Singer at Princeton who advocates for animal rights (teaches Bioethics!), who, of course, never wears leather…and is vegetarian.

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  5. I love the absence of self importance but the presence of true self esteem.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Agree Cindy. She reminded me of Lou in this quote….

      “It was hard not to feel the light of his presence… I was energized by Lou’s moral compass.”

      Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Take My Hand (Berkley, April 12, 2022)

      Like

  6. Amen.

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  7. So grateful she received the support and education to allow her to share her experiences so well. She is a powerful writer who brings us into new awareness and insight.

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  8. Nice post you shared, David. I liked the title. Thanks.

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  9. That woman has her head on straight.

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  10. Thank you for this, David. Of course I went to real the whole article… How true what she says…
    I have been trying to make more conscious decisions. It’s expensive, but oh so worth it

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  11. I’ve been invited into some prominent art circles recently. I’ve carefully considered the clothing that’s “me” but good enough. As a child, we were very poor. Most of my clothes fit poorly…large enough to wear for a little longer or worn out but no money for shopping. Once, I yearned to wear Levi’s. I wore a pair of my brothers that wouldn’t accommodate my middle school hips and middle. A memory that changed me. You don’t add to the angst of your parents though, don’t initiated more strife. Something I noticed in my recent being invited ins…they keep getting my name wrong in the write ups about my art…repeatedly. Maybe the article writers lack attention to detail or maybe, no…likely I’m less significant. (These are the wounds of childhood poverty). Apologies for the long comment but thanks for the space to process.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing Lisa. Moved. Your comment reminded me of: “There’s nothing more beautiful than someone’s honesty. You can be captivated by walls and secrets but there’s something breathtaking about seeing someone at their most there most vulnerable.”
      (Q -H)

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  12. Lovely reminder that we are all equally ordinary, in our own extraordinary ways.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Well, well…. This fantastic writer sure made up for her poor but down-to-earth and honest upbringing. While reading the article (twice), I nearly became a vegetarian but then I consider myself already for far more than 25yrs a ‚part-time-vegetarian‘ and that I mustn‘t exaggerate… 😉 And I admit: I can go w/o meat for long but I also like my unhealthy Italian salami, sausages or a nice cut of meat from time to time.
    Yes, we all are anything but ‚ordinary‘. It‘s about time we realise just How extra-ordinary we really are…. Thanks for sharing this excellent read.

    Like

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