"Now, that's lovely," James said. "Your in-law's farm?"
"Yes, I spent many summers there. By the way, have I ever told you my theory of the excessive use of landscape in Southern Writing?"
"No, you haven't. Let's hear it."
"Elaborate, saccharine descriptions of plantations, farmland, rivers, magnolia trees, and so on, are a subliminal attempt by white Southern writers to put a pleasing veneer on a most loathesome subject--a culture built upon the moral bankruptcy of slavery. It's like putting a bad picture in a beautiful frame."
"Think about it. Landscape is employed as the only truly noble character available among folks who started a war to protect their alleged right to inflict suffering and bloodshed on Africans."
"Tell me how you really feel about it, Harold!"
"Ha! And furthermore, once they've exhausted the enobling potential of scenery, they turn to characters who are eccentric or grotesque."
"Flannery O'Connor springs immediately to mind."
"Precisely. The woman was unapologetic about her obsession with the bizzare. She said she was merely writing about what she saw and who she met."
"And this is the henhouse?"
"Cluck, cluck, CLUCK."
"It might be an illustration for Judges 15:16. 'And Samson said…with the jawbone of an ass have I slain a thousand men.' This was the chap who tore apart a young lion with his bare hands, and subsequently set the fields of the Philistines afire with firebrands carried between the tails of 300 foxes."
"Now this," Harold said, "has quite a bit of personal significance, which goes back to the early days of my marriage to Big Burt's daughter. It's the pumphouse. One afternoon I heard shouting. 'The pump's sprung a leak! The pump's spring a leak!'
"I rushed over, went inside. A stream of water arced from the holding tank. My little cousin told me if this wasn't stopped, then the pump will be ruined. Something about the bearings overheating, seizing up, or something. Big Burt had driven the women to town for shopping. Skip and Hank, Burt's sons, were supposed to be doing chores on the farm, but they'd decided instead to drive up across the Red River into Oklahoma to get a few quick beers at the riverside bar. But right now, somebody had to DO something, and quick!
"I looked around the shed. On a shelf was a box of big self-tapping metal screws, and a screwdriver. I stuck one of the screws into the little rusted hole from which the water was streaming, and gave it a couple hard turns. The leak stopped. 'Hooray!' little cousin shouted."
"So the high-falutin' Yankee Intellectual saved the day, eh?"
"When Big Burt came back he went to inspect the repair. He nodded. 'At least somebody around here has some gad-damned common sense,' he said.
"Then Burt wanted to know where Skip and Hank were. 'Uh, across the river, granpa,' my little cousin told him."
"These two were the brothers-in-law who always challenged you?" James asked.
"Yes. When they got back Burt chewed their asses, big time. They stood there in the living room, next to the pot-bellied stove, listening to their father telling them how they'd dropped the ball once again. They gave me resentful glances. Once again I'd showed them up. They hated it."
"I guess they had it coming, didn't they?"
"At the time I have to admit I had little sympathy for either of them. Largely because from the beginning they never accepted me as a member of the family. To them I always was an outsider. 'Gad-damned Yankee,' was their supposedly humorous nickname for me. But these days, from a distance, I see the situation in a different way."
"Big Burt always awed me. A genuinely powerful, charismatic figure. I admired his strength, his self assurance. But he never said a good thing about his own sons. He never let them feel they were good enough for him."
"Yes. And it went beyond that. One time Skip and Hank took me to that riverside joint in Oaklahoma. Hank was pretty boozed up, and bragging loudly about something, and in a sudden silence everyone in that bar could hear an old timer's voice: "Hank, you ain't never gonna be the man yer daddy is."
"As for me, well, I developed a taste for Big Burt's approval and affirmation. I wanted more and more. I went out of my way to give Hank and Skip exactly what they threw at me. And I fell right into the sort of macho posturing that I so very much despised in others. There's a word for it."