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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

“What I Hate to Do is Skin a Hog”…

winter in the ValleyA chore I’ve never had to do, but I can’t imagine there could be anything pleasant about removing the skin from a hog--especially if you’re the hog. Before you think I’m leading you down the salted path to pork rinds and Monday Night Football, let me warn you from the outset: this post has nothing to do with animal husbandry or abatoirs, but diminished auditory capability instead .

Ever so long ago, it seems, we were apartment dwellers. One of the many apartments we rented was a three room dwelling (living room/bedroom—a Murphy bed swung out of the closet-- kitchen and bath) in a four story brick building on Seattle’s Dexter Avenue north. The apartment managers, the Andersons, were an amiable pair, transplants from coal mining country of Appalachia and quickly took a liking to the young couple who lived on the third floor above. Mrs. Anderson, a portly lady who always wore flip-flog sandals (the poor woman was plagued by bunions) did the managing while her husband Rodney performed such household chores as watching t.v., drinking beer, and pointing out to the Missus the indiscretions their wire-haired terrier Snoopy had left scattered on the ancient carpet. Rodney, a wizened old galoot with a snowy white flattop haircut, was  worn to skin and bones by years of toiling for black gold in the coal mines of the east coast. No more than a stick figure, he very likely tipped the scales at a weight equal to a chunk of dry firewood. Rodney’s gums were bereft of dentition except for one snaggletooth that protruded from his lower jaw like the one stump remaining in a logged off clear cut. And  the little man, bless his soul, was as deaf as a post. Mrs. Anderson (“Twinkletoes,” our term of endearment for her—out of earshot, of course) communicated with her husband by screaming. “FATHER!” She’d shrill out…and he’d  laugh and cackle “Ohoooooooh!”

During one visit with the Andersons we discussed how out of whack the tradition of camping out had become, that “roughing it” no longer seemed the point of experiencing the wilderness; the modern camper hauled the comforts of home with him to the campsite. At this point in the conversation, Rodney brightened and blurted out: “Well, what I hate to do is skin a hog.” Stunned by the remark, all the three of us could do was stare at Rodney in disbelief. Mrs. A. recovered first: “FATHER, WE’RE TALKING ABOUT CAMPING!” “Ohoooooooh!” A slow grin of embarrassment worked its way around that solitary tooth and spread across the old gent’s face. To this day in our household whenever someone abruptly changes the tack of a conversation, we echo Rodney’s bizarre response: “Well, what I hate to do is skin a hog.”

The day after Christmas I was walking past Swiss Hall when Jim Werkhoven pulled alongside. I asked him if his family had a good Christmas. They did, he said. While we were talking, I noticed a plastic gadget fastened to the front of his shirt. “Get some new electronics for Christmas?” I asked. Jim explained that his hearing wasn’t what it used to be and that he’d purchased some auditory assistance to correct the problem. “While I was at it,” Jim nodded toward his shirtfront, “I got this bluetooth attachment that amplifies my phone signal so I can hear the caller better.” He looked at me and laughed. “It even has a mute function.” At that precise moment Jim received a call and put me on hold for a few minutes. While I was waiting for the call to end, I pondered Jim’s hearing issues and thought about that noisy farm machinery he’s been around all these years… and the lowing of hungry dairy cows… and sharing a household with four girls….

My wife tells me I have hearing issues myself. I have to admit that conversation sent my way from the port side arrives muffled in cotton and has for some time now; more often I find myself asking people to repeat themselves. The problem is people just won’t speak up, I tell myself.“You need to do something about your hearing,” my wife frequently complains. My retort,“If it’s important enough to be said, it’s worth repeating, isn’t it?” “Just what did I say then?” is usually the question that follows. When I answer, more and more often it seems,  my responses bewilder her…almost as if I’d said something weird like…well, “What I hate to do is skin a hog.”

One of these days maybe I’ll look into purchasing some electronic assistance for my compromised left ear; it doesn’t appear folks are willing to speak up in my presence. If I do, for sure I‘ll have to have an accessory with a mute function, like Jim’s. There are times when it would come in really handy.

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