This column was inspired, in part, by Mart Allen’s 2013 book: Adirondack Character and his portrait of Frank and Jessie Ritz. I never met Frank Ritz, but I lived with Jessie Ritz: or “Grandma Ritz” as we all referred to her, for about 2 1/2 years. Many afternoons and evenings I sat with her in that back bedroom at Ritz house next to the Nutty Putty: Main Street, Old Forge and discussed life. She was so incredibly wise and able to connect with me by saying so little. I have to chuckle: last time we talked I brought my first fiance: Debbie, by and introduced her. “Are you sure she’s the right one, Ken?” I said,”Yes.” Then she got real quiet and just looked at me. That should have been all I needed to realize the relationship was doomed.
Adirondack Character filled in some of the gaps in the life of a person I cared for who I only knew as a wise grandmother at the end of her life.
We think we know folks: especially public figures, entertainers, sports stars, so well. Yet, like Jessie Ritz, there’s so much we don’t know.
On this stage called life: filled with so many props built out of assumptions and insults, we think we know that liberals are… conservatives are… Yet all, and each, assumption is at best a distorted shadow of who we are. More often an unforgiving, mostly false, cliche’: less valid than “Scots are all thrifty,” “Jews are all great bookkeepers” or “all blacks are ‘lazy’ but have great rhythm.”
I recently saw this dynamic play out at a debate site I visit frequently: volconvo.com, when a poster submitted a thread about how the left has prejudged cops over and over in various shootings, meanwhile in that same thread prejudging all those who question said shootings, and prejudging the dead boy as guilty, prejudging him and his friends as all thugs, and prejudging all those concerned about what what happened with the usual insults tossed out by the right: insisting they all claim the boy was a “saint.”.
Does the left do the same sometimes?
Of course who does it more is far too often: oh, so conveniently, viewed as the other side.
”Not me, not us. Nope. Can’t be us, can’t be me.”
In reality not one of us is really defined by these cliches: these props of convenience, that serve mostly like a chair serves a WWE “wrestler.”
Oh, and they sure do serve the media, don’t they? And they also help us dismiss those who dare to disagree with us, dare to think differently, as useless pieces of trash.
Think that a bit “harsh?” Have you been listening to the rhetoric that flies about these days among pols, pundits and the general public? Do you really think all on the right cheered when detainees were mistreated at Gitmo, Trayvon was killed? Do you really think all liberals are airhead, pot smoking, hippies who don’t have a job and dream of nothing but taxing and regulating you? All are intentionally out to “destroy America?”
If so: please check yourself in real soon. Probably right now. For delusional doesn’t begin to describe your problem.
I think back on people I’ve known and realize not really knowing others, making vast, false, assumptions about them from what little we think: I repeat “think,” we see in them is a far too common, and unfortunate, occurrence. Yes: for me too.
A few personal examples…
We think we know our parents, our children, but do we really? When my father died my wife and I stayed at a bed and breakfast in nearby Big Moose as we waited for the memorial service in Old Forge. Marie, part owner; knew my father in the years after I had gotten married and moved away. Her words still ricochet in the echo chamber in my mind.
“I think it sad that people around here only knew him as that ‘crazy ding-a-ling hermit from Twitchell Lake,'” a phrase he proudly chose for himself.
Yet I look at pictures of the “Dad” I didn’t know: a young Bill Carman. The pictures seem to show a thin young man with a smartass smile: a teen who would stay in the wilderness for months at a time running traplines, playing practical jokes on his fellow trappers. Then, during the depression, his work on a camp on Fourth Lake brought him a depression-time offer to work at a Park Avenue job in NYC. Of course, during the depression, what do you do?
You take the job.
During WWII he was a radio op and cook.
These were all parts of Dad I never knew, yet heard about. Yet how much do we ever really know our parents? Father/son, mother/child relationships provide a natural barrier that may never totally be breached, given the nature of such relationships.
By the time I was around William Earl Carman had taken these talents and invented liquid coffee creamer for Richs, helped create Teflon I, helped bring the first packaged fruit in cereal to the market. He also ran as a conservative candidate in Rockland County on the Conservative Party ticket. Since I helped with the campaign, together we rubbed elbows with the likes of William and James Buckley, and at a very slight distance: Nixon.
Due to his very technical fascination with electronics and ham radio radio he amplified concerts in Memorial Park in Nyack, NY during hootenannies where his son sang with some famous people. Hey, can’t imagine I was all that good, and certainly not “cute,” but the common phrase was, “Hey, the kid knows our songs, let him sing!” Dad was the first to have contact with Sputnik. He also saw our mother through 7 years of hell which slowly, painfully, took her away from us. Being the youngest: I feel I hardly knew her. And there’s so much I didn’t know about him: even his latter years when diabetes started to take his mind, change his personality.
He loved his privacy and kept a lot to himself. Marie, at the bed and breakfast, told me he would plow their parking lot of heavy, deep, Adirondack, snow.
”But would never admit he had. Don’t even ask!”
I’ve done so much in my life: people only have tiny pieces of who I am.
I write of these things not to brag but to show just a tad of how much is packed into just two lives.
So I’m sure you could go on and on too, dear reader.
As the writer of a column I started in 1972, maybe I just know you as that seemingly crazy fundamentalist (I assume) who writes to complain about how I’m just some “left wing faith hater,” or someone who claims I make nothing but excuses for Muslims who behead people, or another who insists I must be a secret Palestinian who hates Jews.
On the flip side then there are those who fit the line in an old Janis Ian song, paraphrased: “You never quite believe that they really love you.”
Of course: they don’t. They really don’t know me. Like most they only know a whisper of a shadow of all I am. We know even less of John McCain, Rush Limbaugh, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders.
I neither wish to villain-ize nor glorify anyone here. In fact that’s the problem: most people these days seem to operate like on/off switches.
No: what I am hoping for is those who read this will pause and think before they go back to using these props of convenience. Realize that maybe they really don’t know these people as well as they think they do.
Some folks hate Ann Coulter, or Sarah Palin.
Some hate Michael Moore, or Bill Mahrer.
We mourn Joan Rivers, Robin Williams: some take their passing as personal as a father, mother or lover.
Do we really know who them?
The truth is we know, we knew, our parents less than we think we do. And sometimes we don’t know ourselves as much as we think we do. Certainly we know our pundits, our pols, our entertainers and especially those we disagree with even less.
You don’t my life’s story. I don’t know yours. We don’t know the life stories of people we met on the net, or pundits, pols, entertainers far less. Life stories are very important: perhaps far more so than what you think of them at any given moment.
We live in a time when people are treated more as props and whipping posts for our misconceptions, our delusions and our assumptions. That will always be, to some extent. But if before we respond to others we start with understand, honesty, and more respect we will certainly have a better, more civil, society.
Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 30 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.
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