Diary

When High Praise can turn to Lard, a cautionary parable

It’s a terrible thing to have to eat one’s words, and yes, I have grabbed that particular bull by the horns more than once, which, as Mark Twain once noted, give’s a man ten times the knowledge as one who only read about it in a book. I can tell you that words of praise, when first uttered, are as sweet and mellifluous as fine chocolate, but when swallowed that second time are as bitter as bile.

Or how about lard?…or as the Rev Grady Nutt used to say, “That puts me in mind of a story.”

The first night of my first winter in Russia i was introduced to the lady across the hall, a big babushka of a woman, legs like oak stumps, with that traditional scarf on her head, apron, and stockings rolled halfway down the calf. Her husband was a Great Patriotic War vet who had worked on Dodge trucks at Murmansk. In fact, that, and Benny Goodman were the only English words he knew. They had lost a son in Afghanistan in ’84, and she had been asked to “mother” me those eight weeks.

That first night, after a long grind at the bank, I came in and was met by her grinning face, holding a big bowl of soup, filled with a barely warm broth, some sort of stringy meat (I can’t name the poor beast), hard potatoes, a few legumes, and no salt. She sat me down to show me how to use the hard bread under a napkin, bread that was even harder than my mother’s biscuits, which my brothers and I used to play toss with in the back yard. That hard. I would dip the bread, take a swallow, and she would stand there with her fists on her hips and say, “Da?” and I would smile and say “Da” until I had finished.

It was okay, but I could think of at least a half dozen ways to fix that meal up better, but not to be unkind, i was effusive with my praise, and she marched out the apartment beaming.

The next night I came in about the same hour, and she came over with a bowl of borscht. Now I’d had borscht before, and liked it, so gobbled this down, to the same chorus of “Da?”….”Da.” Just as I was finishing up, she disappeared for a moment, and then back in she marched, with her husband, holding high a bowl filled with pudding, a bright berry on top of it. My eyes lit up, and I grabbed my spoon and took a big swallow, smiting that berry all in one bite….only to find out (I’m not sure whether my body or brain found out first) this wasn’t pudding…but rendered lard or suet, in a gelatinous form that looked amazingly like something humans might actually want to eat.

“Da?” I held back a gag, and looked up and weakly smiled “Da.” She stood there, like a fortress, then nodded to the bowl in the international language of “keep going”. So, for the next five minutes, or maybe it was an hour, i can’t say, i piddled and dribbled with that spoon, swishing that stuff around, trying every way in the world to make the bowl get smaller, like I’m sure millions of kids have done with their broccoli or oatmeal ever since the Great Depression. Finally, I finished it, and Ma and Pa Biletnikov strode out the door as if they’d just given me a life-saving transfusion.

For anyone who hasn’t read Dickens, there’s a lesson here: On the first day at the orphanage, you do not pile up your plate with Ma Sweeney’s gruel until 1) you know whether she can cook, and 2) you know whether you can leave the table without finishing it.

I have not been excited about a political person since Ronald Reagan, and really not until mid-way through his first term. My view then, and still is, unless I actually can see them walk on (constitutional) water, the fact that they say they can, or say they will, means nothing to me. And the same goes when some third party tells me they can.

I like Sarah Palin. I really like her. But all she means right now is words to me. I don’t get excited about people until I see what they can do. I only get excited about things, ideas, and of those, only a few, such as the Constitution, Liberty, the dignity of man. I am older, and have been around and seen a lot, so I can put a context to those notions that maybe some people cannot. You can’t spend time among people who have a recent memory of slavery, and not feel changed. So I’m either wiser, or just more finicky.

When Sarah Plain’s words are attached to one of those political objectives that I am excited about, then I can get excited about her…but only just a little more. The proof, the only proof, will be when she can actually walk the constitutional walk.

So forgive me if I don’t join in the cacophony of praise for Sarah or Scott Brown or Doug Hoffman or whoever comes down the pike next week. In the past year the only people I have seen worthy of praise have been a few lonely solitary voices in the Congress, people like DeMint and Coburn, and the very hard work of some people on the internet, among them, right here on RedState…all of whom are already walking the constitutional walk…and have made things happen

I’ve only been here three months, so am still just a visiting friend. But I am quite taken with the sense of community and family that exists here. It is genuinely cordial, friendly, but also intelligent and collegial, and several cuts above a simple mutual admiration society one finds elsewhere. I like this place, and so far, everyone I’ve encountered in it.

So, I hope not to give offense, but please take heed my words above: you who wish to canonized Sarah, or who wish to set up roadside chapels in the name of Scott Brown; there is nothing so uncomfortable as to have to gag and swallow your own lard in the company of family.