(Don’t) Hold Back the Tears

I had called up Ol’ Grizzles to tell him about a personal problem. He answered the phone like he always does. It’s not a cell phone because he doesn’t own one. It’s the world’s ugliest olive-green rotary phone and it plugs into the wall. He has owned that phone “Since I got my first telephone line in my first apartment.”

“How long ago was that?” I once asked him.

“Longer ago than you are old,” he said.

“Did you have to get the ugliest one?” I asked him.

“No.”

“How come you did then?”

“The black ones were two dollars more.”

The tone of his voice, I might as well have asked him why people wore rain jackets in the rain.

Anyway, I got through telling him my personal problem and I waited for the inevitable pause. In the background I could hear a couple of blue jays squabbling, but that was all. Ol’ Grizzles was sitting on the porch of his ranch house like he always does when the weather is good. In my mind I could see the screen door closed on the phone line, which he would have unwound all the way from the living room.

Whenever you told Ol’ Grizzles your personal problem you were in for a wait until you heard the thunk. “Thunk,” it went, the sound of the Skoal-filled spit hitting the bottom of the Dixie cup.

“Well,” he said, “sounds to me like you are pretty upset.”

“I am,” I said.

“Anytime anybody has a problem like that and isn’t upset,” he drawled, then paused. Thunk. “They ain’t tryin’ too hard.”

I wasn’t sure this was the advice I was looking for. “I suppose that’s true.”

“Suppose? Damn straight it’s true.”

“But it doesn’t have much to do with anything.”

Pause. Longer pause. “Thunk.”

“You think you been crying all those tears just to lubricate your eyeballs?”

“No.”

Pause. Thunk. “Damn straight you haven’t.” Pause. Thunk. “It’s because you been tryin’ as hard as you know how but the thing just won’t come along how you want it to. Them tears,” he said, “that’s what makes the thing come along so you can be all right with it, whichever way it winds up.”

“That’s about the worst advice I ever heard,” I said.

“It ain’t advice.”

“What the hell is it?”

Pause. Thunk. “It’s what people used to call wisdom before they invented television.”

“Wisdom?”

“When people been saying a thing about love since the dawn of time,” Ol’ Grizzles said. Pause. Thunk. “You might stop a minute and reckon as to why.”

END


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