Three Days in Purgatory

I’ve never really understood the concept of purgatory. As a Baptist, we routinely got a good helping of heaven talk and a big heaping portion of hellfire and damnation. But purgatory was a foreign concept. But now, I’m here to tell you it’s real. I just spent three days in purgatory and am completely reformed, albeit my back now aches to high heavens. 

Basically, the deputy stuffed a bunch of us poor souls into a small courtroom where we all waited on hard pew-like benches for what seemed like eternity. Eventually, the deputy divided us into two groups. I happened to be in the second group, which didn’t even get to experience the excitement of being questioned by the judge. We just had to wait in limbo for three days in case another trial happened to get started, in which case our presence might be needed to determine guilt or innocence. But it didn’t get started, so I just sat for three days.

Besides the hard benches, I’m not complaining. I spent most of my three days of sitting doing two of my favorite activities: reading and people watching. I read more in those three days than I had in the three previous months. As far as people watching goes, I’m here to report that the three most popular activities for people stuck in limbo are 1) endless cell-phone scrolling 2) stuporous staring at the floor and 3) well, to be honest, there really wasn’t a close third. There were a few other people who brought books and few people who slept, but most everyone else just scrolled and stared, scrolled and stared, scrolled and stared.

Another thing I noticed was how bureaucracy manifests itself in courtroom attire. The judges wore robes and the inmates wore jumpsuits and the deputies wore uniforms and the attorneys wore suits and the jurors wore orange stickers that said “JURY.” As a career government employee, I’ve seen my fair share of bureaucratic nonsense, but I guess I’m kinda lucky that we can still wear comfortable casual clothes at the agriculture office.

So, I have mixed feelings about jury duty. In some ways, it was a nice reprieve from the hustle and bustle of everyday life–plus I got paid 12 dollars per day to just sit and read. But it was also a sad and depressing place. Someone who is Catholic (looking at you, Steven) will have to explain to me how exactly purgatory is supposed to work in the afterlife and whether or not jury duty is a fitting resemblance on this mortal coil. All I know is I did my civic duty.

Something Strange in the Mail

A few days ago, I got something strange in the mail. It wasn’t the usual bill, credit card application, or plea for charity. Instead, it was an envelope with my name and address on it, hand-written. The return address was also handwritten in the corner. For a split second, I actually thought someone had written me a real, genuine letter. I can’t remember the last time I received a hand-written letter in the mail, one that wasn’t a perfunctory thank you note for a graduation or wedding present. 

I miss letters. I grew up in the tail end of the letter era, before the arrival of fax machines and email. I learned to write letters and address envelopes in second grade. Our school participated in a pen pal program, and we all had pen pals with students at an elementary school in Florida. It was exciting to get my very own letter in the mail. The pen pal correspondence didn’t last very long, but I remember it, which counts for something because the only other thing I remember learning about in second grade was rhyming. For a rhyming exercise, I accidentally invented a word that rhymes with luck. My teacher got upset and said that word was already invented. Who knew? 

Turns out, the hand addressed envelope did not contain a personalized hand-written letter. Instead, it was a computer-printed letter from a distant neighbor asking me to attend a planning board meeting to oppose the construction of a 90-spot RV park two miles from my house. 

These RV parks are popping up faster than fire ant hills around here, and I hate it. I don’t have anything against people who use RVs (other than the fact that they’re all weenies who need to camp in tents like real outdoorsmen) but my main opposition to these RV parks is that they have no business being in areas zoned residential. At least they don’t if words still mean anything. You don’t have to be an English major to realize the root of residential is resident, and a quick check of the dictionary says that a resident is a person who lives somewhere permanently or on a long-term basis.  

Anyway, though I was disappointed the actual letter wasn’t hand-written, the letter still did the trick, and I attended to voice my opposition. Thankfully, so did a lot of other people, and the application for the park was denied. It just goes to show how effective a mere hand-addressed envelope can be in an age when nothing is hand written.  

A Missive from Shelby, North Carolina, to New York, New York.

Dear New Yorkers,

Please be advised the following letter is official correspondence from Shelby, North Carolina, –City of Pleasant Living, Livermush Capital of the World, home of the Earl Scruggs Bluegrass Museum, and seat of Cleveland County–home of the Cleveland County Agricultural Fair, Cleveland Community College, and a sasquatch named Knobby. 

This letter hereby notifies you that Shelby is providing sanctuary to a citizen of New York. At least, we think he’s a New Yorker. He does not say “yall” or speak proper English. We suspect his upbringing is to blame. He refuses to relocate to the park, which he calls “the pahk.” Currently, he lives beside the main intersection in Shelby for the whole world to see. We suspect we have a genuine homeless person on our hands. 

Our records indicate this is the first case of homelessness in Shelby. Of course, at minor intersections, we have a few panhandlers holding signs, but everybody knows they live in nearby trailer parks and make meth. Our citizenry can spot a meth head a mile away–skinny as a rail, snaggletooth, and of caucasion descent. We refrain from providing these lost souls pocket change, lest they spend it on more pseudoephedrine and paint thinner. We do provide free livermush biscuits to help them put weight back on. As far as we know, livermush biscuits cannot be manufactured into any known illicit substance, though we have seen some reports of THC-tainted livermush from afar. Generally speaking, our drug manufacturing is less sophisticated than big-city outfits.

(As New Yorkers, you may be wondering about livermush, a southern delicacy best fried. It’s made of pork liver, corn meal, miscellaneous hog parts, with a little sage thrown in. Most people eat livermush for breakfast, but it’s gaining wider acceptance as an all-day food.)

We request open lines of communication between our two great cities on the issue of homelessness. We know New York is infested with homeless, rivaling only San Francisco. Although we’ve been caring for your homeless man with biscuits, he is obese, colliqually-known as “fat,” and some citizens fear we’re putting him at risk for diabetes and high-blood pressure. So far, we have also provided him a tent, beach umbrella, Laz-E-Boy, and kitten. A delegation from the city chamber even offered a bus ticket back to New York, but he refused the charity, citing the affordable housing crisis in your city. Not to brag, but we have no affordable housing crisis; a full-sized farmhouse here rents for less than a broom closet in New York. 

Honestly, we have grown fond of your refugee. He has taken on the pseudo-official role of town mascot. Of course, he believes he is a secret agent working for the government. At one time, a few locals thought he was a liberal spy sent by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC). But, as far as we can tell, he has no no political inclinations. 

Your recommendations on how to address homelessness would be greatly appreciated. Although we agree to provide sanctuary to your homeless man, please avoid referring to Shelby as a “sanctuary city” because of the stigma associated with that two-word combo in the South. 

In the not too distant future, leaders from our great city intend to visit. We will bring biscuits with organic livermush since New York is full of hipsters. We hope this small gesture will help heal the rural-urban divide.

Warm regards,

Wilbur Dedham

Mayor of Shelby, NC

Never Walk Behind Pepper

For those who’d like to donate to a worthy charity, may I suggest the MFTTF, the Misfit Farmer’s Tractor Tire Fund. All contributions go directly to my bank account, which has been depleted this summer by the disintegrating structural integrity of rubber on my farm. It’s got to the point that I now look at the Amish’s horse-drawn implements with envy, and I have a lifelong fear of horses. 

Of course, my wife dismisses equinophobia. Years ago, when we purchased her old family farmstead, she was actually excited that Ringo, a Missouri Foxtrotter, was thrown in for free and ridiculed my general life philosophy that “All horses should be feared, and free horses should be feared always.” 

Haunting me were childhood memories of my cousins’ lunatic steeds: Red, Pepper, and the pony (I forget the pony’s name, though its memories are largely the most traumatic). But I do remember the pony rearing and galloping full speed toward a barbed wire fence with my wailing cousin atop. She looked like a miniature Annie Oakley. At one point, her cowboy hat, attached by chinstraps, fully deployed like a parachute and was the only thing slowing the runaway pony. Soon thereafter, my cousin toppled off the side, and the pony skidded to halt in front of the fence, which at that point was the best possible outcome.

I’m not sure whatever happened to that pony—I lost touch with it after it nearly killed my cousin, but I suspect it was probably donated to another family who needed a good free pony.

Unlike the pony, Big Red and Pepper occasionally proved trustworthy enough for excursions outside their pasture. Though I have no particular horror stories of Pepper, the frequent warning “Never walk behind Pepper” still reverberates in my mind. So much so, the pepper shaker stays hidden in a cabinet, lest I walk past the kitchen table and flinch. 

Once, my family took Pepper and Big Red on a horseback-riding trip to Sugar Loaf Mountain. Sugar Loaf was really more mound than mountain, but being in the coastal plain where everything was flat, the abnormal increase in elevation achieved mountain status. I viewed much of the surrounding countryside while performing a full split atop Big Red who was intent on wandering wherever he pleased, his jockey experiencing too much paralysis to control the reins. To continue his journey unencumbered, Red eventually reared up and dropped me off on a pine tree. 

I’ve never been on a horse since, but at this point horse shoes seem a lot cheaper than tractor tires.  

Beekeeping YouTubers You Might Like

It used to be if you wanted to get into hobby beekeeping, first you planted a little garden, then you got chickens, then you started a blog, then you got bees. Tomatoes, chickens, blog, bees–that was the natural progression of the homesteader’s journey to beekeeping. But this is 2021, and, let’s face it, blogs are dead. I mean, if your blog is like mine, it likely gets as much traffic as a dead-end road in the middle of the Sahara. 

Today blogs have largely been replaced by other social media platforms, and none is more popular among beekeepers than YouTube, which is not surprising. If we’re being honest, most beekeepers are a little bonkers, or at least they appear that way. In fact, the only people I know who wear white jackets and talk to themselves are beekeepers and the certifiably insane. Sometimes while I’m working hives, people will sneak up on me while I’m conversing with myself. It’s pretty easy to do because usually I’m in the beekeeping zone, focused on the inner-workings of the hives, and thus I lose awareness of most things in my immediate vicinity, like the location of my hive tool, the dwindling fire in my smoker, and the neighbor who just snuck up and listened to me mutter to myself for minutes before finally asking if I have any honey for sale. It’s a little embarrassing, but I guess it’s only fitting–add a few straps here and there and our modern beekeeping garbs would bear a striking resemblance to the early 1900s fashion trends at the looney bin. 

Anyway, the point here is that it’s not a big leap to go from talking to yourself to talking to a camera. Enter YouTube.  

Nearly all the YouTube channels I follow are beekeeping-related. There’s a couple of Star Wars channels and sports channels thrown in, but my video history is heavily-dominated by people jabbering to their cell phones or GoPros about Apis mellifera. So in an effort to share my YouTube addiction with others, here are some of my favorites beekeeping YouTubers:

Ian Steppler: Ian lives in Canada, but don’t hold that against him. His videos provide a great source of insight on the hard work it takes to be a full-time professional beekeeper. He may have an EZ-loader, but commercial beekeeping isn’t easy, and his videos prove it. 

Kaylee Richardson: Kaylee is an up-and-coming beekeeper, and bees are a major part of her small-scale homestead operation. If you’re wanting to get into homesteading, her videos would be a great place to start.

Bob Binnie: Bob is the Mr. Rogers of beekeeping YouTubers. Much beekeeping wisdom flows through his calm and soft-spoken voice. Bob is a full-time commercial beekeeper and owner of Blue Ridge Mountain Honey Company. 

Kamon Reynolds: Kamon is a commercial beekeeper in Tennessee. His videos are very informative, but I also appreciate the fact he’s willing to video himself doing stupid stuff, like standing on an empty bee box atop the roof or his car to catch a swarm in a tree branch overhead. It makes feel good knowing I’m not the only who does dumb things.

Mr. Ed: Mr. Ed is the beekeeper for a monastery in Louisiana. He is quite possibly the world’s most positive and happy person, even when he’s extracting mean bees from walls. He is a master of cut-outs and removals. 

The Dirt Rooster: Another master of the cut-out, occasionally the Dirt Rooster and Mr. Ed will team up for a cut-out and appear in each other’s videos, at which point it’s like watching a major superhero crossover movie. YouTubers, assemble!