Posts Tagged ‘Missouri mule’

     One of my dad’s entertaining hobbies was filling in crossword puzzles. It was a way to keep mentally sharp and as I observed him, I became intrigued by his use of the etymology of words; i.e., their history and origins. His understanding of root word meanings helped him to completely solve many a difficult puzzle that I had tried and given up on. He relished his superiority in these mental games even as his sons grew physically stronger. One of his lifelong gifts to me was the ability to grasp the meaning of unusual words simply by analyzing their parts. 

     The word nepenthe, for example, came to my mind as ne- (not or no) plus penthe or penthos (sorrow or grief), which would suggest, as a noun, anything that could cause forgetfulness of sorrow. Similarly the term leukocyte, studied in my science classes as important in the body’s defenses against infection, was easily remembered on exams by breaking the word down into leukos (meaning white) and cyte (meaning cell).   

     There are certain words that inevitably come back to haunt me. The misspelling of khaki and hypocrisy in a junior spelling bee sent me to the sidelines early. I will always remember how to correctly spell those two words. 

     The crossword puzzle fill-in term agnostic also lodges in my memory because the word had frustrated puzzle progress one summer afternoon until my dad cerebrally stepped in to bail me out through expansion of the clue, “professing ignorance.” He reasoned that the clue was intimating “no intelligence” and from that he traced basic etymological elements, a- (not) plus gnosis (the knowledge) to arrive at the elusive answer and, ultimately, puzzle resolution. Seeing this time as a teachable moment, and being prone to launch into obscure poetic refrains or Shakespearean verse, I remember my father saying something to this effect; “Ignorance is a curse, and knowledge the wing wherewith we fly to heaven.” Quaint English literature was perhaps a little deep for a distracted young teen, nevertheless my gray matter catalogued the epigram, as matters of intellect did seem to serve my father well.

      It is true that the condition of being ignorant, that state of being uneducated or uninformed or having lack of knowledge in relation to a particular subject, can be quite disadvantageous. I gave “Birdy” a recent thumbs-up for her simple answer to the online Yahoo! Answers question, “How do you define ignorance?” She responded, “Doesn’t ignorance mean not knowing?” I would say so. 

     Well then ignorance was in vogue the week before we buried my mother’s folks’ house. That’s right, my mother tried to save the beloved farmhouse south of town after granddad passed on, but lack of maintenance cash and four-footed squatters finally caused it to succumb. My CAT man judiciously torched the place, over cries of arson by resident varmints, and then let the dust settle prior to dozing a rather deep hole to dispose of ashes, remaining chimney brick and other noncombustible materials. That hollow was eventually excavated just to the east after a timely conversation with my mother about the previous owners of her childhood home. Come to find out, the Pipers were the former occupants and as often was the custom in those days, they had entombed loved ones in a family plot nearby. Oh my golly, in my ignorance of not knowing, I almost contracted the disinterment of the whole Piper clan! So the farmhouse residue even today lies six feet under the east eighty and the Pipers still lie undisturbed to the west…rest in peace.       

    In my defense, at least I can say I didn’t know involuntarily. On the contrary, voluntary ignorance shows a willful neglect or refusal to acquire knowledge which one may require, and is a person’s duty to have. Knowledge of a law or truth is essential to careful and rewarding conduct, and where knowledge is required, not knowing is culpable and affords no protection from consequential judgment. Error is the non-conformity or opposition of our ideas and free will to a standard or truth. Considered as a motive for our actions, ignorance differs but little from error and even the wisest of men and women have enough folly or Missouri mule in ‘em to come to ruin unless grace prevents.

     I noted a passage from chatty Willa Mae’s clever reader (it’s like a farmers’ almanac or somethin’) not long ago that addressed the subject of “not knowing” in just such a barnyard manner. “So foolish was I, and ignorant. I was as a beast before God.” Can’t say I’m sure what the editors were gettin’ at, but it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to surmise that the more a man goes about his own reason in arriving at a conclusion on a matter, the more he declares himself a beast as contrasted with God’s all-seeing comprehensive knowledge. Their point, I suppose, was that we just don’t see things as they really are; we often see them as we are. So then, ignorance might be said to be a matter of perspective. As my Aunt Ola used to emphasize, “There is more than meets the eye.”

     Playing off of my early struggle with that challenging crossword puzzle, my father later coined the word “aggnostic.” By this time, out of acquired habit, my mind immediately revved to etymologically segment this familiar, yet peculiar, term into ag– (literally “ag”) plus gnostic, which, again, is related to the Greek word gnosis meaning knowledge.  Seeing another opportunity to impart wisdom, and also seeing my perplexity, he explained that his word and his definition included a double meaning, those being “agricultural knowledge” as well as the play on words “acknowledge.”   

     An aggnostic, as far as my dad was concerned, was a person who embodied the ruralite ethos and ideal of not only the practical basics of farming and agronomics, but also acknowledged that a higher power was at work in the surrounding pastoral and idyllic creation, and in gracious providence. Although learned, he was really a humble farmer, and this was revelation that he had to pass down. You see, he just didn’t want us to grow up not knowing.

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