“Come on in and sit a spell.”
I paused at the door of Clark Dobb’s pond house and willed away the expression of amusement I could feel trying to force its way through the very pores of my face. Truthfully, no one would have blamed me if I had entered laughing my head off. Clark’s house was a two room affair sitting on stilts in the middle of his little catfish pond. Steel cables ran at crazy angles from two sides of the cabin in opposite directions and were staked out in the fields beyond the water’s confines. It seems Clark hadn’t counted on the poles his house sat on shifting and the cables were his vain attempt to keep the place from tilting crazily one way or the other.
“Grab a chair,” the grizzled man muttered, “I’ll be with you in a minute.”
As I pulled up a lawn chair I knew instinctively this was one of those experiences I would write about one day and no one would believe. No one, that is, except those who were lucky enough to be allowed into Clark Dobb’s inner sanctum.
There he sat in his faded black Naugahyde recliner in nothing but his boxers and too worn t-shirt. He and the chair were fused into one lump of Mississippi August sweat making it hard to tell where furniture ended and man began. He never turned to welcome me. There were more important things at hand. Things like the cane pole he held extended out the window next to him and Saturday afternoon wrestling on an ancient Philco black-and-white two feet in front of him.
Between a two pound channel cat and the three hundred pound Masked Assassin he found time to share with me bits and pieces of his life experience, his suspicions about the “government”, and his ponderings on eternal mysteries. Clark was the son of share croppers, the great-grandson of a Civil War hero, and the great-great grandchild of Scottish Highlanders. What he owned had been gained through sheer determination, and the pain in his back was thanks to three years in the Pacific theater during World War II. And the wisdom he possessed … it was more surprising than anything else I experienced that day.
I discovered later that others in the community thought Clark to be a bit “touched”. After all, he owned hundreds of acres of prime timber land but you couldn’t tell by looking at him that he had more than two dollars to his name. Then there were his infamous projects: his failed attempt at raising a new super strain of South American worms, his short-lived excursion into the recording industry, and of course, his cockeyed pond house.
As I started to leave he set his pole down; “Could you do me a favor before you go?”
I smiled; “Sure thing.”
He pointed toward a faded flag that hung from the roof outside. “Could you take her down for me? It’s going to rain and I don’t let nothin’ desecrate her. I know that seems foolish but the old USA’s been good to me, and that’s the least I can do for her.”
The longer I lived in that community the more I realized one couldn’t judge Clark Dobb’s by his shabby exterior. For every dollar he had lost in some crazy venture I discovered he had given two to others in need.
Travelers passing by that pond house only saw a strange old man living amidst a hodge-podge of junk. But not me. I saw a living illustration of the country he fought for, put up with, and loved. A country of wonderfully insane contradictions. A place where we foolishly waste fortunes on South American worms while at the same time give even more to those who only dream of attempting something so bold. A place where the greatest of intentions are held in place by the slimmest of hopes. A place where a few are even willing to die to ensure others the right to ridicule those who died for them.
I guess travelers passing by our house see an eclectic accumulation of half-realized dreams, failed endeavors, and accidental successes. They see a house seemingly pulled in all directions at once. And perhaps some are even right when they say we are a bit touched. Even so, it’s our house and we still believe in the colors that hang from her eaves.
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