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Ramblin Joe: On the Lost Art of Conversation

Bison Blinds

by Joe Baxter

Happy Wednesday, FaceWonders.  How are you folks?

We are ALL God’s little wonders, walking around the earth like we know it all. I don’t know much, let alone ALL. I doubt that anyone does. Sitting here waiting for a late February snow dump. Already sleeting. Winter isn’t through with us, yet. Ah, well; it’ll be O.K. My mantra this time of year is, “Spring is just around the corner!” So it is. 78 degrees next week. Life in Oklahoma, y’all be weatherwise.

I get ready to write, and I settle in with a cup of good strong dark roast and the TV weather, without a single clue what I’m going to write about. It’s a good thing I’m long-winded, huh? I am eternally grateful for the Gift Of Gab. I can hold forth at length, and have fun doing it. Hey, let’s talk! In the 21st Century, it seems that we don’t think about conversation-as-art, or as a way of life. It used to be both.

Younger folks don’t remember the days before cell phones, social media and instant communication. Not too many years ago if you wanted to visit with anyone, you had the choice of calling on the old Ma Bell telephone, writing a letter, or seeking them out and visiting in person. There were no distractions such as we find on social media.  No uninvited participants in the conversation, no sales ads, no games, no “memes,” no puppy or kid photos unless someone pulled out their wallet or photo album. When was the last time you just sat there with another person or group of people and just TALKED? Countless generations of folks had no social life other than the one they physically sought out. We’d go visit our friends and relatives, we’d write letters to folks who lived elsewhere, we’d attend our clubs, and churches and dances. We’d socialize with our co-workers. We’d encounter acquaintances here and there about town and spend a few minutes catching up before getting on with our business. We’d go to the neighborhood gathering place, whether that was the local park, an old bench on the sidewalk on Main Street, a circle of chairs in the back of the dry goods store, the barbershop, the neighborhood watering hole, or wherever folks met to discuss the news of the day and other doin’s-of-interest. Folks KNEW how to converse. It’s how they lived their lives. They knew each other, and they knew each others’ stories. They (most of them) understood humor.

These generations were kept informed by REAL news sources, usually the nearest large newspaper, plus their own local papers and radio stations. Not too many years ago, hard news programs on broadcast media were mostly non-partisan and very informative. People were smarter back then about paying too much attention to rank propaganda and snake oil salesmen. Average Americans took great pride in NOT being thought of as suckers. They got FACTS. They got the TRUTH. They sought it out. Anyone taking part in discussions of current events or any other topic wisely forearmed themselves with good, solid information. They knew the difference between fact and opinion. People studied up on the facts-as-reported and then they formed their OWN opinions. They didn’t have half-a-hundred false “news” resources” and infotainment programs feeding them partisan agendas and ready-made theories and LIES and opinions about everything under the sun.

Don’t get me wrong. Sketchy info sources have been available since before Pharisees publicized Jesus as a “radical.” In modern times, there have always been nut-jobs and flim-flam artists broadcasting their garbage on nut-job radio programs. There have always been nut-job editorialists and nut-job pamphlet writers. There have always been false prophets and jackleg preachers and common rabble-rousers. It’s just too bad that these days, false and harmful information is so prevalent. It’s just too easily and readily available, and people sure do fall for it. 

Those old men sitting in front of the general store whittling and chewing tobacco would laugh you off the porch if you trotted out the brand of utter hogwash that passes for “news” these days. Informed opinion is one thing; half-baked dogma and plainly evident gullibility is another. I laugh to myself every time I see the words “Social Influencer.” I can’t believe that’s a real thing! I haven’t been able to tell WHY these “influencers’” influence actually means anything, and what qualifications they might have to presume that they are fit to influence anyone about anything. 

Yet, here I am, with a free hand to go on and on about whatever it is I feel like going on and on about. I don’t take this for granted. Will Rogers famously said that, “All I know is what I read in the papers.” Well, there were more and better papers back in Will’s day, so in 2022, I can say that “All I know is what I read and hear from the last remaining vestiges of REAL journalism.” It’s become quite the chore. Good luck to us all. Bottom line – we’d better start talking to each other again, and while we’re at it, we’d better relearn how to listen to each other.

See? Told ya. If I don’t have anything to talk about, I can always talk about not having anything to talk about. Heh heh. Speaking of news, we’re sitting here watching local news & weather. My guilty pleasure during winter storms is watching videos and live feeds of the bumper car action out there on the local roads. Looks pretty slippery, but so far, so good. God forbid anyone gets hurt. Y’all be CAREFUL if you decide you have to drive anywhere today or tomorrow. That trip to Walmart for new dish towels might need to wait till the sleet melts. My job used to be what the DoD called “Mission Essential,” so I spent my career knowing that I’d have to get out and drive to work in some pretty dicey conditions. I don’t have to do that today, and as I look out at the arctic sky through our big east window and I hear the ice pellets bouncing off the patio cover, I say a sincere prayer of thanks. Hope y’all are wintering well, and staying safe and warm.

Love ya – jb

P.S.A. – The Round Barn is closed till at least the weekend. Not safe out there right now. 

RESIST – Complacency. Misplaced self-satisfaction can lead to mistakes in judgment. It’s so much easier for The Bad Stuff to sneak up on you. Keep your head up. There’s the old saying, “Pride cometh before a fall.” Yep.

EDITOR’S NOTE. Joe Baxter is one of my favorite people. He loves music, the Arcadia Round Barn, his wife Jean, a club sandwich from Farmstead Cafe, Route 66 and America (not in that order). A songwriter and musician, he has a way with words and can turn a phrase such that you want to listen, or in this case, read for a while. If you are one of his “face friends” on social media, you know he can get you thinking with his posts and musings. He’s letting us post them here on The Luther Register! We’re trying something new. Find Joe at the Arcadia Round Barn where he is the head conversation aficionado catching stories from Route 66 travelers from all over the world, and getting the band together eight days a week! Thanks Ramblin’ Joe! ENJOY! – daw

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