John Colson: Hit and Run
There’s an old Burl Ives song, which he took from a German tune, called “There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza.”
That’s how I feel these days – my bucket’s got a hole in it, and everything keeps dribbling out.
In the song, Liza is a smart-alecky little lady who tells poor Henry how to fix the hole in his bucket, but Henry keeps coming up with objections and reasons why her advice ain’t so hot.
Go ahead, Google the song, I’ve got time.
But for those too lazy to be bothered to check, the song’s story line goes like this: Liza says fix it with straw, but the straw’s too long. So she says cut it with a hatchet, but the hatchet’s too dull. So she says sharpen the hatchet with a stone, but the stone’s too dry. So she says whet the stone, but he can’t get water to the stone ‘cuz there’s a hole in the damned bucket.
And so it goes …
Wikipedia calls this song an “infinite-loop motif,” which I take to be sort of like watching a snake eating its own tail. At some point in the process, an observer will realize that there will be no happy ending to all this, and give up.
The hole in my particular bucket is the recent death of my sainted Mom back in Madison, Wis., the town where I spent my childhood. Some, of course, might say “misspent,” but that’s a matter of perspective.
And some, hearing that I grew up in Madison, might nod their heads sagely and remark, “Hell, that figures,” since Madison has a reputation for liberality and anarchistic behavior, mostly linked with the students at the University of Wisconsin, which sits in the middle of town.
And if they’d known my Mom, they would have completely understood how I became what I am today.
Born into a Republican family in eastern Ohio, she slipped the bonds of conservative ideology as soon as she left home and married my late Dad. The two of them hit Madison in the early 1950s, joined a campaign to unseat the evil Sen. Joe McCarthy, and never looked back, in a political sense.
I grew up in a foment of half-drunken, left-wing debate and action, and took my cue from my parents and their circle of activist buddies. And, let me be clear here, I do not apologize, I do not regret. I have long felt proud of my parents and their commitment to social activism. And in their absence, I remain proud.
But, as I was noting earlier, my bucket feels a little on the empty side right now. And, while I know where the hole is, I’m having a devil of a time working out how to plug it up and get to filling up the reserves again.
So I thought I’d write about it. I figured, if I’m going to feel a little rotten and lost, I should pass it along and share the wealth.
Because it is a kind of wealth, in a way, handed down to me, my brother and my sister, by a pair of unrepentant civil libertarians who refused to simply sit there, accepting and absorbing the status quo without a peep, when they felt deeply that the status quo was wrong, wrong, wrong.
Speaking strictly from my own little microcosm, I fear for the fate of a world without my Mom in it, because she would stand up and shout her anger to the world, and she knew how to do it with passion and white-hot conviction, and a clear, insightful way of thinking that overwhelmed many who opposed her.
As might be expected, my mom did not go gently into that good night. She raged and fought it, but as she and I discussed at length toward the end, none of us gets out of this alive.
So, she passed the bucket along, and it’s a big one, but it’s still got that hole in it.
I guess I’d better go find a hatchet and get to work.
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