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    Raising Wendell Berry

    July 10, 2008 by Brandy Vencel

    Whenever I get close to having a baby, I come down with fits of nostalgia. I am currently less than 50 days from having this baby {assuming the C-section happens on August 27th}. Couple this with the fact that we hope to move in two weeks, and I find myself watching my children with new eyes, wanting to remember what they were like when…

    …we lived in that rental two miles away…

    …there were only three of them…


    Thus begins a series of three posts, one for each child.

    But before I begin, I feel compelled to note that I intend to look back on these posts with amusement. Even though children are so…themselves from the time they are tiny, I am all too aware that what a child is like as a baby doesn’t predict their personality or character as a toddler, nor intimate what they will be like at five or 15 or 50.

    But some things will endure, and I’m curious what that will be. The future is a mist, to be sure.

    I often joke to my husband that we are raising Wendell Berry. I say this while admitting an almost-total ignorance of what Wendell Berry is actually like. I’ve read his bio on Wikipedia, and also his wonderful novel Jayber Crow, but that’s about it other than my exposure to numerous people who claim to have been influenced by his fiction, poetic, and/or nonfiction works.

    It’s not that our eldest is like Wendell Berry so much as Wendell Berry, to me anyhow, symbolizes that intersection between the agrarian and the poetic. He is a highly educated man, an amazing writer, and yet also a humble farmer. His poetry, the small snippets that I’ve been exposed to, appreciates simple things like sowing a field. He is a prolific writer that remains anchored to the earth.

    My son is not yet a writer, but he is an avid reader, and he has a literary mind if ever there was one. When he describes a bird or a cloud or a garden, he uses poetic imagery. He truly appreciates natural beauty. He loves the simple things, like harvesting tomatoes from his tidy garden.

    I’ve also mentioned to my husband that perhaps it is more like raising C.S. Lewis. After all, Lewis was famous for his almost-total recall of everything he ever read. E. is like that, often spouting off sentences {and sometimes passages} from books I had forgotten we read together. He quotes them verbatim. He remembers the name of every child in every Little House book.

    Does anyone know who Frank was? I still can’t figure that one out.

    But then, my sweet boy is also a lot like Oscar the Grouch. He can be grumpy and cantankerous. Actually, maybe that makes him like Michael Savage, who I once heard describe himself as being like that uncle who you feel obligated to invite to Sunday dinner, and then said uncle argues with everyone during the entire meal, and no one can argue back because, mostly, he’s right, but then you are so glad when he leaves, but then by Wednesday you are beginning to look forward to seeing that uncle again.

    E. was born at the age of approximately 90. He talks about his health too much. He thinks he knows things. He tells you in no uncertain {and often rude, but we’re working on it} terms that you are wrong. He will probably live to be 115. Have you ever noticed that old folk’s homes are full of curmudgeonly old men that specialize in a certain brand of amusing grumpiness? That grumpiness is like a health tonic. It keeps them alive, if for no other reason than for spite.

    Surely E. will make it to 115. But instead of an old folk’s home he’ll hopefully be surrounded by the ten children he says he plans to have. After all, he is also showing signs of being a man’s man–possessing that steady, reliable, internal strength. If he keeps it up, no one will mind having the old guy around, especially if he keeps up his skill at fixing things.

    I am not saying that he is all of these things all of the time. Not at all. For the most part, he is a normal little boy who rides his scooter, is too rough with his sisters on occasion, acts up when company comes over, and really likes food. But the things I mentioned above are characteristic, too, and I think they are some of the things that make him distinct from other little boys.

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    1 Comment

  • Reply Kimbrah July 10, 2008 at 4:43 pm


    I really think you should check out Vincent Van Gogh’s writings as well. I especially liked the book “Dear Theo” which is a collection of letters he wrote to his brother. Here’s a quote to wet your tastebuds-

    “This is my ambition, which is founded less on anger than on love, founded more on serenity than on passion. It is true that I am often in great misery, but still there is within me a calm, pure harmony and music. In the poorest huts, in the dirtiest corner, I see drawings and pictures. And with irresistible force my mind is drawn towards these things. Believe me that sometimes I laugh heartily because people suspect me of all kinds of malignity and absurdity, of which not a hair of my head is guilty-I, who am really no one but a friend of nature, of study, of work, and especially of people.”

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