I was living in a trailer at a state park when an octogenarian recovering alcoholic named Keith showed me freedom. We’d sit on his porch after church on Sundays, eating whatever leftovers he’d cobbled together. The dressing for the wilted browned salad was always expired, “just getting ripe,” as he put it.
He’d grown up in the country, never calling the farm animals anything but by their color. “If you name a chicken or a cow, it’s hard to eat her when that day comes.” I got that, but wondered aloud why his dogs were named “yellow dog” and “brown dog.” “Son, you never know when times’ll get hard.”
Keith called certain women “classic.” The term made the sociology major in me squirm. We went to a concert in the great hall at Sewanee one day though, and when he closed his eyes and smiled, lost in the strings, I think I knew what he meant.
“Look at all the shades of green,” he said one day on the porch. Now every time I’m in the woods I wonder the same thing. When my son Andrew asked me yesterday what I was thinking about, I told him. He looked around at the forest and said, “Keep thinking about that, Dad.”
That summer was of searching—experimenting with simplicity, vegetarianism, faith and expiration dates. Bookended by my junior and senior years of college, that summer of 2001 was a glimpse ten years into the future. When I returned to Rhodes that fall, things began to unravel for me and the world, and it took almost a decade to get back to that place.
Now I’m in recovery myself. I married a woman who there’s no way to describe other than “classic.” I’ve crafted a career that allows me the freedom to appreciate all the shades of green, and I’m comfortable enough with the world to name my dog “Calvin.”