I am a small-town boy now living in a big town. I graduated high school with 92 friends and, although I enjoy my big town, I miss the values and ways that accompany small-town living. Apparently, I'm not alone in my thinking, since four of my six siblings still live in our small town, all within a few miles of my parents' home.
Part of being small-town is that the work and entertainment varies greatly. Work, besides the obvious, may also include mill and factory work, forestry, and farming. Entertainment may include cow-tipping, four-wheeling, snowmobiling, hiking, fishing and hunting. And sports. How did I almost forget about our small-town sports?
Most recently, after visiting my family, I brought one of my dad's baseball caps home to big-town with me. It was a bright-green John Deere hat, one I had borrowed to wear outside for an afternoon while visiting. Besides breaking-in easily, it fit well.
Now, how many of you are familiar with farming? And forestry? John Deere is a stellar company, one that has stood up through the worst of our economy. My father's business relies on the excellence of their heavy-machinery products, especially their skidders and bulldozers. The people who don their John Deere hats are typically farmers and industrial sorts, salt-of-the-earth types. In my small-town hometown, when you wear a John Deere cap, you wear it with pride.
Returning home to big town, it didn't take long for me to learn that wearing a John Deere hat in a suburban area seems to make certain people assume that you are "slow" or "a hick." Or that you are a country-music lover. Or that you pick your nose freely in a big crowd.
That assumption would be wrong. Completely off-base, actually. Frankly, though, I couldn't care less what other people want to assume, but I find it surprising that this assumption actually exists. Anybody who is familiar with farming or knows a farming family is aware that these are some of the most intelligent, brilliant, and hard-working people you will ever come across. What one assumes might be a simple mind could actually be quiet confidence, introspective intelligence, and humility. I'll take this person over a dim-witted owner of a suit and European car any day.
My father and my brothers? Kind and humble, intelligent and easy-going. After obtaining their college degrees, my brothers chose to follow in my father's successful forestry footsteps. If someone chooses to judge them based on the cap they're wearing or their Carhartt overalls, it won't take that person long to realize that their judgment was premature. And it will only take minutes for my brothers to intellectually bulldoze through those wrong assumptions.
Anyway, back to the John Deere cap. I returned to my big town and proudly started wearing my green baseball cap everywhere--to hockey games, the local mall, my children's sporting events, and restaurants. About the only place I didn't wear my cap was at work in the ER. Don't think, though, that I didn't give that some thought.
The first time I noticed that I was being treated differently, for lack of a better word, was in an up-scale department store check-out line. The cashier spoke freely, easily, to the people ahead of me. Then it was my turn. And it was as if the cashier had a control switch to slow down her voice. And s..l..o..w.. down she did, even going so far as to raise her slowed-down voice while she gave me my change back.
"H..e..r..e.. i..s.. y..o..u..r.. c..h..a..n..g..e.., s..i..r..," she shouted, nearly exhausting herself.
I thanked her and walked away scratching my head, puzzled, and not quite connecting that it was all about my John Deere cap.
Next, I was at a local hockey game and the beer caller--you know, the one walking up and down the aisle with a tray of beers to sell--kept stopping beside me and asking if I was ready for a beer yet. Why, I wondered, was he just stopping to ask me? And again, he talked slower. And louder. I would have given him the benefit of the doubt, except I had heard him talk in regular voice to the people across the aisle from me. As bad as I wanted that damn beer, though, I passed each and every time.
More scenarios followed and by then, I knew the reason. My green John Deere cap. Each time, I walked away not knowing whether to smile at these sporadic ignorances or just brush off them off. I do have to say, though, that it was enlightening, this social experiment for one that I was conducting, to see how certain people responded to my cap.
Most recently, I was at my eleven year-old son's basketball game. I, with another father, had run the clock and kept the score during the home games all season. Before the start of this particular game, the referee approached our table to review some last-minute rules. Of course, he talked in normal voice to the other father before turning to me.
"D..o..n..'t.. f..o..r..g..e..t.. t..o.. s..e..t.. t..h..e.. c..l..o..c..k.. f..o..r... ." You get the idea.
After the ref finished and walked away to start the game, the other father turned to me and asked "What was that?" I pointed to my hat and he looked up, read it, and said "You're kidding, right?" He must have been a small-town boy himself. But no, I assured him, I wasn't kidding.
Well, I'm still wearing my hat. Only now, I don't give much thought to the occasional slow-talker whom I may encounter. This experience has enlightened my perceptions of how quickly others can judge you without knowing you. It's not only my John Deere cap, either. It can be cowboy boots, a certain hairstyle, the car you drive, where you're from, your accent, and how you're dressed, among many other things. That list is l..o..n..g.. .
If anything, now I'm a bit more guarded about my first impressions when I walk into a patient's ER room. Heck yeah, first impressions matter. I'm not denying that. But we should give the person an opportunity to show their true colors before we label them as a simpleton, or otherwise. In fact, why do we even need to label them? And what's wrong with being a simpleton? The medical field seems to be filled with them.
So, if you own a John Deere hat, wear it with pride. Let me hear you yell, "Hell, yeah!" Or, better yet, yell "H..e..l..l.. y..e..a..h!"
And if any of you know a good place to purchase some Yosemite Sam mud-flaps, I would be anxious to hear from you. I've been looking for a set to put on my European car.
As always, big thanks for reading. Next post will be Friday, March 5. See you then...