Wednesday, March 3, 2010

My John Deere Cap

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...


zenagtalks said...

This is really interesting. Down to little details, people are stereotyping.

By the way, you posted that the next post will be Friday, 3rd, but Friday is the 5th.

911RN said...

Dr. Jim,
Everthing you said- ALL TOO TRUE! Had a college professor with her PhD- one of the smartest women I have ever known from NE NC with THE DRAAAWL firmly intact.She lectured cross country and spoke to this issue that people treated her as stupid because she had a southern accent. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Wear your John Deere cap with pride and just laugh inside at those that talk slower to you and think you are a hick!

Course, full disclosure- this is coming from a small town, country girl from a "John Deere", rural county - also graduated with about 100 classmates.The first day of deer or duck hunting season was an "unofficial" excused absence from school!

AND yes, I listen to country music along with other genres. No apologies will be given for that. Nor for my southern accent! Living in the south- seldom get treated as stupid but have experienced the same thing as you describe when I travel north.

I'd sooner go a pig pickin with the guys driving the tractor than go to fancy dinner/restaurant with a HAARVARD man driving the European sport car. More laughs, comraderie and fun at the pig pickin I'd wager.

Thanks for sharing- great post!

911RN said...

Almost forgot...Hell, yeah! Don't wear a John Deere cap because I don't wear ball caps but have a Carhartt jacket!

Rositta said...

Although I do judge pretty much instantly, it's not based on what people wear, I wait until they open their mouth. I've rarely been wrong. Now in Greece, you are judged by your footwear. When you meet someone, they immediately look down at your feet to see where your from. Greek women never wear sport shoes, ever so they know right away I'm not Greek just by my footwear. I just ignore these things and and know you will too. Wear your cap with pride, the world needs more salt of the earth...ciao

shadowfax said...

My five year old loves tractors and loves John Deere. His favorite color is Deere Green and he has half a dozen t-shirts, sweatshirts and the like with the Deere logo.

Guess we should get him a ball cap, too...

Lynn said...

Hell yeah I live on a farm! Hell yeah my husband drives John Deere! Hell yeah my sons room is decorated in everything John Deere! Hell yeah we both are college grads! And one more Hell yeah just for the hell of it lol!!!

Wear that hat with pride!!

Katie said...

Jim, I don't think we can be blogger friends anymore. My family history is also deeply rooted in small-town farming, but we're orange tractor people. We try not to associate with you type... just kidding (but only a little). If you can look past my orange Allis-Chalmers hat I'll find a way to look past your green John Deere hat. (Just don't tell my Grandpa).

You make an excellent point about first impressions. I remember seeing this girl everywhere... on the tennis court, at church, in the community and I remember thinking, "She's so weird. I could NEVER be friends with her." We wound up in youth group together and she became one of my best friends. Don't judge a book by it's cover.

<>< Katie

Carolynn said...

Absolutely true. It works in reverse, as well. Dress in Armani suits and drive a European sports car and people generally think that person has real smarts. Most of them are insufferable bores looking for a mirror to gaze into.

I once worked for a millionaire. He usually looked like an absent minded professor, with wrinkled clothes, messy hair, and a ratty hat on his head. You just never know...

Megan Potter said...

I LOVE the mudflaps - if you put them on your European car I hope you'll post the picture. That would be true gold.

I totally agree with you on this. I'm actually most aware of it with my son - I watch him interact in the public and am very aware that service people automatically judge him because he's a teenage boy. You are a far better person than I am to just ignore it though...

BTW, this is my first time on your blog and I think I am in love with your "About Me" blurb...

coulrophobic agnostic said...


rlbates said...

One of my plastic surgery attendings in Boston had me bring him a John Deere cap years ago. I wonder if he still has it. :)

SeaSpray said...

Excellent post!

It would seem the John Deere cap brought out the *IGNORANCE* in others.

Sounds like a great way to maintain your professional privacy if you wish to... and have a little fun.

You've got me thinking ..this experiment thing you speak of.

I wonder what else you could wear? It would be interesting to send students out on assignment then report findings back to the class. Specific stories would be interesting.

Does John Deere make snow blowers? And would they be a better quality over other brands?

Anonymous said...

I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania, and I never went to school on the first day of deer season because our school district gave us the day off.

terri c said...

I love the John Deere ad (maybe apocryphal?) that said, the only one of our products we don't stand behind is the manure spreader. Wonderful humor!!!

Love Deere green.

thecatsmeow said...

Another fantastic post...and as someone who had some family that were farmers, I must say I'm familiar with John Deere green.
So you can rest assured that I would never poke fun at this particular head gear.

As for the deeper meanings behind this post, I can completely (and sometimes excruciatingly) relate, and that's why I would never ridicule or make derisive comments about someone's accent or supposed differences in class or origin or whatever. Contrary to popular opinion, ignorance is NOT bliss... particularly for the person(s) who are subject to its consequences. Give me a farmer any day over the snobby, stereotypical dude with the fancy car who wouldn't know hospitality if it bit him in the butt.

Max Coutinho said...

Hey Storyteller,

Loved this article, cause I had no idea that a baseball cap could generate such reactions from people *nodding*.

Europeans value their farmers: the vision I, personally, have of them is of being who fluently speak to nature and acquire wisdom of life in this fashion (have you noticed how they always know when it is going to rain? And how they know how the soil will behave? This is precious knowledge to me).

Thanks for teaching me something new...and Hell Yeah: keep wearing that cap :D!


Chrysalis Angel said...

Great post.

If you want to know the measure of a person...appear to be less than what you are, and see if they treat you with kindness and respect or do they treat you as less than they are. You'll know who to call friend then.

Meg said...

My son would love you. He prides himself on being a hick and wears John Deere garb with much pride. We live in a small Southern town and love it.

Anonymous said...

I'm a pharmacist in an area with lots of eastern european immigrants. Since English is not their first language & many are >60 with little desire to learn, its easy to assume they are also slow.

But, I've learned many are retired physicians, college professors, etc and while literate in their own written & spoken word, are illiterate in English. Its tough for them and once I realize their background, I go the extra mile to explain in English as clearly as I can since few can read English.

I'd assume nothing of you if you decide to wear your hat at a sporting event or outdoor venue of some sort (shame on the umpire). However, if you decide to wear same hat inside in a store, restaurant or someone else's home - I'd also assume you to be slow in common courtesy. Hats serve a purpose and function and don't belong inside (with the exception of ladies hats on Easter morning in a place of worship).

My husband wears hats & from the time our son was small enough to follow directions, the rule was to take the hat off when coming inside. He's 25 now & is often complimented on his manners.

Cal said...

We all do it; We judge others by their appearances and make assumptions, make associations based on previous experiences and have preconceived ideas passed on by cultural habits. But we can also make the effort to be aware of ourselves, of our knee-jerk reactions, our illogical conclusions (like farming=slow) and quick inferences and try better next time.

Marie said...

I never would have even noticed your cap never mind looked down on you for it.

That's right, I'm one of the simpletons in the medical profession. lol

Now if said "BRUCE", we know it would be a different story. You would be a Marie-magnet. lol

Anonymous said...

you dont get that treatment in Texas even tho 1/2 of Texans arent native and most now live off the farm/ranch.

Jabulani said...

Hey Jim, somehow I missed this one and just came across it in my Reader. I read it with great interest since my husband is from a farming family. They own one of the largest farms around here (minute by American standards though!!) and it's awash with JD vehicles. When my kids were younger, we had to go out to the fields every harvest to watch the great green combine hacking its way towards us. And yes, I'd agree with the comment that you NEVER want to stand behind a muck just CANNOT get that shit outta your clothes. Ugh...

It's curious. I empathise with your experiences here. When I had children, I chose to give up my working life and concentrate on my kids. When I met people, I used to say I was a stay-home-mom and then would have to endure the sneering looks and infinitesmal steps back as if I was suddenly contagious. Nowadays when asked, I say I do the hardest job in the world. Most people simply don't have a clue and still look blank and gormless when I tell them what the "hardest job" is. I only ever once met a guy - yes, a guy - who when I said this responded "Ah, you're a full-time mother. Good for you. Do you enjoy it?" I was so stunned, I was practically speechless. Yes seriously. Speechless. Well... practically. Let's not go over the top here now ... ;)

Chrysalis Angel said...

Jabulani, I think that is an amazing thing - that you are there everyday to raise your children. No one should sneer at that. If they do...they are ignorant.

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