Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Fox hunting and building trust

One of my dad's friends was an old dairy farmer named Archie Mayle. Archie had several sons and grandsons who all lived close by and helped out with milking and the farm.

The two activities that my dad and Archie had in common were fox hunting and making hard cider (think - apple moonshine).

Now understand that fox hunting in southern Ohio in the early '70's consisted of three or four farmers and their sons going out into the woods on a Friday night, building a big bonfire and turning the dogs loose.

For the next several hours we'd all sit by the fire and listen to the dogs as they picked up the scent of a fox and then trailed him.

You could tell if the dogs had picked up a scent and you could tell when they lost it - all by tone and length of their bark.

Each farmer knew the sound of his own dog and each would stand around the fire and brag about how he knew his dog was out in front because of the urgency he heard in the dog's howling.

Of course the consumption of large quantities of homemade hard cider had no influence whatsoever on a farmer's hearing!

One Friday night after a late hunt I ended up in bed at Archie's house instead of my own. The next morning, after the milking, nine of us sat down around the long table in Grandma Mayle's kitchen. Grandma Mayle's greatest joy in life seemed to be cooking for her extended family.

On the table were fried and scrambled eggs, ham, country sausage, the homemade biscuits with red eye gravy, crisp bacon, heaps of fried potatoes and buttery grits. Mrs.. Mayle always had fresh sliced tomatoes and home canned peaches on the breakfast table as well. It was a feast for the senses and one of my favorite childhood memories.

I was able to share in that experience because there was a sense of trust between our families. My family trusted theirs and they trusted ours. And that sense of trust existed between our families because we did things together.

It was the early 1970's in rural southern Ohio and there weren't many black and white family friendships like ours.

My dad and Archie did not see themselves as anything special, just farmers who were friends.

As a young person, those experiences of building "social capital" that crossed cultural lines had an important impact on my life and the way I would interact with people later in life.

Throughout our lives it is important to keep ourselves open to relationships with others different from ourselves because those relationships build trust.


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