THE LAWSON’S PEAK BOOKS

Characters

Well, I thought yesterday’s column would be my last before Christmas, but here I am again.

I wasn’t thinking clearly, though that’s not a rare occasion. Moreso lately, with lots of my mental resources askew, and I didn’t have that many to spare to begin with.

Resources, you understand, deteriorate with the accumulation of years. Notice I did not say “age” because soon as I do, some old curmudgeon invariably chastises me as being a wet behind the ears young whippersnapper. I look forward to the day when I can be an old curmudgeon myself, rather than just an old character.

My family has been replete with old characters. My father was quite a famous old character, so much so in fact that people came from all over world to experience and revel in his abundance of character. My grandfather, Emile Stouff, was quite the character before him, and from what I understand, I am descended from an unbroken pedigree of old characters.

I had to take on the job early, at age 35, when my dad passed away. Now, my cousin Jim Ray, as the elder male Stouff is a certifiable character as well, and were he a resident of this area, the throne would be his.

However, the Stouff kingdom falls into three realms: the Texas Stouffs, the Reservation Stouffs and the New Orleans Stouffs, but very few actually carry the name anymore due to some strange overabundance of daughters in the gene pool. Consequently, then, Jim is the elder and leader of the Texas Stouffs, myself of the Reservation Stouffs, and I’m not sure who is in charge of the New Orleans Stouffs.

There is a California detachment of Stouffs as well. These are the three major units, though there are individuals scattered across the country that are direct descendants of Jean Pierre Stouff who came to this country in 1845. Consider us the three arms of the Empire, with our satellite arms everywhere. You cannot hide.

Not only that, but my grandmother’s side of the family, the Rogers, were characters of considerable esteem, let me tell you. Fay Rogers Stouff was as character-ridden as any Stouff, and could hold her own against the best of them, including the old man. They came from all over the world to experience her character, too.

There was my Uncle Ray, Dad’s brother, my cousins Floyd and Otis and great-uncle Luther, who was probably the chief character of the Rogers side of the family. Uncle Luther was a shrill-voiced, opinionated man who wasn’t shy about sharing his wisdom with anybody and everybody, and would have been convicted of violating political correctness laws.

Cousin Otis never had a driver’s license, and he lived to be quite a respectable age. He had an impressive collection of traffic tickets stored away, unpaid. My Uncle Ray once sat around at my grandparent’s house during his family’s summer visit to the Rez and whittled a piece of cypress knee into some bizarre creature. When done, he presented it to me and said, “That’s for you, boy. Know what it is?”

“No sir,” I said, staring at this big-browed, bug-eyed monstrosity he had carved.

“That’s a nauga,” he informed me. “A nauga. That’s what they get nauga hide from.”

I was well into my 20s before I figured out he was kidding me.

Now, lest Jim call me down on that one, I admit I do get the punchline of that story confused with another one, where my grandfather did some similarly bizarre wood carving for fun and claimed it was a one-eyed, one-horned, flyin’ purple people eater. I tend to get the two confused, due to my system running low on resources, so either punchline is interchangeable. My motto, adapted from the “Swamp Gravy” team in Georgia, is, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

I started my boys on the road to characterdom early. I would not tolerate foolish questions from them, much to my ex’s chagrin.

If either one came to me while I was, say, planting the tomatoes in the garden and asked, “Whatcha doing?” I would reply something to the effect of, “Washing the car, son, what are you up to?”

They’d furrow their brows and after a moment of deliberation say, “Nuh-uh, you’re planting tomatoes!” In this way, they learned to think on their own and I could keep my few mental resources to myself.

I had the distinct pleasure, too, of explaining to them that those big orange balls on high-power electrical lines were giant tarantula eggs. Mysteriously, we never passed one as it was hatching, much as they longed to see that happen. This one lasted quite a few years before they accused me of making up stories.

Not to be out done, my cousin Jim gave his kids a salt shaker and told them if they sprinkled salt on the tail of a bird it wouldn’t be able to fly, and thus they could catch it. What ensued were endless hours of peace and quiet for him and his wife while the kids were out testing his premise.

Me? I have tried my best to follow in the footsteps of such estimable characters. One day, I’ll be the Official Old Character who sits in the corner at weddings and funerals telling stories in exchange for some rapt attention from the young whippersnappers.

What the world is severely lacking in nowadays is characters, young or old. More often than not, folks look away from characters because their nonconformity makes people uncomfortable in this cookie-cutter world of ours.

I tend to side with author John Gierach, myself: “If people don’t occasionally walk away from you shaking their heads, you’re doing something wrong.”

Again, Merry Christmas!

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