Saturday, January 07, 2017

Renaissance Man

A friend reminded me of this favorite quote from Robert Heinlein:
“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

How close have you come to his ideal? Here's my record...

• change a diaper
I learned to sort of almost enjoy changing diapers in a way. After watching the courage and labor of Sheila in delivering our precious little rugrats and then nursing them, and mothering them, it felt good to know there was a necessary unpleasantness that I could do efficiently to make things better.
• plan an invasion
Of play forts in the woods, plastic soldiers in the dirt, and then there's Statego and Chess?
• butcher a hog
Not really, but I was there at about eight with my buddy to watch the process... and step on the bladder to see the dead pig urinate. Strange child.
• conn a ship
Kayaks, canoes, and jon-boats with that old 5 h.p. Johnson motor.
• design a building
Does a small shed count? And worked at a lot of renovation/remodeling of our own homes.
• write a sonnet
In eleventh grade, a poetic plea to the student teacher to get me out of the teacher's class. A a couple of others since.
• balance accounts
• build a wall
• set a bone
No, but a terrifying memory is helping the doc try to pull a bone back into place.
• comfort the dying
I hope. I've tried.
• take orders
A challenge but I've done it.
• give orders
Brief executive experience.
• cooperate
Best work I've ever done.
• act alone
Proudest moment.
• solve equations
• analyze a new problem
• pitch manure
Literally and figuratively. A favorite time was when Kathy Fincher (now Wilson) allowed me to shovel out her stable for the manure which fed the biggest garden I ever raised... out at Chubbtown.
• program a computer
I taught my elementary kids to do exciting stuff like drawing a rectangle with BASIC. Ha!
• cook a tasty meal
Absolutely! I'm pretty good at pantry/frig soup... concocting a palatable combination of items that happen to be in the house at the moment.
• fight efficiently
I've had few opportunities. The highlight of fifth grade was when Mrs. Anderson broke up the fight just at the moment I happen to have rolled on top. Yay!
• die gallantly
Y'all will have to judge that when the time comes. I'm shooting for three digits, but I think I'll be as ready as most if it happens tomorrow.


  1. Of all things, I was trying to find out how beds (mattresses) were constructed in the early part of the 20th century and this led me (google) to Ruth Baird Shaw and her blog. I read through the entire blog. I've loved her stories of the past. I now have her books on order with Amazon. May I ask, is your mother still with us; do I understand her age would be maybe 93 or 94? This is precisely how old my parents would be if they had lived a longer life. The stories of The Greatest Generation are SO IMPORTANT to tell, as she has done. Please tell her how much I enjoyed her blog posts and that I am looking forward to reading her books. Thank you.

    1. Mother has had some serious health problems this year, but was driving till June. Despite that she continues to be active and sharp. She helped with communion at the Palm Sunday service at our church this morning. She turned 94 in February. She recently published a second book of sermons. I will relay your message.

    2. Vicki9:26 PM

      Oh, I appreciate this; thank you. And I'm so glad to hear that, considering her age, she's getting along fairly well (or as well as can be expected). I loved one post where she mentioned greens & beans and cornbread for dinner (plus a glass of buttermilk); the stuff of good health (although my auntie also felt she-herself was blessed with good genes...great-aunt Elizabeth lived to age 97 with only the last few months of her life being terribly challenging [a stroke] although she, too, had stopped driving a few years before she passed...but she never had to wear eyeglasses, still had all her own teeth and lived by herself).

      Unfortunately, my own folks had serious health problems from the ages of their fifties although they both lived into their 80s.

      I bought four of your mother's books.

      Thank you for replying and I didn't mean for it to sound like I was using you solely as a conduit; I will be going back through your posts and catching up to your blog as well. I imagine you, like my husband and I, are perhaps in the retirement-age years, thereabouts. I'm in California.