Mean has gotten meaner

By Bill Shepard

Another bomb explodes and the count for the dead and injured begins.

Another child is abducted from the home and fear grips the community, and shock waves spread throughout a nation. The search is on, in hopes of finding the evil culprits and bringing them to justice. But can man’s justice atone for such atrocities? “An eye for an eye” sometimes does not seem enough.

It might be said that “old” is younger than it used to be, but “mean” has gotten meaner! They say that age is relative and that it is measured from where one is on the scale. When I was 10 years old, 16 seemed old and 21 was light-years away.

A person having reached 60 was considered the Methuselah of his time, and was referred to as “old and ditty.” Having heard the word “ditty” used so many times in my youth, I decided to look to Mr. Webster for its exact meaning.

Yes, Mr. Webster had it printed in his book and that is usually where all questions about words end. I found the definition that seemed to fit the one used to describe old folk. At least, it made sense to me. It said that the word ditty was used to describe a song that was simple and ineffective.

The next time I hear myself referred to as an old ditty man, I’ll know they are saying that I have reached the age of being ineffective, I’ve done it again. I have waded into water over my head so I better get back to the beginning.

What I really started out to write about is this thing about “Mean getting meaner!” When I was a youngster, and yes, that was a long time ago, I often heard the words “You are as mean as you can be!” My mama would address those words to me sometimes, and especially when she had caught me in some of my mischievous behavior. I can hear her now, “Bill, you’re as mean as you can be!”

The big question is “How mean can mean be?” I suppose the short answer might be, “As mean as the times will afford.”

In a way, a person’s meanness might depend on what he has with which to be mean. A man is limited as to what he can do with his bare hands. When Mama was making her accusations at me, for being as mean as I could be, was when she had discovered me behind the car shed smoking rabbit tobacco or dried fig leaves.

Sometimes, when the truant officer would visit to tell Mama that I had been playing hooky from school, I would hear that line and Mama would really put emphasis on — “Just as mean as you can be!”

I have much to be thankful for. I am so thankful that the times had a limit on how mean I could be. What if there had been all the ways of being mean then that are available to people today?

I shudder to think of how mean I could have been. Instead of smoking rabbit tobacco, I might have been smoking marijuana or using some other form of drugs. Words like marijuana, grass and pot were unheard of in those times — that is, when referring to drugs. Grass was the stuff we hoed out of the yard, and pot was a thing Mama used to cook lima beans in.

Yes, I believe mean has become meaner.

About the closest thing to gambling that I knew was when I played marbles “for keeps,” and some neighbor would call and complain to Mama that I had won all of her child’s marbles. At those times, I could expect to hear those words again, “You are as mean as you can be.”

The only dope I knew anything about was that which was sold at the neighborhood store in a bottle labeled Coca-Cola. It really wasn’t dope; we learned better a long time ago, but it was called that by the village folk and many believed that it was. Even the preacher labeled it as a sin and warned his parishioners to leave the stuff alone.

Sometimes I would find enough of the empty bottles to get one for free, but I always had a guilty feeling about drinking it, especially when I would go to church and listen to the preacher talk about how sinful they were. That is when I would know what Mama meant when she would say, “Bill, you are as mean as you can be.”

I don’t think anyone would disagree when I say that our world has become a meaner place than it once was — what with terrorists spreading fear around the world and suicide bombers blowing up innocent folk in public meeting places.

You can’t compare that kind of meanness with that of fishing on Sunday or playing marbles for keeps. One has to wonder just how long it will be before those horrible things that we read about begin happening where we live.

It’s frightening enough to read about them happening elsewhere, but what if they begin happening in the mall where you and I shop? That is when I am going to charge, just like I know Mama would if she were here, “Mean has become as mean as mean can be!”

Note: One man on our village used to go fishing every Sunday. He could be seen early on Sunday morning headed to the creek with his fishing pole. Now in that day, that action placed him in the category of being as mean as he could be. One day, the way I heard it, this man drew in his fishing line and attached to the hook was the label from a Red Devil lye can. Remember that label — a picture of a red devil holding a pitchfork? It was said that he never again fished on Sunday. Sure would be great, if we could correct the meanness of our day that easily.

Author: Rachel Howell

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