What I am Supposed to Know
I am frequently told that I am “supposed to know” how to act my age, close the refrigerator door, and keep my mouth shut. I am also supposed to know enough to plan ahead, chew slowly, and swallow my pride.
Instead, I know that rabbits run in circles (unless they hole up) and that if you see a deer at the edge of a field at twilight, it will probably be nearby in the morning. I know that you should mow a field just before the goldenrod goes to seed (but not before), that the best way to tell sugar maple from red is to examine the bark, and that divining for water actually works. I don’t know for sure that dried nettles help with hay fever or that planting on a full moon speeds up germination, but I have been told they do. I don’t believe that the planets rule our lives or that life is fair, but I do believe that what goes around comes around.
I am supposed to know the names of actors, divas, rap stars, and other celebrities, but all I remember is the name of the dog at Sherman’s Country Store. I am told that I should keep up with politics but am more interested in why my daughter Caroline found three nuns in our raspberry patch and why our town keeps spending so much money on paving roads.
I am told that I am supposed to know myself.
I know that if an old car won’t restart on a hot day, check the spark plug wires and the coil even though everyone tells you it’s vapor lock. If your tractor won’t turn over, clean the battery cables and posts. And if you have steam heat in your house, don’t forget to drain off some of the water every week by the furnace; it gets sludgy.
But I don’t know why there is no unified theory of the universe. I don’t know what the president is told on his first day in office. I don’t know why World War I became a world war. Most of all, I don’t know why people drink kombucha and wear yoga clothes to the mall.
I also don’t know why people look like their dogs.
I once knew that the best thing to do after making homemade peach ice cream was to eat the whole bucket. I also used to know that fruit cobbler is a main course when the berries are ripe and that eating a half-dozen ears of sweet corn in one sitting is perfectly respectable in mid-August. I also knew that the comic book ads for X-ray glasses were just a gimmick, but I still believed.
Yet I haven’t forgotten that twilight was a time of childhood magic, as the branches of the Dutch elm outside my bedroom window rustled in the gloaming. Or that a swarm of honeybees moves across a hayfield in a swirling column. Or that to plunge into an ice-cold pond after haying with sunburned neck and hayseed eyes is a form of baptism. Or that watching crows land on the branches of a dead oak at the edge of our pasture was once a pastime. Or that there really is a Santa Claus; I saw his sleigh in the lower meadow one moonlit Christmas Eve.
When I am told something I don’t know—that a coon can drown a dog, for example—then I know I still have a lot to learn. I still don’t know who put the bomp in the bomp, bomp, bomp or whom to call for advice now that my parents are long gone. Some things I always have to look up: the real name of the Wicked Witch of the West (Elphaba), our assassinated presidents (Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy), and the difference between a yawl and a ketch. And some things I don’t care about, whether it is the Kardashians or what really happened at Area 51: If it really was the site of an alien crash landing, that’s fine with me. I’m glad they landed in Nevada, not Vermont.
The problem is that I know too much for my own good. But that sounds a lot like an excuse. As I said, I’m supposed to know better.