Sunday, January 6, 2013

"The Sounds of Silence"

He was a lean man, maybe you could even describe him as gaunt. Reminded me a little of one of the local Red Dog Hunt Club's Walker hounds after a long deer season. Like he had gone for too long on too little. His eyes were large and had a haunted look about them. (the eyes always seem bigger on a gaunt person) But his hands were what you couldn't help noticing.

His name was Dennis Tischendorf.

Don't know any Tischendorfs in south central VA? Well, me neither. The thing was, we weren't in south central VA at the time.It was 1989 or so and we were living in central Wisconsin. There were all sorts of names in Wisconsin that you could barely get your tongue around. Tischendorf sounds Scandinavian to me, but there were also the Polish ones (most of which ended in "inski" or "owski") and German ones. Where here people tell redneck jokes, out there it was Norwegian and Swedish jokes.

And the people out there thought I had quite an accent. Of course they didn't realize that they were the ones with the accent. Once I was in a store trying to find car washing soap and the clerk led me down the aisle to the udder wash. Thought I wanted to wash cows instead of cars.

How in the world did we land out there, you ask? I wonder sometimes myself. (it seems like a very long ago dream now) We had moved out there and were working for a dairy farmer; we lived in the farm house and I was basically the herdsman. Dennis would stop in every so often and just hang around.

He drove an old brown and white Ford pickup piled high in the back with assorted junk and old tires. I was never sure if he was homeless, but he definitely had the look. Sort of rumpled and stubbly, like maybe he had slept in his truck the night before.

He was a quiet man; like I said, he just sort of hung around and watched for his chance to talk to you. Sometimes he would very apologetically hang his head and ask if he could possibly have a sandwich. I would go to the house and get Mary to make one and take it out to him.

Now it's never nice to  watch someone eat, especially if it's a handout, so I would sort of glance away and give him a little space. But you didn't have to glance away long; give him a few seconds and the sandwich would be gone. I mean gone. And he'd look at you with a look that said he sure could use several more of those. But he never asked.

But I mentioned earlier about his hands. His hands were what you couldn't help noticing and you tried not to keep looking at. You see, his hands were covered with scabs and sores.

I'm sure you're wondering why. Did he have leprosy? No, the reason his hands looked this way is because Dennis constantly wrung his hands and picked at them and they never quite healed.

When Dennis talked, you could tell he was a tortured man. He had done wrong things in the past, he said, and he didn't know what to do about them. He was a former dairy farmer and had once put up a line fence and didn't put it in the right place. He had ran the fence to give himself  the advantage over his neighbor. He had cheated the IRS out of taxes. He said he never kept good books and when it came tax time he would just make the figures look such that he wouldn't owe much of anything.

He also had a truck and did hauling on the side. He would fill his truck with fuel from his off-road farm diesel tank which of course was cheating the government out of taxes as well. There may have been other things, but those are the ones that I remember.

I would try to tell him to just go to the IRS and tell them what he did. I don't think he owned anything other than his old truck so my reasoning was that the IRS people could take one look and realize he wasn't worth going after.

I often wondered if  there was some really big thing that Dennis never told me about. (not that cheating the IRS isn't a big thing, it is to be sure) It just seemed like he was more tortured than most people would be about that sort of thing. I wondered if there was maybe a skeleton long hidden under his barn floor or something similar.

But here's the thing I will never forget about what Dennis told me; it made a lasting impression on me. He would say over and over, "You know, I never gave myself time to think! I would fall asleep in front of the TV at night. In the barn we always had the radio going. When I got in the truck, the first thing I would do is turn the radio on. Oh, if I just would have given myself time to think! I didn't want to think!"

We moved back to VA in 1990 and I often wondered what ever happened to Dennis. I googled his name the other evening and it showed a Dennis Tischendorf that died in 2007 at the age of 73. That would sound about the right age. It listed the towns of Dorchester, Stetsonville, and Abbotsford which all sound right as well. That was the area in which he made his rounds. I wonder if he ever found the peace he craved.

Whenever I think of Dennis, I think mostly about the question of people having time to think. If Dennis had trouble with that in his day, we have ten times the possibility in ours. Electronic devices of all kinds that you can take with you anywhere you go and can fill your every waking minute.

So am I anti-technology? No, there are a lot of good uses for technology. I just happen to think that we need some silence in our diet. Some quietness, so we have some time to think.

Cell phones are great things, but put them away somewhere between calls. It gets to me how some people sit holding their phones on their laps even when they're not using them; like the phone is part of their anatomy that they can't do without. I have this sneaking suspicion that some young people these days are born with their cell phones wired to their belly buttons or somewhere.

I don't get as much silence as I'd like but I do love it. That's one reason I love the middle of the night.
(that's when I started this, it's getting towards morning now) Another place I love is my tree stand.
The old tree stand,thirty-some feet up in an old Hemlock tree

Now I haven't hunted for probably fifteen years. But I still like to spend time there. Myron and I built it many years ago; we would haul boards back there on the canopy of the tractor and I would pull them up one at a time as Myron tied them onto a rope. The most interesting thing of all was in the beginning when I climbed up that far in the tree with the chain saw and cut off the thirty-some feet of tree that was above where the floor of the tree stand is now.

I haven't spent time back there for a year or two now. But I feel it calling my name. I need to take a pilgrimage there soon.

I like to go back there and spend twenty-four hours at a time. Take my sleeping bag and pillow. My Bible and a notebook. A jug of water and that's pretty much it. Well, my cell phone. Sigh. That's for Mary's sake though. So she knows I'm safe and didn't fall out of the tree on the way up and that no bear or mountain lion ate me during the night.

Now I don't know about you, but I'm guessing  that your life is way too busy, too connected to the things of this world, and hasn't had nearly enough silence in it. 

And I know I'm not the doctor, but I'm feeling pretty confident with my diagnosis and about giving you this advice.

Take half a dose of silence and call me in the morning. Just don't be surprised if I don't answer.


  1. More uncommon wisdom on the road less traveled. Keep up the good work!

    Your uncle Harvey

  2. Two comments here. The first is in regards to thinking. That is why I milk... Plenty of time to think... The second comment is in regards to the tree stand. I should probably leave it there??::))