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Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Most Contentious Man This World Has Ever Seen

I have been re-reading one of my favorite books, East of Eden by John Steinbeck.  I love Steinbeck. 

In this passage Samuel Hamilton is preparing to visit his friend and neighbor, Adam Trask, in order to help bring him out of a year-long funk.  Adam’s wife, Cathy, had shot him and abandoned him and their newly born twin sons.  Samuel is charged by his wife with making sure that those boys have names. 
In the midst of painting the blacking on his worn shoes he looked sideways up at her. “Could I take the Bible along?” he asked.  “There’s no place for getting a good name like the Bible.”
“I don’t much like it out of the house,” she said uneasily.  “And if you’re late coming home, what’ll I have for my reading?  And the children’s names are in it.” She saw his face fall.  She went into the bedroom and came back with a small Bible, worn and scuffed, its cover held on by brown paper and glue. “Take this one,” she said.
“But that’s your mother’s.”
“She wouldn’t mind.  And all the names but one in here have two dates.”
“I’ll wrap it so it won’t get hurt,” said Samuel.
Liza spoke sharply, “What my mother would mind is what I mind, and I’ll tell you what I mind. You’re never satisfied to let the Testament alone.  You’re forever picking at it and questioning it. You turn it over the way a ‘coon turns over a wet rock, and it angers me.”
“I’m just trying to understand it, Mother.”
“What’s there to understand? Just read it.  There it is in black and white.  Who wants you to understand it?  If the Lord God want you to understand it He’d have given you to understand or He’d have set it down different.”
“But, Mother-“
“Samuel,” she said, “you’re the most contentious man this world has ever seen.”
“Yes, Mother.”
“Don’t agree with me all the time. It hints of insincerity. Speak up for yourself.”
“She looked after his dark figure in the buggy as he drove away.  “He’s a sweet husband,” she said aloud, “but contentious.”
And Samuel was thinking with wonder, Just when I think I know her she does a thing like that.

I recognize something of Samuel in myself-though I never refer to my wife as “mother.”  That’s just weird.

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