Tuesday, August 28, 2012


No Respect for Mechanical Genius

Joseph Mitchell (1908-1996), "Uncle Dockery and the Independent Bull," in Up in the Old Hotel and Other Stories (1992; rpt. New York: Vintage Books, 1993), pp. 364-370 (at 364):
I often find it comforting to think of Uncle Dockery Fitzsimmons, a serene old bright-leaf tobacco farmer who lives in Black Ankle County, about six miles from Stonewall. He is the only man I have ever known who has absolutely no respect for the mechanical genius of Western civilization. One day, when I was about fifteen, we we were fishing Little Rump River for blue bream and a motorboat chugged by, scaring all the fish to the bed of the river, and Uncle Dockery said, "Son, the only inventions that make sense to me are the shotgun, the two-horse wagon, the butter churn, and the frying pan. Sooner or later such contraptions as the motorboat will drive the whole human race into Dix Hill." Dix Hill is a suburb of Raleigh, where the North Carolina State Asylum for the Insane is located.

Uncle Dockery is still opposed to the automobile. "I don't want to go nowhere," he used to say, "that a mule can't take me." His hatred of automobiles embraces people who ride in them. One summer afternoon we were sitting on his veranda, eating a watermelon, when a neighbor ran up the road and said, "There's been a terrible auto accident up on the highway, Mr. Fitzsimmons." The news pleased Uncle Dockery. He placed his rasher of watermelon on the rail of the veranda, smiled broadly, and asked, "How many killed?" "Four," said the neighbor. "Well, that's just fine," said Uncle Dockery. "Where were they going in such a rush?" "They were going to the beach for a swim," said the neighbor. Uncle Dockery nodded with satisfaction and said, "I guess they figured the Atlantic Ocean wouldn't wait."


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