Sometimes, we are blessed to meet someone who introduces us to a new side of ourselves. That happened when I met the Redneck.
I was at a gathering of women at a retreat center when it was reported to me that a toilet would not flush. I had been told to take any problems to the maintenance man and how to find him.
I hiked up the road and rang his doorbell. While waiting for him to answer, I noticed a curtain between us. It was multiple hanging strings of beer cans decorated with American flags. My mind leaped to the obvious.
He came to the door, we had the toilet talk and I left smelling of cigarette smoke, my judgmental opinion influenced by the smell.
The next morning, I needed to report another plumbing problem. I hiked back up to his front door. This time he saw me coming and called for me to, “Come on in.”
I entered and spread the above-mentioned curtain to see him smoking in his recliner. I laughed and said, “Wow, I got to walk through your beer can curtain!"
He said, “Yup, I’m a Redneck. That’s the ‘Redneck Curtain of Peace.’”
Whoa! Who was that masked man? He claims to be a Redneck, smokes like a chimney, and has a curtain of peace!
I laughed, a bit unnerved, and proceeded to the problem I had come to report.
Then I asked him about the saloon doors hanging between his living room and kitchen. He told me he always wanted to build a set of saloon doors and recently decided to do so. He also told me he had volunteered at the center for nine years and then was offered the maintenance job in 1989. He built all the residence halls. I was impressed and unnerved by the ease with which I had categorized this man.
He also told me he was retiring at the end of October, returning to Louisiana to be with his girls and his 84-year-old mother.
Again I asked myself, “Who is this man?” I knew he was deeper and wider than the picture I had painted of him.
I decided to tell my Redneck story to the women at the retreat, confessing my judgmental leap. Someone suggested we go sing to him.
So 60 or so of us hiked to his front door. He came out, a bit unnerved. I introduced him and we sang. If a Redneck could be moved by a herd of women, he was. “No one has ever done that before,” he said.
We stood together for a bit after they all left, a Redneck and a Liberal. We talked of life and family and shared a smoky hug, both of us in a changed reality.