Berrian addendum

About halfway through Berry’s essay one comes upon this perhaps-puzzling sentence:

The present scientific quest for odourless hog manure should give us sufficient proof that the specialist is no longer with us.

I reckon that this is an allusion to Chic Sale’s Lem Putt, introduced to the world in The Specialist (1929), a classic that should be better known. If it’s new to you, the whole text (including William Kermode’s illustrations) is available, and it won’t take you 10 minutes to read her. The first paragraph may convince you that you should:

YOU’VE heard a lot of pratin’ and prattlin’ about this bein’ the age of specialization. I’m a carpenter by trade. At one time I could of built a house, barn, church, or chicken coop. But I seen the need of a specialist in my line, so I studied her. I got her, she’s mine. Gentlemen, you are face to face with the champion privy builder of Sangamon County.

The book is full of Berryesque advice, grounded in good rural precedent and practice:

No, sir, I sez, put her in a straight line with the house and, if it’s all the same to you have her go past the woodpile. I’ll tell you why.

Take a woman, fer instance — out she goes. On the way she’ll gather five sticks of wood, and the average woman will make four or five trips a day. There’s twenty sticks in the wood box without any trouble. On the other hand, take a timid woman: if she sees any men folks around, she’s too bashful to go direct out so she’ll go to the woodpile, pick up the wood, go back to the house and watch her chance. The average timid woman — especially a new hired girl — I’ve knowed to make as many as ten trips to the woodpile before she goes in, regardless. On a good day you’ll have the wood box filled by noon, and right there is a savin’ of time.

“Now, about the diggin’ of her. You can’t be too careful about that,” I sez; “dig her deep and dig her wide. It’s a mighty sight better to have a little privy over a big hole than a big privy over a little hole. Another thing; when you dig her deep you’ve got ‘er dug; and you ain’t got that disconcertin’ thought stealin’ over you that sooner or later you’ll have to dig again.

“And when it comes to construction,” I sez, “I can give you joists or beams. Joists make a good job. Beams cost a bit more, but they’re worth it. Beams, you might say, will last forever. ‘Course I could give you joists, but take your Aunt Emmy: she ain’t gettin’ a mite lighter. Some day she might be out there when them joists give way and there she’d be — catched. Another thing you’ve go to figger on, Elmer,” I sez, “is that Odd Fellows picnic in the fall. Them boys is goin’ to get in there in four and sixes, singin’ and drinkin’ and the like, and I want to tell you there’s nothin’ breaks up an Odd Fellows picnic quicker than a diggin’ party. Beams, I say, every time, and rest secure.

See? Classic, like I said. And I’ll bet that Wendell Berry knows all about Lem Putt –see the Humanure page.