Billy Davis Column

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 17, 2009

Outdoors, hands-on lifestyle draws fingers away from keyboard

Everybody has a talent, even a horse thief.

I write stories and take pictures. As far as most people know, that’s about it.

My wife Shannon has a lot of talent.

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She bakes bread. She mixes whole wheat flour, honey, and other stuff. She lets it rise, punches the heck out of it, then bakes two loaves at a time in the oven.

That bread tastes delicious. When it’s still freshly baked, it’s so soft you can’t cut it with a bread knife.

Shannon’s bread-making has given way to other endeavors: she uses homemade laundry detergent, homemade coffee creamer, and homemade cleaning products. She makes homemade biscuits, too.

For Christmas she wanted, and got, three books on household uses for salt, vinegar and baking soda.

For her birthday last week, she got a Roma brand food mill. She used that hand-cranking gadget this week to puree a bushel of Better Boy tomatoes – our first batch of 2009 tomato sauce.

Why would she do all that?

First, she lives for it. In her heart beats a passion to be the caretaker of our home. That sounds mighty strange these days, doesn’t it?

I believe fifty years of feminism have suppressed, or even snuffed out, a woman’s innate desire to be a homemaker. The feminists, to their credit, have changed 5,000 years of history in two generations.

Shannon is also striving to be self-reliant. She was baking bread in Memphis, and growing tomatoes in Chicago, long before she met me. That desire has always been there, too.

Her reasoning goes like this: people would be a lot healthier if they read the label on the package of frozen biscuits. They would be much happier, she says, if they took the time to bake their own. 

My reasoning for self-reliance goes like this: if our wobbling fragile economy crashes in on itself, then the more we know how to do for ourselves, the better off we will be.

Soon after Shannon and I married in Southaven, we came up with the now-famous “Five Year Plan.”

Within five years, went the plan, we would flee the traffic-clogged city and settle down in a more rural area of DeSoto County to enjoy the country life.

Two weeks later, I got laid off from The Commercial Appeal. Then I got re-hired here. Then we moved in with my parents (they were overjoyed), and we started raising a garden. We bought pasture land from the Hunts, a hilltop from the Barnetts, and finally built a house.

Shannon and I have disagreed over how many tools I owned when we got married. I still believe I owned a hammer and a screwdriver, but she maintains, and always will, that I owned only a screwdriver.

“Our neighbor gave you a hammer for Christmas because he felt sorry for you,” she has told me more than once, referring to Mr. Bert.

Okay, maybe he did. But Mr. Bert, looking down from above, is surely proud of me now. He has watched me use hammers, screw drivers, wrenches, rakes, hoes, shovels, levels, pliers, handsaws, sledgehammers and axes – all within five years before our Fire Year Plan was set to start. 

Mr. Bert is joined up there by my father-in-law. Papa Harold has watched me cut landscape timbers with a miter saw, plant apple trees with a post-hole digger, and sand the four-wheeler trailer for a new paint job.

I hope he is proud of his son-in-law. 

I write for a living, but I live to be outside. A century of television cannot stamp out a man’s instinct to kill supper and drag it home. Unless you let it.