Saturday, October 2, 2010

Something of Value

I read Robert Ruark's book Something of Value when I was a kid. It was the first book that I read by him and told a tale of the Mau-Mau uprising and terror in Africa.  He included a Basuto Proverb that states:
"If a man does away with his traditional way of living and throws away his good customs, he had better first make certain that he has something of value to replace them."

But it was Ruark's The Old Man and the Boy that I have read and re-read.  It reminds me of the days that I spent with my father fishing.  The Old Man was Ruark's grandfather.  Robert Ruark was from a small town in North Carolina.  He was a Southerner so I identified with his writings about the estuaries and marshes and fishes in the book. There are stories here that will break your heart clean in two with their aching beauty, their crystal clear images, the smells and tastes of a life spent in rural North Carolina before television.  It is also a story of a South which is, so very unfortunately, very nearly gone. It's not a story just of jasmine, polite living and fireflies, but of guns and men and the explosion of a covey of quail, glittering in the early morning sun.  Thankfully, it is not politically correct. It's a story of a deep love of nature and a deep love of the people who respect it.

The Old Man became a solace and source of wisdom for young Robert.  Ruark writes of an idyllic time which no doubt he had with his grandfather.  But in other writings, Ruark tells of having to fight with other school children on a regular basis because he was "fat" and his middle name was Chester, "and Chester is hilarious in the South". Ruark also speaks of being a "bookish brat (who) didn't give a damn for ordinary sports, possibly because I am clumsy and slow". 

As he writes in the book: "When you are as old as the Old Man, you know a lot of things that you forgot you ever knew, because they've been a part of you so long".  I think that many of us get to a point where there is so much experience that we just do things, forgetting how we ever knew them.

But the tragedy of Robert Ruark is that he forgot what his Old Man taught him.  He became caught up in trying to emulate Ernest Hemingway--hard living and hard drinking.  He forgot about North Carolina and the marshes and fishes in his journey.  And when he went back to the coast there, not many people cared for the Robert who showed up. 

There was a self-destructive flaw in Ruark that seemed to hate success or at least disbelieve that he was successful.  His idea of success was to be a two fisted hard drinking "man's man".  His drinking became out of control.  The Boy despite the Old Man's example, was an alcoholic. Periodically told that his drinking was killing him, Ruark would stop or cut down for a brief time, but he could never make it stick and he could never hold his intemperance to moderation. Both his writing and his personal life suffered.

He died at age 50 most likely as a result of alcoholism.  I wish that he could have remembered the words of the Old Man and the Basuto Proverb.


  1. oh man...i need to pick up this book...and i wish he had only listened...

  2. Your share today makes me want to read his book, as sad as it ends. (I like happy endings, the Al-anoner that I am). I have been in NC for 20 years and have come to love deeply the sandhills and dunes on the OBX. I have good memories of my grandfather showing me how to clean a fish and bait a hook. Your post today went to my heart.


  3. It's odd how many of us alcoholics started out with Hemingway on our minds. I thought such suffering was artistic.

  4. I, too, have a deep love for the South, slow walking, southern drawl, honeysuckle and dogwood trees, and moss. Many years of my childhood was growing up in North Carolina. I have said often, "God lives there." Great post. I will look for this book.

  5. It's the same as me, I was always told to stop my drinking cause it will ruin my life. I been trying to regulate all the time but It always ends up with.. But I have decided to stop. The only way is to quit drinking. Never ever get that 1st drink.

  6. Fishing..I hated it as a young girl.
    There was heavy drinking involved on many trips with my Dad.
    But as time passed I realized how sitting in a boat or bank gave me the ability to sit still in nature. This was a gift I have taken through my life.

  7. Thanks for the post, am always looking for good reads! Howard Frank Mosher has
    a number of fictional books I love for the depth of insight and 'wild' wisdom-
    "A Stranger in the Kingdom" was my intro to him. (Some are too heavy with his dedication to baseball) but there are others to treasure...

  8. Apparently he also wrote The Old Man's Boy Grows Older. I am wondering if The Old Man and the Boy is to men what Little Women is to women.

  9. Choices Syd. Choices it is all about the ramifications for good or ill of the choices.

  10. I see alcoholics every day who are trying to beat the disease... and, unfortunately, so many of them go back out. As our BB says it's a "cunning and baffling disease".

  11. Sounds like a great book, I'll have to keep the title in mind as I move through more reading.

    Good thing I have a never ending list :)

  12. Well Syd I think you could just as easily write an historical fiction or non-fiction novel as any other kind. I loved this and I had never heard of these people. It was fascinating to me. When will you start writing a book?


  13. Thanks for the tip on this, Syd. It sounds like my kind of book. I'll order it from Amazon soon.

    Have you read "A River Runs Through It"? It is similarly beautiful.


Let me know what you think. I like reading what you have to say.