I have been fascinated by hammocks for as long as I can remember. We didn't have one when I was growing up on that southwestern Kentucky dairy farm in the 50s and 60s. I suppose it seemed too highfalutin for us country folks. Maybe it was overly suggestive of leisure and pleasure. Maybe Dad didn't want the whole world seeing him take it easy, even if it was only for a few minutes.
He took a short nap nearly every day right after lunch. He'd stretch out on the floor of the living room and sleep for 15 or 20 minutes.
But that was safely away from the prying eyes of the world. For all they knew, he was hard at work on the back forty or cutting firewood down in the bottoms or putting up a new fence or repairing an old one. No sir, no sign of a hammock on the Arnett place, even though there were three huge maple trees in our yard and plenty of other places where one could be strung up.
I also considered the possibility that hammocks were just too darned expensive. They sort of looked expensive. All those cords, all that fabric. Hammocks had to be more expensive than bare ground or a patch of grass.
I'd seen hammocks, occasionally, as we were driving through town, especially in the parts of town where the nicer houses stood. Hammocks tied to trees. Sometimes, even a hammock anchored to a couple of eyebolts in a porch ceiling.
Once, I even got to see one up close.
We were visiting a church family. More accurately, we were eating dinner with them. Back in those days, being as how the preacher lived so far away from the church, there'd be a sign-up sheet for feeding the preacher and his family, so he didn't have to drive back home and then come back for evening services.
A lot of the times, as I remember, it was just Dad and me, but sometimes it might be the whole bunch of us. I'm guessing that even the more hospitable folks preferred just having two or three guests instead of a half dozen. But anyway, back to the hammock.
Cotton cords threaded through holes cut in a wooden stretcher at each end were raveled together to form the anchor ropes. Each of those was tied around a tree. The middle of the hammock hung about three feet above the ground, which was pretty close to the height at which my head hung above the ground at the time.
I asked Dad if I could get on it. "Ask Mr. Ernest," he replied. Mr. Ernest said I could try, "But don't be too surprised if that thing flips you upside down on the ground." That was so discouraging, I didn't even try. Just stood beside it, wishing I was tall enough that I wouldn't have to climb up on it.
A few years later, with my head hanging a bit higher from the ground, we visited someone else who had a hammock. I followed the appropriate requisition process and again received a cautious approval, "Don't let that thing flip you upside down on the ground."
I was beginning to feel like Ralphie in his quest for a Red Ryder B-B gun.
I approached cautiously, testing my weight against the side of the hammock. It instantly pivoted, of course, and would have flipped me upside down on the ground if I'd been less wary.
But I figured out that I could push down on the side and ease my rear end into the sling of the hammock, then swing my feet up and around without encountering any drama of gravity.
It was pure joy. I rocked back and forth, swung side to side and grinned as wide as a horse eating thistle blooms. I was ready to request immediate adoption privileges, but lost my nerve. Instead, I just imagined some day I'd have my own hammock.
It took more than 50 years, but I finally got one. It's not one of those fancy cotton corded deals, just a basic nylon deal. But it swings perfectly from side to side and I rock away in that thing right in full view of the neighbors, the letter carrier and the whole passing-by world.
And I still haven't flipped myself upside down on the ground. And by the way, I'll get back to painting the garage when I'm good and ready.
It's a mighty fine thing when something in life that looks so fine turns out to be so fine. Things like hammocks, homemade biscuits and getting along with other folks. Mighty fine things, those.
Doc Arnett was a professional educator and bi-vocational minister for more than 40 years. He currently pastors the Community Church of South Haven.