Husband and I just started watching episodes of “How I Met Your Mother” a couple of months ago. We started from the beginning with Season One, Episode One. We’ve been watching them in order these last six or eight weeks, and now we’re already at the end of Season 6. The shows are hilarious, but some of them have meaningful side-stories and undertones that have me thinking for days and days about how it relates to my own real-life world.
The most recent that had that effect on me was an episode about knowledge gaps. Those gaps in a person’s knowledge of which everyone but you is aware. Like how to pronounce a common word, or whether or not the place with the weird name really exists.
It got me thinking about my own gaps in otherwise common knowledge, and I giggled when I remembered my reaction to the discovery of how ignorant I’d been. One such example happened when I was seventeen.
Several of us were down in the dairy barn stripping tobacco. It had been a dairy barn for so long that even though the cows and equipment were gone and the barn repurposed, we still referred to it as though it was an active and viable part of the farm. On this day it was filled with wagons full of dried tobacco stalks and several home-made balers. We would carry an armload of the tobacco to the waist-high table, strip the leaves and sort them by grade, and then carry the piles of leaves to the appropriate bin for baling. The balers were made of a simple wooden frame and we used an old-fashioned car jack to ratchet the top board down into the box as far it would go, compressing the leaves along the way. We’d have to fill up one box for what seemed like a hundred times before we got a good bale out of it.
There were about five or six of us in there, and the crisp afternoon turned into a much cooler evening, which then turned into an incredibly cold night. The barn was made of cinderblocks, and the few windows it housed contained no glass. We had worked until our fingers were numb from endless hours of plucking and tearing, and our feet felt frozen in the damp fall air. The few breaks we took were to trek back up to the house for meals and such. We worked that way for a couple of days, from sun-up until long past midnight, until all the tobacco had been stripped and baled and loaded into the trucks for market.
We talked while we worked. There were amusing anecdotes, stories of childhoods fondly remembered by the elders in the group, and future plans revealed from the youngest among us. Conversation flowed easily while increasingly more bales were produced. When the conversation took a turn toward food, someone mentioned that they had gone by the town’s bakery and noticed that doughnut holes were on sale for a dollar a bag.
I laughed until my sides hurt. At some point I noticed that everyone was staring at me. I had turned into a teenaged lunatic, giggling my ass off for no apparent reason. I think there was a snort or two in my doubled-over and knee-slapping laughter. The center of a doughnut is empty. I couldn’t imagine someone putting up a sign that said the doughnut holes could be bought. I thought it was either a joke or the baker was about to make a killing on money from stupid people with an ingenious new marketing plan that would ensure the buyer got a bag of air for his hard-earned dollar.
I had always just assumed, at least until that day, that when the doughnuts were cut, the little bit that remained on the cutting board got re-rolled into more doughnuts. That gap in my knowledge, once they figured out why I was laughing, got them laughing, too. They each in turn regaled us with their own gaps in otherwise common knowledge.
Their stories helped to ease the feeling of stupidity, but I still shake my head at the memory. I don’t know when bakers starting frying those little bits of dough that came out of the middle, but in the fall of 1985 I still hadn’t heard about them.