When waiting can be more accurately described as patience, it is good, which is what Rudyard Kipling meant in his poem entitled “If,” when he said we must “…wait and not be tired by waiting.”

Take A Cold Tater And Wait

By —— Bio and Archives--August 18, 2018

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Take A Cold Tater And Wait
When he wasn’t busy on his Mississippi Delta cotton farm, my father visited other farmers, and sometimes took me with him. In one grower’s office a plaque with a quote by German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe read, “A useless life is an early death.”


That quote puzzled me, so one day while fishing with my boyhood best friend and mentor Jaybird, I asked him what it meant.

“You remember when your daddy turned you over to me and told me to teach you how to work?” I nodded.

“Well, the reason was, he wants you to make your life count. You can’t just sit around, waiting for something to happen; many times you’ve got to make it happen. Lazy folks never get past the waiting part. That’s the kind of folks the sign refers to. They’ve already died, because life has passed them by.”

“Does that mean all waiting is bad?”

“Absolutely not! When you have no choice but to wait, then waiting is all you can do, which is what I did during The Great Depression. We had a saying back in those sad days of poverty and hunger: “Take a cold tater and wait.”

Toward the end of his life, Jaybird’s eyesight began failing, but the old black man refused to stop doing things he loved to do, especially fishing. Before his vision loss, he rigged my pole and paddled while I fished; afterwards, I rigged his pole and paddled while he fished. So that he could see when he was getting a bite, I placed a large, fluorescent red bobber on his line.

On one of our last trips together, the fish weren’t biting, so I set my pole aside and asked Jaybird to describe how unbearable those days in the Great Depression really were, when he and so many others had no choice but to “take a cold tater and wait.”

Little did I realize that I had provided the master teacher an opportunity to impart yet another lesson his student has never forgotten. 

He told me about the abject poverty of his youth, about days when a cold potato might be all that was available to stave off extreme hunger … about days when even a cold potato was not available to eat. When I asked how he endured such ceaseless misery day in and day out, he shrugged and said, “I waited.”

Even though he may not have known it at the time, the purpose of Jaybird’s waiting during those tough years was the molding of an invaluable virtue: self-reliance. He learned to make his way through life by depending on others as little as possible, and he taught me to do the same thing.

When waiting can be more accurately described as patience, it is good, which is what Rudyard Kipling meant in his poem entitled “If,” when he said we must “…wait and not be tired by waiting.”

Or, as Jaybird taught me to do: Take a cold tater and wait.



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Jimmy Reed -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Jimmy Reed is an Oxford, Mississippi resident, Ole Miss alumnus, Army veteran (Vietnam Era), former Mississippi Delta cotton farmer and ginner, author, and retired college teacher. His short story anthology, Boss, Jaybird And Me, is available at Squarebooks.com (telephone: 662-236-2262). His latest collection of faith-based short stories, entitled One Hundred By Five Hundred, is also available at Square Books (telephone: 662-236-2262) and at amazon.com. To receive Reed’s free weekly newsletter, send an email address to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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