Pulled Away By Expectation: Jayber Crow Discussion Group (10)

Now that I have pulled all the carrots with my grandson and hunted down the last of the red tomatoes, the gardening season is behind me. My sunflowers stand hanging their heads in resignation, but they’re still beautiful to me because I’m already thinking ahead to next year’s planting:  strategizing (No more eggplant!  I give up!); reworking the flower to veggie ratio (definitely more zinnias); planning for at least one more row of green beans.

Gardeners are just that way, so I completely identified with Jayber Crow’s delight in the “way fresh young plants had looked in the long rows behind the shop.” I even empathize with his waxing lyrical (and a trifle cheesy) that their beauty “had been art and music” to him. With Jayber’s move from the village barbershop, the furrowed ground and the planted seeds of a new location have served as a bridge from the old home to the new, and Jayber found he could leave behind 32 years of history because “expectation pulled [his] mind away.”

As I make plans for our unwieldy 2018 garden, I also want to leave room in my heart for the expectation of realities beyond this visible world. I’ve been grumpy today, tired of this particular set of challenges and disillusioned with the steady flow of projects and maintenance that go with living in the same house for nearly 24 years. Earth-bound and mired in the here and now, my expectation is paltry and my mind is preoccupied with temporal concerns. It’s time to take myself by the scruff of the neck and to let expectation of spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus “pull my mind away” from the heaviness of discouragement.


One last time, Jayber hung the paper clock on the door of the Port William barbershop, but instead of its vague promise of a 6:30 return, he wrote GONE, and with that, came to another ending and a parting of the ways after having spent 32 of his 54 years on that piece of real estate. Leaving the land of loafing and wakefulness, Jayber is once again aided and abetted by his friend Burley who takes such “satisfaction in seeing [Jayber] well set up in the world.”

About Burley. . .
I found myself alternately charmed and repelled by this scalliwag, and Berry describes his common law relationship with Kate Branch and Danny’s paternity without commentary, of course, but I resent Burley’s lackadaisical attitude toward marriage. Somehow, though, the man who coined the term “Membership” as the descriptor for the featured families of Port William managed to settle into a very cozy domestic arrangement for himself years after Kate had passed away. I had a lump in my throat as Jayber laid out the beautiful collegiality there in the Branch household with its economy based on bootleg haircuts and family suppers,  “making something of nearly nothing,” and being “tight of pocket” but “free of heart.” Multi-generational households are challenging, but this fictional arrangement spoke to me about the importance of a sense of humor and good solid boundaries for everyone in making it work.

Good Fiction!

I smiled when Jayber described Danny’s stand-offish-ness as “favor[ing] Nathan more than Burley.” When an author has created a community and a cast of characters that can flow in and out of the books of a series and have me nodding my head in agreement over the hereditary traits of a fictional character, that’s GOOD fiction! I hope some of you will have the opportunity to read Nathan Coulter (the first in the series which I have still not read) or Hannah Coulter some time soon. (I’ve actually heard a rumor that there is going to be a group reading Hannah together next year, so I’ll keep you posted.)

Randomly Offered Observations

Jayber’s delight in his surroundings are likely an effect of Wendell Berry’s enjoyment of the outdoors as well as his keen observation skills. I found myself re-reading sections of his description of his surroundings there on the river:  the way new nailheads gleam in old boards; personification everywhere, but especially the way the “tree seemed to be offering itself to the use of the birds” — in much the same way Burley offered “the use of” the cabin to Jayber.

This section (I thought) was highly descriptive in many ways. When Jayber goes to find his boat in the fog:

“The boat takes shape at first as though it is floating in the air. And then, coming closer, I see its reflection on the water.” (322)

I could see this so clearly, but did you notice how Berry kept our attention for several pages at a time with zero action and nothing but cerebral meanderings and exquisite description? For instance, this wondering about reflections:

“When the air is still, then so is the surface of the river. Then it holds a perfectly silent image of the world that seems not to exist in this world. Where, I have asked myself, is this reflection? It is not on the top of the water, for if there is a little current the river can slide frictionlessly and freely beneath the reflection and the reflection does not move.”

How have I lived all these years and never wondered about that?

Jayber Crow the orphan was well-served by the Branch family’s warm welcome, and by the fatherly friendship Burley offered him for forty years. Is anyone else wildly curious about the last days of Burley Coulter? It’s hard to believe such an important character could “disappear clean out of the present world” without it being part of someone’s story. I’m wondering if Berry addresses his demise in any of his other books . . .

Danny’s understanding of The Depression is similar to Jayber’s characterization of The War — as something that’s always present, underground, and waiting to burst forth. There’s a fine line between “preparedness” (which is a good thing) and a scarcity mindset based in the notion that there’s always another boot of adversity waiting to drop. I grew up in the era of long lines at the gas pumps and dire predictions about the availability of oil. How about you? Can you identify with Danny as a “child of the Depression?”

As Jayber shares his dreams (good and bad) and as we read pages and pages of his internal dialogue, we get even more insight into the intrepid bachelor in his bootleg barbershop.

I’ve enjoyed this particular tendency in Jayber:

“I try not to let good things go by unnoticed.”

And there is so much good.
Annie Dillard joins Jayber in this paying attention, and she says it so beautifully:

“We are here to abet creation and to witness it, to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but we notice each other’s beautiful face and complex nature so that creation need not play to an empty house.”

I look forward to reading your insights, either in the comments section below, or in your own blog posts. Please share links so this party can reconvene at your place!

I’ll be here next Thursday (November 16) having finished the book one more time!



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40 thoughts on “Pulled Away By Expectation: Jayber Crow Discussion Group (10)”

  1. Where, I have asked myself, is this reflection?
    Oh how I adore a short string of ordinary words that has the power to shake me awake. That startles my dulled down dozed off senses. I think it builds neuron paths. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wendell Berry’s words reveal his poet’s heart. And I do think reading poetry and words that carry us into the beauty must do something wonderful for our brains.
      You’ve certainly got a good network of neuron paths running to and fro!


  2. I think that’s the key to navigating any change. There may be grief at what’s been left behind, but looking “with expectation” at the new situation helps us gain the most from it and enjoy it fully. I hadn’t caught that description of the river’s reflection and how it doesn’t move though the current does. I love passages that make you think, “I never thought of it like that, but that describes it perfectly in ways I could not have expressed.”

    I was frustrated with Burley, too, I know people like that, who’d do anything for you and can be a good friend, yet have that “scallywag” side to them.

    I enjoyed Jayber’s times with Danny’s family, too, and was glad he got to experience family life for a bit. I’m not nearly as laid back as Danny’s wife, and I admired that about her.

    I finished my review this morning (https://barbarah.wordpress.com/2017/11/09/discussion-of-jayber-crow/). I had trouble ending it because I kept thinking of things I wanted to discuss. 🙂

    I was thinking of reading Hannah Coulter, so I am excited to see there might be a discussion group for it. I’ll wait on it til I hear more about that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel your pain in ending that review. Even now, I’m thinking of a couple of things I wish I had covered somewhere. Jayber’s thoughts on Heaven, for instance. So hard to keep the word count readable and yet do the content justice. I’m so excited to read your review, Barbara. And I’ll share it tomorrow on Facebook with any others that get shared.
      I’ve really enjoyed your regular contribution of insights to this extended conversation. One more week to go! (Unbelievable!)


    2. Smiled about your admission that you’re “not nearly as laid back” as Danny’s wife. I’m working on this trait myself as well, because adult children have a way of coming and going and bringing extra people with them, and I always want them to feel good about coming no matter when. (Like even if I was just beginning to think I’d lie to put on my jammies and read, but instead I make baby pizzas for a half dozen people and throw brownies into the oven which are devoured hot and leave crumbs all over the place.) I’m so glad you got around to reviewing the book, and have appreciated your insights here in the comments. So wonderful to be sharing a book with friends.


  3. I’ve not been reading Jayber Crow, but I like to drop by and see y’all’s discussion of it. I can always get something out of it.

    For instance, this spoke to me: “I try not to let good things go by unnoticed.” I want to be a noticer of good things, too. I kind of need it, in the world I live in today!


    1. You can guess why that sentence stood out to me, Jerralea! I am also a noticer of the negative, picking out the “errors” as if I were the editor in chief of the universe. Jayber helps my perspective so much. And I’m glad for your visits and thankful for your input.


  4. My own reflections on living in the fog, with some pics… are here– https://dictationbydawn.wordpress.com

    I too had a hard time getting it all in. There were so many lovely quotes pertaining to Jayber’s enjoyment of nature! But alas my ‘clipping’ space on my Kindle was full. So there were time limitations to copying out too many of Berry’s good words. What a nature lover though and I enjoyed Jayber’s new place with him!
    I love it when someone can put in words what I have experienced but wouldn’t know how to tell…
    Thanks again, Michele, for faithfully appearing here come what disgruntlement may…


  5. Dear Michele, I agree with your comment last week, that this week’s chapters had some of Berry’s finest writing in them! I loved his vivid descriptions of nature, and like Linda, had so many highlighted that I didn’t know which to choose from! I guess that God knew which way He wanted to send my heart this week, and He sent me to the sections that related to the feeling of family and home that Jayber experienced with the Coulter family. And, yes, I have had some family members that lived through the depression years and took up that “make-do” mentality. It makes for some interesting experiences, and different ways of looking at using what’s available! Thank you again for opening up your place for all of our discussions! You are a great teacher! Here’s my link for the week:


  6. I suppose one of the few things we can depend on anymore is change.
    I enjoyed this post, a lot and so glad I popped over from #BloggersPitStop (always happy to be here).
    Hope this weekend treats you kindly. 🙂


  7. Your words are like music, Michele! I haven’t even read this book , yet am drawn in by your review! But I can’t believe you’ve never once wondered about the reflection bit… That is something I ponder often! Blessings!


  8. “I also want to leave room in my heart for the expectation of realities beyond this visible world.” This sentence jumped out at me. So often I am caught up in my own expectations which are far from the realities beyond the visible world.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. The “GONE” sign struck me too…one word with much meaning. It wasn’t just Jayber that was gone. The town and it’s simple times were fading. There would never be another barber shop in Port William. And where did Jayber find renters?

    As I read the description of the camp house I did think that Jayber was ahead of his time, living in one of the first houses modernly termed as a “tiny house.” But what more did he need? He had no wife or heir. Himself and the occasional drop in looking for a haircut. I did enjoy reading the description of how he made it his own. The telling of it me of a child standing proud at his accomplishments.

    The account of how Danny came to be and Burley never making an honest woman out of Kate tells me that there is nothing new under the sun. It makes me sad. We often think the sin of the world was non existent in the generations past, but out of wedlock babies have been born for all of time.

    Does Jayber finally belong? In a little shack by the river surrounded by all things nature with Burley’s sons family becoming his family, mainly it seems because Lyda decides so.

    No one wishes to mention Jayber’s dream at the end of the last chapter…I don’t blame you. To think that he has joined those gone before can only mean one thing…


    1. Ha! Jayber as pioneer tiny house dweller! Now that’s a thought I didn’t have!
      I also thought about the unlikely prospect of Jayber finding renters in a dying town, but at some point he laments their destructive presence, so I guess he wasn’t fussy about who he rented to.
      Good that you mentioned that dream. I’ll admit that I don’t have a clear picture of its significance. I have had the experience of dreaming about conversations with people who have passed away, and it’s very unsettling. Jayber seemed to find the dream to be a joyful reunion, so I wonder if he “realized where he was” and was thinking of heaven or some such thing. I’d love to know what you — and others — thought.


      1. There wasn’t really a need to have good renters was there? It wasn’t likely there would be a future use for the building.

        I rarely remember dreams, so I have no personal experience to go from. My initial thought was that Mr. Berry is so creative that he finished Jayber’s life before he finished the book.

        Those last sentence zingers in nearly every chapter still get me.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. RE: Jayber’s dream… I assume Berry was referencing heaven as a glad reunion with all the ‘buddies’ of earth. In any of these man-made scenarios a key figure is generally missing. Though there will be ‘pleasures forevermore’ when we get there, Jesus will be the main thing! Any picture with Him in the periphery or absent, is a false vision of heaven. I just chalked this one up to a happy dream and gave Berry the benefit of the doubt.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Michele, although I have not been reading the book along with you, I so love coming to read these posts. You grabbed me at this line > “It’s time to take myself by the scruff of the neck and to let expectation of spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus “pull my mind away” from the heaviness of discouragement.” There are time we must be intentional in order to get past the feeling of discouragement. This was such a good reminder.


    1. Thanks, Joanne. There seems to be a ratio between grit and grace that I struggle to stay on the healthy side of, and I can always tell I’m slipping when I get grumpy. I appreciate your reading along with this series as you’ve been able.


  11. I think it is wise to make room for reality when we make our plans. That way our expectations won’t be too frustrating if it didn’t come to pass.


  12. Great thoughts, Michele. Especially love this vulnerable thought and truth, It’s time to take myself by the scruff of the neck and to let expectation of spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus “pull my mind away” from the heaviness of discouragement. Yes! I love Ephesians 1:3. The idea of expecting the spiritual blessings we’ve been given in Christ, pulling our minds away…that’s good stuff right there. That will preach! Blessings!


  13. Thanks for faithfully walking us through your thoughts on this book, Michele. And I’m with you on putting my mind on things above most days. It is becoming more and more my habit to deal with the stress of my life–sit with Jesus in the heavenly realms! Thanks so much!


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