Column: Somebody just had to cut this know-it-all down to size

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 31, 2002

I am a grandfather. I have two grandchildren &045; the doctor is five years old and the lawyer nearly two. My mother always said that grandchildren are the gifts we are given for not killing our teenagers.

I bring up the fact that I am a grandfather for two reasons. Number one, I am a grandpa and grandpas love to make mention of their grandchildren. Number two, my becoming of a grandfatherly age means that the statute of limitations has surely run out on the misdeed that I am about to relate to you.

He had appointed himself the final arbiter of all things worth knowing. He would hold court each day at Vivian’s Cafe in beautiful downtown Hartland. Vivian’s was where the elite would meet to eat. He was always so sure of whatever he was saying that he was viewed as more than just a little overbearing. No matter what the subject was, he knew it better than anyone else. To his mind, he was all knowing. That is why we called him The Authority.

Email newsletter signup

This moniker was applied with all the sincerity of a campaign promise. A number of the local doubters quietly questioned his expertise, but The Authority was undaunted. He pontificated on all matters of local, state, national and world interest. His wife said that she thought he was Mister Right, but he turned out to be Mister Always Has To Be Right.

He wasn’t a bad guy, but the group that gathered at Vivian’s Cafe grew weary of his tirades. It was impossible to avoid him. Hartland was and is a very small town. Some years, Hartland’s first baby of the year contest is not won until August. We might have been able to dodge him had it not been for Vivian’s Cafe. We had to go to Vivian’s Cafe. Our appetites demanded it of us. You see, Vivian whipped up these fried rolls. She got up very early in the morning to make them. She was up long before the sun and the birds. The rolls were marvelous. They were a slice of heaven right here on earth. Those rolls were very popular in the hills of Hartland where I grew up. Vivian’s rolls would put any Krispy Kreme product to shame. She also made long johns that were an excellent roll model. So the folks around Hartland found themselves in Vivian’s Cafe as often as possible.

The Authority was addicted to Vivian’s fried rolls. He was hooked on all of Vivian’s cooking. So whenever we were in Vivian’s Cafe, we found The Authority there. We offered to trade The Authority and three fried rolls to Kenny’s Cafe in Freeborn for a diner to be named later, but the deal could never be finalized.

&uot;How much rain did you get last night?&uot; asked a neighbor between bites of a roll.

&uot;About a half-inch,&uot; replied my father.

&uot;No, that’s not right,&uot; interrupted The Authority, as he took a break from sopping up gravy with his bread. &uot;We got exactly .53 of an inch of precipitation.&uot;

Rain was The Authority’s specialty. His rain gauge was never wrong. He corrected anyone else foolish enough to mention a rain amount. After I heard him do this for about the thousandth time, I came up with a plan. My father was big on learning by experience. He felt that if you wanted to learn something, you might as well learn it the hard way. He told me that it would be easier to remember that way. I thought I would help The Authority learn in a way that he’d never forget. After a rain late in the day, I put on dark clothing, smeared a little mud on my face and became a rain gauge guerilla.

I snuck over to The Authority’s place and poured a little water into his rain gauge. The next day when the subject of rain came up, The Authority corrected everyone by telling them that he had at least twice as much rain as they had said. It became a regular job of mine to mess with The Authority’s rain gauge. Every time it rained I either added water to his gauge or dumped a little water out. The Authority’s precipitation reports became so far off base, that he slowly stopped correcting everyone. He was so wrong that even he realized he was wrong.

Now I am not saying what I did was right, but instead of being The Authority, he slowly evolved into being just an ordinary guy. It was quite an improvement. It is amazing what a little humility will do.

Hartland resident Al Batt writes columns for the Wednesday and Sunday editions of the Tribune.