Smug: You know it when you see it

As a mom with two young kids, I often find myself struggling to explain words or concepts to them. I want them to enjoy childhood and ease into the harsh realities of the real world, but I also don’t want them to be the last ones in their class calling genitals by pet names like wee-wee or petunia.

Recently, my eight year old daughter asked me what the word ‘smug’ meant. In our current political climate, it’s easy to find examples of people who are smug, but it’s tough to pare their situations down to an easily accessible definition. After struggling for a few minutes, I just told her, “You know it when you see it.”

What I am about to tell you is an absolutely true story that happened in my parents’ hometown in July 2019. You might read it and think I ripped it off a Netflix show, but I swear I did not. Maybe you can find comfort and pleasure knowing that there are still parts of our country where weird little moments like this happen all the time, safely protected from the cameras and Facebook updates that seem so prevalent in all of our lives.

My parents recently purchased a house situated on some land near the house and property where I grew up. The house was in shambles, but with a life spent in woodworking and construction, my dad saw it as a great project for his 60s. In his younger days, he would have tackled the work himself. But this time around, he has a job at a nearby college, which is why he has hired a local Amish man to do the bulk of the work on the house.

Although there are many varieties of Amish communities and culture, I believe they all subscribe to a similar ideal of a simple, quiet, hardworking lifestyle, free of the tethers of technology, electricity and all of their associated vices and complication. This means that my dad’s employee, Little Pete, hitches a horse to his buggy and rides to the house each day. He uses hand tools and works without any smartphone apps or boomboxes playing contractor rock. At 22, Little Pete is clean shaven, which means he isn’t married, and has spent his lifetime working with his father, brothers and uncles learning how to erect buildings, make furniture, and tackle projects that most reasonable people would find intimidating.

Last week, I took my kids up to see my parents for a few days. During this time, I checked out the house and I have to admit, there was something hypnotically serene about rounding a sweeping bend in the road and coming across this handsome, hardworking man wearing all navy but for his well-worn straw hat, carrying a heavy load of shiny pine two-by-fours as his tethered horse munches timothy hay and Queen Anne’s lace nearby. Torn to studs, the house stands square and proud on a dead end road next to a rambling river. At first, the scene feels quiet until I realize it is loud with the sounds of crickets, birds and the frantic bawling of heifers in heat across the river (for anyone who did not grow up on a farm, I am referring to the frantic mooing of horny young lady-cows).

My dad’s summer routine is to go to work early and then drive to the house after work in the early afternoon to check on Little Pete’s progress and help him get set up for the next day. One of the days that we were visiting, the peaceful routine had been broken and my dad arrived at the house to find Little Pete in a state of distress.

“Dave,” he sheepishly approached my dad, “Can you text your friend Andy and ask him if he can come over here with his drone?”

It turns out Little Pete’s horse had somehow gotten loose and run away with his buggy. While the Amish shun technology for their own personal use, they are happy and eager for other people to use it. This was never more clear to me than when I came home from college to find my dad’s Amish friend Pete (Little Pete’s grandfather) sitting at my dad’s computer using Google maps to locate a particular hot springs that he had visited in the 70s and wanted to return to in his retirement.

“Down that street and to the left…” he directed my dad, not clicking the mouse or touching the screen. “There! Click ‘Book Now!’”

So my dad wasn’t shocked or scandalized to hear that Little Pete wanted to use a drone to try to find his lost horse. But he did feel that Little Pete’s solution to the problem was, typical to Gen Z, too reliant on modern technology, making a simple problem way to complex.

He explained this to us at dinner that night after the ordeal was over: “I said to Little Pete, ‘You don’t need a drone to find a missing horse!’”

My dad then explained how he drove over and picked up a few of Little Pete’s brothers and brought them to the house and instructed them to weave paths through shoulder high growth in the nearby fields, smelling for dung and looking for paths where the horse may have parted the veil of bindweed and grasses with its barrel width ass . Meanwhile, my dad got in his truck and drove to houses and farms up and down the road, asking if anyone had seen the missing rig and animal.

After a few stops, he heard a rumor that another Amish man called GimmeJohn had intercepted the horse and buggy and was keeping them in the barn until their owner could be located. Although rappers and Amish men probably don’t have a lot in common, they do both tend to have some pretty sweet monikers. My dad took his truck to pick up Little Pete and drove up the road to GimmeJohn’s barn where he reunited horse and man.

Although I know my dad really wants to get the work on the house done and he was disappointed to lose several hours of labor to a horse and buggy hunt, it seemed like he was pretty amped up to be able to use the following phrase:

“I don’t care how good you are with your drone, you’re not going to find a missing horse with it as long as the horse is locked up in a barn!”

We heard this story a few times over the 4th of July weekend while we were visiting. My daughter noticed the pleasure my dad found in relaying this story and she said that he seemed so happy he to know the right way to find a horse when Little Pete and his Amish brothers didn’t.

“Smug,” I explained, “Not happy.” You know it when you see it.”

Big fan of good books, funny looking animals, and great stories. Always ready for the next big thing.

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