I'm currently reading Strawberry Girl to my kids, and I'm surprised by how much I enjoy reading these pretty sophisticated children's books to my children. I enjoy these books I'm sure more than they do.
This book is about a couple of families, neighbors, in backwoods Florida during the turn of the century. The family highlighted in the book, The Boyers, had just moved in from South Carolina, to start a farm. They had cattle and chickens, but mostly, they were growing crops - most notably - strawberries. They are an industrious, innovative, hard working family that start having some success. Their closest neighbors, The Slaters, however, are trouble. Unlike the Boyers, the Slaters are content to scrape by with as little effort as possible. They are a cattle herding family, but they let their cows wander the land, open range style, eating whatever they can find. Mr. Slater drinks a lot and raises rough children.
The contrast I think hurts Slater's ego and they have trouble. Mr. Boyer fences in his land, taps into underground water, grows strawberries, something nobody else thinks is possible, feeds his animals feed. He's educated and innovative. Slater lets his cows and pigs wander, lets them eat what they can and resents the fence that Boyer builds that keeps his animals from the nearby lake.
As the book goes on, Mr. Slater resorts to stronger and stronger violence. He starts a grass fire that threatens the Boyer's house. He poisons their mule. He cuts their fence and lets his cows and hogs ruin the Boyer's crops.
Its jealousy really. But as he does this, he spirals. He drinks more and more, self medicating his guilt and jealousy. In a drunken rant, he shoots all of his own chickens just to prove to everyone he's a good shot, but in doing so, he's hurting himself. Its a death spiral he's on.
I'm not sure how it'll end yet, I'm a few chapters off.
But I'm sure there's some Boyer in me and some Slater, but I'm much more aware of the Slater part. Its hard to notice the ways that I'm actually succeeding and doing well, but its easy to see how I come up short as I compare my weaknesses with other's successes.
It's also easy to feel jealous and to think of was to pull others successes down, or at least to try to. But sabotaging others inevitably hurt ourselves much more.
So, what Mr. Slater could have done, but didn't, is to accept that Mr. Boyer was a bit further along then him, and learn from him and then perhaps build from Mr. Boyer's knowledge and then innovate in his own way. Then Mr. Boyer, perhaps, may have had a chance to learn from Mr. Slater.