TWO EXCERPTS FROM FIRST SOCIOLOGY, AN INTRODUCTORY TEXT PUBLISHED BY THE MCGRAW HILL BOOK COMPANY IN 1982, AND DEDICATED TO THE AUTHOR'S MOTHER, IN MEMORY OF HIS FATHER
These excerpts published on the web in 2003 in the Tributes section of the K. Westhues Homepage.
FROM PAGE ONE, CHAPTER ONE
My parents' farm lay across some hills north of the river, at a point where towering bluffs ease into rolling plains before yielding still farther northward to the prairie. Our house stood high on a ridge and I liked its location. At night I could tell if there was a baseball game in any of the surrounding towns. From my upstairs window I could peer across the darkened hills and catch the lights of their ball parks glimmering on the horizon. More than once I informed my friends on the morning bus to school, "They played ball in Salisbury last night." "Did you go?" someone would ask. "No," I would answer happily, "you can see the lights from where I live." Other kids had their own vantage points. "A tug went upriver just before dark," one would say, "and I counted nine barges it was pushing." That was news to me. From our house you couldn't see the river.
A generation has passed since I left my parents' farm, looking for a place where I could see even more than I could from there. Since 1966, I have been at work and at home in the field called sociology. Three years I spent learning to inspect the world from its particular vantage point. Then I started teaching others the same skill and recording my observations in the scholarly journals sociologists circulate among themselves. This book summarizes the basic perspectives, insights, and ideas of the field. It is not written for specialists but, as it were, for traveling companions who are interested.
FROM PAGE 310, ON DEATH
Until recent decades death mingled visibly with life even in the experience of children, imprinting itself on their consciousness the way it did on mine the day after Christmas of 1955.
My grandpa had always been someone I could count on. He defended my view of porridge and sugared his even more heavily than I. "Infernal oats," he called it. He had taken me fishing years earlier and told spine-tingling tales of ghosts and leprechauns. But since 1951, he and Grandma had lived in a little house in town. His eyes, his ears—all of him was wearing out. I remember him lying in bed and shining his flashlight over to the mantel clock, the better to see how quickly time passed. Like everyone else, I knew Grandpa was dying. It was a fact so blunt that no one had to say it.
Our gathering at his home that cold, snowless afternoon was not in panic but in respect. No strangers were there, only his family—so many grandchildren that we younger ones spilled out into the hall, where we stood motionless studying our shoelaces. One of my cousins, a nurse, closed his eyes when the end came. And then the tall young priest arrived. As he entered the room, his cassock brushed against me, sent a shiver through me, and made a chilly, swooshing sound that seemed to echo in the stillness. We knelt as he crossed Grandpa's forehead with oil and murmured Latin prayers. When the undertaker came, my older brothers helped him lift Grandpa onto the stretcher. Not long after that, my dad came over to me. His eyes were red. "Come on home, boy," he said gently, "there's feeding to be done."