The kitchen table was the center of activity for the family of six. It filled up the small kitchen even when no one was in there, but when the family ate it seemed they wore the room, instead of entering it. With any company present, any move, even reaching for the salt, had to be planned and carefully executed lest disaster ensue.
The two youngest members of the family, twins Stephen and David Bynum, were a couple of my best friends, and I spent as much time as possible in their home during my last two years of high school. This wasn’t a whole lot, since they lived in San Saba and I lived in Mason, but we made use of the time we had.
Whether the Bynum twins visited me or I went to see them, Saturday schedules didn’t change just because of company. We still had work to do, and we still did it, and the company helped. That was our recreation for the weekend, working with friends instead of working alone. And we never questioned the arrangement, because that’s the way we were raised.
The patriarch of the family, Otto Bynum, was a quiet man of simple but uncompromising opinions. He always got up early, and seemed astonished when told not everyone did that. On those Saturday mornings I stayed in San Saba, we generally ate breakfast about 6 a.m., a little late due to the weekend. I remember sitting at that kitchen table eating bacon and eggs, when Otto would go to the phone on the kitchen wall (the only phone in the house), and start calling people he needed to talk to. At 6 a.m.
Once someone pointed out to him that it was rather early on a weekend, and some folks might still be abed. Otto responded with one of his favorite sayings, one I would learn well during my association with the family. “It’s time for honest people to be awake and thieves to be in bed.” And he meant it.
When someone he had called happened to mention that he’d woken them, he would say, “You were asleep? It’s six o’clock! Are you sick.” No one ever complained twice.
Otto’s name was changed to Ot when someone called the house once and asked to speak to Ot O’Bynum. The kids latched onto that, and thereafter never called him anything but Daddy or Ot.
Ot worked for the Soil Conservation Service as a soil scientist, and the Bynums moved from Brady to San Saba during the 1960s so Ot could write a book about the soil of San Saba county. He tried to teach his children as much as he could at every opportunity. Sometimes that desire made for some interesting conversations.
The family owned a farm in Hamilton County, where they raised a few pecans. At one time they had over 900 pecan trees. During a trip to the farm once, Stephen remarked on the clean smell of dirt coming from a nearby freshly plowed field.
Ot snorted. No one I ever knew could encompass as much disgust in a snort as Ot. He said, “That’s not dirt.”
Stephen said, “Well, it looks like dirt to me. What is it, then?”
Ot said, “That’s soil.”
Stephen said, “What’s the difference?”
Ot said, “Dirt is soil that’s been misplaced.” And that summed up Ot’s entire concept of life – everything should be in its place, and it should be labeled with its correct name, and if you don’t know enough to call things what they are it’s probably best to keep your mouth shut.
Ot kept his mouth shut most of the time. He enjoyed a good joke, or a deep conversation, but he seldom offered his own opinions without provocation. He generally stuck with what he knew, not what he thought.
After serving in World War II, Ot came home and spent his life raising his family, serving God, and minding his own business. A deeply religious man and an elder in his church, he began a prison ministry and led no telling how many souls to Christianity. He called his wife ‘Madam,’ and showed her the utmost respect at all times, teaching his children by example how a man should treat his wife. He did his job, without complaint or failure, and worked just about every minute the sun was shining, and if anyone had ever suggested doing something for fun, Ot would have had to have the concept explained to him. And he would have rejected it.
Ot was laid to rest on 19 June 2014, having lived to the age of 93. His life was one long example of steadfastness and perseverance, and he was respected by all who knew him. A man of few words, Ot seemed standoffish to some, even anti-social, but those he was close to understood that he just didn’t need the approval of others. He did what he believed was right, always, and didn’t care if people noticed or not.
An outdoorsman all his life, Ot was more comfortable in nature than anywhere else. Once, at the farm, Ot and Stephen stood looking out over some pastureland, and Ot said, “It’s not that I’m anti-social. It’s just that, out here, I have all the company I need.”
They say integrity determines how we act when no one is looking. Ot was the personification of integrity. He often told his children, “You can sell your honor, but you can never buy it back.” Ot carried his honor for 93 years, and took it with him to his grave.
Rest in peace, Ot. You’ve earned it . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org