Lowder was no hipster, but hip before hip was hip

August 3, 2012

Lowder Mitchell Jr. died this week after a lingering illness. Farmer, Granger, husband, father and appreciator.  He was a good man, and I will miss seeing his distinctive, white-bearded face atop his trim figure and beneath a well-worn Pioneer Seed or other similar cap, waiting alongside Kings Highway for the ferry traffic to clear so he could get to his mailbox across the street.

Lowder - pronounced louder - would be the last person to call himself hip. But in his own way he was. Let’s face it, Lowder is a hip name, and he had an independent streak that put him ahead of his time. A dyed-in-the-wool Delawarean who loved the feel of good dirt in his hands, Lowder was one of the few people I know who regularly dressed himself up with a string tie.  His hair and beard had already gone white when I first met him at the motor vehicle offices in Georgetown that he managed for a time. He liked to smile, was free with his opinions and loved the Zwaanendael Farm where he lived from the time he was 8 years old.

I opened this column by mentioning that Lowder was an appreciator.  At the time of his death, a healthy crop of soybeans carpeted the field that he farmed for so many years across from Cape Henlopen High School.  On many occasions, he told me that piece of ground was as fine a piece of farmland as existed in the United States.  The soil, he said, was superior and well-drained. The unique microclimate just inland from the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay, he said, had produced - without irrigation - moneymaking crops of corn and soybeans every year for as long as he could remember.

His wife, Jane, told me Lowder loved to watch shelled corn flowing from the combine into the bed of a farm truck in the fall.  “That’s just like solid gold coming out of that ground,” he would say.

Speaking of hip

A decade ago we visited with my daughter Megan when she was living in Portland, Oregon.  We met up with some of her friends for a beer.  “We’re going to a hipster bar,” she told me. Small and dark, the bar had a jukebox, chalkboard and neon.  It didn’t strike me as anything extraordinary except for one thing: everyone was drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. Pabst, one of my early favorites 45 years ago, was on the board along with India Pale Ales brewed with Cascadian hops. Some of the local craft brews for sure, at $4 and $5 a pint.  But the hipsters’ anthem was:

“PBR me.”  $1 for a bottle or can.  Lots of students. Lots of clothes from Salvation Army and other thrift shops.  Lots of piercings and a few tattoos. Black jeans, tight T-shirts.

Latter-day hippies, I thought to myself. The great northwest.

The hipster term came up recently in press coverage of the Firefly Festival in Dover. Lots of local people attended.  Megan Ernakovich, the singing, swinging, piano-playing waitress and mom, shares jokes with me from time to time.  There has been a dearth of new jokes in recent years, but when I saw her the other day, she said she had a couple new ones – hipster jokes.

She had been to the festival.  Said it was great. I think she picked up these jokes there.  I’m impressed she remembered them.

“So, how many hipsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?" she asked.

“I give up.”

“Oh, it’s a very obscure number.  You’ve probably never heard of it.”

Oh yeah.  Vague light at the end of the humor tunnel. And ...

“How much does a hipster weigh?"

“No idea.”

“An instagram,” said Megan with a big smile.

Smartphone photo app humor.  By the time you and I figure it out it won’t be hip any more.

Here’s one that Conor Gaffney told me recently that illustrates:

“How did the hipster burn his mouth? He ate his pizza before it was cool.”

Cool, apparently, isn’t hip.

This evolving language and culture can bedevil us at every turn.

I emailed Megan – daughter - and asked her for a couple of her favorite hipster jokes.  She sent me two.  They illustrate what I said about the Portland bar and Connor’s pizza joke.

First one: “So, this hipster walks into a bar and, well, you've probably never heard of it.”

Get it? No? Me neither.  But I’m starting to.  It’s like you can’t win in hipsterville. I mean, if you got it, it wouldn’t be cool or hip!?!  Here’s the other one Megan gave me, which should help us all zero in on the hipster ethos:

“How do you drown a hipster? Push him into the mainstream.”

Aha! Now I get it ... I think.

We have to change with the times.  Steve Seyfried of Rehoboth Summer Children’s Theater was talking about terms that he wrote into his plays a few decades ago, but has since changed.  “One of the words I used was beatnik.  It was current at the time, but no more.”

Maynard G. Krebs of the Dobie Gillis show was a popular culture beatnik of his time.

“Hey Maynard, what’s the G. stand for?”

“Walter,” he answered, without a smile. That Maynard was one hip dude. But no hipper than Lowder.

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