Steve Woods

The Bitter Taste of What We Take

In What Day is it? on October 6, 2009 at 11:47 am

“Take not from the mouth of labor the bread that it has earned.” — Thomas Jefferson

Gregorio Cortez and his pursuers

Gregorio Cortez and his pursuers

There is a profound difference between the words “Get” and “Take.”  One implies that you’ve been invited and are “getting” something.  The latter doesn’t require permission; simply seize what you want, for whatever reason.  But the inclusion of the word “Come” changes everything all over again.  The term “Come and take it” has a challenging tone to it, don’t you think?

Gregorio Cortez Lira was a Mexican laborer who went on the run in Texas at the turn of the 20th Century, after being wrongfully accused of horse theft.  His brother was shot during the questioning by the local Sheriff, and he killed the man in defense.  Cortez’s pursuit became legendary, lasting ten days and taking a posse of over 300 men. It was one of the largest manhunts in history, sparked largely due to racial stereotyping and deep-seated anger between Anglos and Mexicans all along border towns. Songs were written about the man who walked over 100 miles in in the desert wilderness, in an attempt to escape mangled justice.  All men like Cortez wanted to do was make a simple life for themselves, pulling together what they earned and trying to protect it against continued hostile sentiment.

Come and Take It Day has odd origins, to say the least.  Commemoration of this day began soon after the release of a movie of the same name in 2001, about friends looking for a hidden cache of gold coins meant for the man who captured Gregorio Cortez Lira 100 years earlier.  In the process of locating and attempting to recover the treasure, the friends try to figure out what it means to be  Americans, to be of  Mexican descent, and to be men.  The treasure was found to be buried on a heavily guarded military base, and the attempt to take the treasure ended quite tragically.

Not the one, but like it...

Not THE treehouse, but similar...

I have distant memories of myself and a menagerie of friends building a small tree house in a neighboring forest in upstate New York.  Our wooden hideout was culled together from half-rotting scraps of wood found strewn everywhere, but it was ours, and it was private, a way station for enjoying those things our mothers deemed undesirable.  We spent our afternoons haphazardly pounding in the nails we had stolen from our fathers’ empty mayonnaise jars with “borrowed” hammers.  It was both decrepit and resplendent, a semi-secretive masterpiece of woodworking ineptitude. But it was ours, or so we thought…

Days after completion, we returned after school to find that our hidden treasures had been rummaged through and gleaned from.  We were outraged, swearing upon pain of death to each other that we would keep a watchful eye on our digs, passing by it often and listening in for trespassers.  Apparently our stash was deemed worthy of a repeat visit, as one day not long therafter a group of three very mean (and much older) teenagers came across us talking and laughing in our abode.

They seemed even bigger...

They seemed even bigger...

The teens demanded we leave, calling us a variety of colorful terms and telling us that both the tree house and the contents belonged to them.  Now I am not a man of stature, nor was I a tall child at the time of this forest stand down.  I not-so-fondly remember a bad day during the first week of Fourth Grade, as a First Grade teacher, sure that I was one of her students, tried to drag me, kicking and screaming, to her class following recess.  But what I lacked in height was traded for a big mouth….

“Come and Take It.”  The words fell from my lips before I could stop them, and I realized at that moment whatever happened next was my own damn fault, and I needed to steel myself for the response.  I didn’t have to wait long, as the biggest of the group pulled me down by the ankles, right out of the doorway, and slammed me up against a nearby tree.  I was introduced to two adrenaline-rushing moments at once, as his big, pimply face slammed up beside one side of mine, and I heard the quiet slink of a switchblade opening near the other side.

The blade moved rapidly next to my neck as he moved back to look me in the eye, a big grin on his face, the happy assurance a budding miscreant gains from knowing he is completely in control of a situation.  As I felt the blade touch the skin, I looked to see both my and his friends standing and staring, mouths open, eyes wide, and scared.  I will never know why, but at that moment I felt calmness envelop me, and I fleetingly smiled in reassurance to them all…
How high can you reach?

Can you share your home in the clouds?

Of course, I got out of the situation.  It’s a whole other story unto itself, replete with expletives, threats, and lots and lots of running.  How I got out of it is not important.  What I learned from it is.

The treasures we take away, uninvited, from others contain a price that cannot be paid, ever.  The price tag hangs from the item, always in view, reminding us that we never paid properly, never met the social agreement for true ownership.  There is no peeling off of this nagging reminder, no cutting the string of continued guilt.

So what did I ultimately learn from the whole tree house episode?  That “Come and take it” never works out in the end, either when given as a threat, or to the one who succumbs to the call to fight and/or take.  It is so easy to overstep ourselves, to take from others, uninvited, if we do not respect ourselves and others.The pain of mistrust, of anger over wrongs done exists all along the fringes of our hearts, in our Soul’s innermost dwellings.  We often sour our lives by chasing after a false sense of self-justice, gaining no satisfaction when we confront it.

Those pleasures that we have earned in life through hard work, gathering together ideas and nailing them together over hard hours spent learning from our naïve mistakes,  are the buttresses upon which our happiest moments are built, whose very ladders carry us upward into the clouds, to greatness.

  1. […] Come and Take It Day « DÕPÕDÕMÅNÌ – view page – cached “Take not from the mouthof labor the bread that it has earned.” — Thomas — From the page […]

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