My mind has never been afraid to wander. That’s what it was doing one spring day, wandering off and watching dust motes dance in the air. Earlier, I had been staring out the seventh-grade classroom window. A monarch butterfly had fluttered by.
And then a baritone voice called my name. My 12-year-old brain snapped to attention. My first thought was, “Uh-oh, I wish I could slink into my Gold Cup socks.”
No chance of that.
Our teacher, Nanelle Bacon, had to be elsewhere. She had asked her husband, James, our Jesup Junior High principal, to substitute for a few hours. He must have noticed my distraction and asked, “Mr. NeSmith, can you tell the class the difference between quantity and quality?”
“Mr. Bacon,” I stammered, “I will need more time to think about that.”
Praise the Lord, he chuckled and proceeded to answer his own question.
Sixty years later—with ample time to “think about it”—I saw the explanation in a sea of faces, as I stood at the podium. I had been asked to give the closing remarks at a gathering. Family and friends were there to share their love and adoration for the late Nanelle Surrency Bacon’s 95-year-old sister, Lauree Surrency Hires. In the audience were her 97-year-old sister, Carobeth Surrrency Highsmith, and Tyler Surrency, her 87-year-old brother.
In 1989 I gave the Rev. James Bacon’s eulogy. But if he had been at Lauree’s party, I could have said, “Mr. Bacon, look around this room. Here is a perfect example of quantity. There are 52 members of your sister-in-law’s family here tonight.” Furthermore, I could have added more numbers to the quantity. Lauree and her late husband, Robie, had seven children. Brothers Jerry and Herschell were the bookends with sisters Toostie, Alma, Robin, Rita and Fain in the middle.
Those siblings provided 16 grandchildren, who have presented Lauree with 55 great-grandchildren. “And, Mr. Bacon,” I could have said, “when you tally five great-great-grandchildren into the total count of the Hires family, well, you have a large quantity.”
If I hadn’t been focused on dust motes and a butterfly, I could have answered my principal in 1960. Likewise for the other word: quality. Substandard tomatoes—stacked in crates as high as the Empire State Building—would give you a massive quantity. But sheer numbers don’t guarantee quality.
Quality isn’t about a count. Quality can be found in one or one thousand. On Feb. 22, I witnessed quality flowing from 108 people. In the wall-to-wall crowd, the laughter, the hugs and the smiles told the story of a money-can’t-buy quality in the lifelong relationships. As Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers sing, “You can’t make old friends.”
Quantity and quality are two very different things, but you can have both.
Just ask Lauree.