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Friday, June 26, 2009

MEN OF THESE HERE HILLS

Circle L

Just now saw Welter Hamm drive up the highway heading toward home pulling a long flatbed trailer that he'd carried maybe 24 roundbales on the other direction earlier.

I see a red-tail soaring high on the wind flowing west to east up the channel of Hwy18. In the winter I think of it a wind tunnel. It's a good place to be on a summer day.
Gerald Leftwich drove by on his way toward town in his white Emergency Management pickup. Gerald is one of the county's characters and on the list of respected men in the county, not for being "important," but for being an authentic human being. Last time I saw Gerald was at the Circle L. I was having lunch with Jim Winfield. Leftwich walked in and we invited him to sit down and had an enjoyable lunch listening to one of the funniest men in the county when it comes to telling good eye-witness accounts of human hilarity in people we know, never to diminish the person, but really to hold them up as worth the attention.
Paul Reeves is another such character in the county, like Gerald, one of the last of the collectors of funny incidents, when in the past they were quite a few more than now. Paul appreciates a character, and he misses the old characters of the past. Jr is one in his own way. Paul has been a faithful friend to Jr all the way through his decline into feeble, visiting him at hospitals and nursing homes and at home as soon as he returns. A couple years ago Jr asked me why Paul kept coming around to see him. I said, "He respects you." Jr looked at me with eyes that said, "You tell me the craziest damn shit I ever heard." (His actual words spoken before. That's how I know the look.)

Jr feels embarrassed, because Paul came into his later years successful, money, good woman, good house, good car, winter place in Florida. And Jr in his last years ending up a broken man in poverty and debt. He can't believe anybody could respect him, let alone somebody who has done so much better. I tell him Paul isn't seeing him like that. Paul sees who he is. I said to him, everybody who sees you for who you are respects you. So what if you put everything on the table and lost. Shit happens. I tell him he doesn't want people liking him who only see what he has. Have little and the people impressed by stuff will pass you by. That's what you want them to do. He says, That's right. But it doesn't settle the problem for him. It's something he'll never get over.
He doesn't even like to go to the barbershop because he'll see people, and he'll see himself by projection in their eyes a failure, a man whose life came to nothing. His life has had so much suffering in it the suffering became his teacher. His experience taught him wisdom, though all he's able to see is the fool. What happens when he goes into the barber shop is at least one man in there remembers his banjo pickin and gives him some feel good strokes that embarrass him. He receives it, but shakes it off later. He's uneasy with praise. Doesn't want to hear it, doesn't give it.
I'd known the name Paul Reeves a long time before I came to know him when I was working in the register of deeds vault every day. When Paul came in, we'd talk and he would tell some fascinating story of somebody from the past who was a unique individual in a comical circumstance. I found Paul a man with a dimension to him I find rarely. One Sunday at Jr's he said something that started, "At church this morning...." I was truly curious and asked him what church he went to. He said, "Primitive Baptist," and there was the dimension I couldn't put my finger on. All of a sudden I knew that Paul was true, that I'd not read him incorrectly. The people I'd heard talk about him read him incorrectly. He has a brilliant mind and likes the money game. He's good at it and he wins when he plays. That's what games are about. Losers hate winners and I figure that has a lot to do with why I never heard much in his favor. I don't play the money game, so I don't care. The Paul I know is a good and humble man, and that's all that matters to me.

I went half a dozen times to Primitive meetings and loved every one. The singing is the best this side of heaven, the elders Bible scholars. I saw Paul stand up at the end of a meeting and bare his heart to everyone present. Though it would make him look much to the good, I can't disrespect him by telling such a private moment. It would make you think better of him than he would want you to. Paul Reeves is an honorable man who has proven himself to Jr to be his true friend, his motive respect. I don't believe Paul's respect comes cheap.


Welter Hamm drove by again in his new white duelly. Welter has taken Jr's role of the man in Whitehead who does things for the people around him. Mildred Torney, his next door neighbor, told me the other day, Welter is a good neighbor. He brings her mail in, looks in on her. Any help she needs, Welter is there. The people who robbed Welter's store put an end to the hub of Whitehead, the Whitehead Store. Killed it the same as a .45 slug to the heart. They put him out of business, because he couldn't afford to restock. It was another disheartening blow just a couple weeks after his wife died in such a sorrowful way. I forget what the third one was, but remember Welter had three life-chainging blows in a short period of time. Like Jr and a Joe Palooka doll, Welter pops back up to start a new day.

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