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Wednesday, June 24, 2009


My early years in these mountains were naive about the issue of trust. I mean really naive. Coming from city mind into the country way of thinking, at first I was frustrated because nobody trusted me, because they didn't know me. Ones that knew me hadn't known me long enough, or my background. In the city way of thinking, trust is an unconscious issue. Making money to pay the bills for stuff we want supersedes questions such as what trust really means beyond trusting emplyer to pay as agreed. Trust is legislated by law where it's illegal to bilk somebody. That doesn't mean it doesn't happen. Only that a signature on a document holds up in court.
A man's word counts for nothing in our time, which is one of the things older people mean when they talk about how much better it used to be. In the old way a man's word had meaning, was even a moral issue. A handshake was an agreement of trust. What I'm getting at is trust on a deeper level than that, like the people you know that you can trust to stand by you, not to rat on you for any purpose, not to lie about you or tell your business around. These are the people you can tell anything about yourself that is compromising and know it will go no further. We all need people we can tell anything to and it doesnt' get spread around, people you can trust not to be lying whenever they tell you something, or suspect you of lying. These people are our friends, the only people who can be our friends. The way to make a friend is to be a friend first.
What I found when I came to the mountains was the importance of trust, something that seems a bit absurd to the city mind where trust is not so much a matter of concern. One year before I came to the mountains I met Kitty Davy, the woman I mentioned a few days ago who happens to be the first truly wise individual I'd met, as far as I know, or when I was ready to notice. For the first time in my life I felt in the presence of someone I could tell anything and there would be no judgment or betrayal. When I say Jr has wisdom, this is part of what I mean.
A man I know who had spent a quarter of his life in prison told me one day a few years ago he could never trust me because I'd never been in prison. That's a whole 'nother level of trust. I told him I don't mind. I don't want his trust bad enough to go to prison for it. He didn't trust Jr either, because Jr had never been to prison, but I'd trust Jr before I'd trust him, any day. I can trust Jr not to put me in a jam where that trust might send me to prison over something or other he stirred up. One of the strongest characteristics that defines Jr Maxwell is that he never rats on anybody, never tells anything about anybody that would compromise that person's individual integrity.
I've heard mountain men say, "I don't trust nobody," until I've come to believe that is as much a part of what it means to be a man in these mountains as Ralph Stanley's song, Man of Constant Sorrow. For years I thought it severely limiting for oneself not to trust anybody. By now, however, it strikes me a sound approach to living in this world where you really can't spread the trust too thin. If you do, you'll get more than a few learnings. Though it's a hard saying, it seems more every year that "trust no one" is sound counsel from father to son. Especially where you have dealings with money.
I've been talking to myself quite a lot lately about trust concerning people I trusted before Jr's time in detention. It's put me in a place where I don't want to say anything to anybody I believe is my friend, at least partially, that I wouldn't say in court. I've had trust trampled more than once in these hills. It's hard to forgive. Like I've said before, memory in this time of my life is not so reliable, but when it comes to betrayal of trust I have elephant memory. There are times I've incorporated what I call "the Sparta Look," like when I see one in particular who betrayed trust in the past. The Sparta Look involves looking somebody straight into the eyes and seeing nothing. That's how Spartans look at foreigners--not seeing them. Don't give that trust to start with and there won't be a problem later, is what I'm telling myself these days. I have tended in the past to trust somebody just to see if they're trustworthy. It tended to work out they were not.
I don't mean to imply I've been totally trustworthy, myself. I've had lapses too. I've learned from them and by this time in the life I am more reliable. Having earned Jr Maxwell's trust over several years, it is important to me that I never let him down in any way. It's this that brings out the dog in me. The trust of a mountain man of the old ways is not to be taken lightly. Chicago blues singer Muddy Waters is known to have said, "If you got something good, keep it in your pocket." He was a country boy too, from the cotton fields of the Mississippi delta. I believe I'd stand before a firing squad before I'd betray Jr's trust in even the littlest way, which actually equals the biggest way. When I write about him I'm fully conscious that I never tell anything he would object to you knowing. Not that's he's committed crimes, because he has not, but I allow him his privacy as an autonomous individual, same as I expect it for myself and you for yourself.

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