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Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Friends of Jr's dropped by an hour or so ago. Arnold Mitchell, who Jr grew up with, lived as neighbor to, hunted with all the way along. Arnold and his wife and another woman I suspect to be his wife's sister, something like that, came from the nursing home where they visited the second woman's husband, who'd been there 4 years. They dropped in on Jr every time they went to visit him, about once a week. This time they went to see him and Jr wasn't there. He went home.

Arnold was animated by the difference in the way Jr looked at the nursing home and what he saw when he stepped in the door. Pushing his walker, to be sure, but walking steadily, talking and hearing with comprehension. Their language is the same, so they have no difficulty understanding each other. All three of them were astounded by what they were seeing, and it's about all anyone talked about. I was seeing how this visit, where therapy is concerned, is the kind of therapy he needs. People who know him, really know him, making a fuss over him, had the effect of putting air in the tire that was getting low. They didn't spread it on too thick, they're mountain people, and he wouldn't have it thick. It was just right.

Arnold remarked how good it is to be up here among mountain people. They used to live a half mile up the highway toward town, sold the old homeplace and the house they were living in a few years ago and moved to Statesville. I knew what he meant and said nothing. Everybody around the room knew what he meant. It was so obvious, a response would have been redundant. Like saying the other side of the Mason Dixon Line people are different. Every Southerner knows that. Every Yankee does too.

I stood beside the counter leaning on elbow, part of the five-way conversation. I liked the feeling in the room. I liked it that these people who know Jr well were talking the kinds of conversation they've had all their lives. He was relaxed, among his own. He was beaming happy to have players in the story of his life in the house. The woman whose husband is at the nursing home asked Jr if he'd like some chicken and dumplins. He said, "No honey, don't put yourself to any trouble." She looked at me and I said, "That means please do." Arnold's wife said that's just what it meant. It seemed an especially dear exchange to the two women, who liked Jr as much as Arnold did.

I was happy to have people here spending time with him, people of his world, the people who know who he is and appreciate who he is. Everything about the exchanges between them was of the heart, people who care about each other as the leftover few of the waning Whitehead Community and the culture of their homeland. For months I've had to watch him interact with people who didn't know him at all, often acting like there's nothing there to know anyway, just a feeble old man bent over a walker. Therapists and nurses are all from a culture different from his, even when they're from here and younger. They're taught in their school and training to be objective. Old time mountain people don't understand objective. It's what foreigners do and it doesn't make a lick of sense. There's no room for feeling in it.

It irritates me when I see people regard Jr like lumber, professionals who assess and ask questions, in a hurry because they don't have time, acting like he's beyond the pale and the last to consult about how he feels. A lot of the time I believe the professionals are people who applied for several low wage jobs and one came through. I've seen so little besides the kind of caring that ends at 5 o'clock, on the dot, I found I had fallen into an ongoing malaise over how people regarded him, a snarling dog. Then Arnold and his two women walked in the door, so totally real, so honestly and openly caring. By openly I don't mean effusively, but realistically, believably. No spectacle, just happy to see him doing so well.

Arnold got my attention when he said to the two women, "Jr wasn't born yesterday." It sounded like he could be commenting on his age, but I knew he was talking of his intelligence. I don't think they heard him and he followed it with, "Jr is really smart." He and Jr talked of grouse hunting. Jr remembered a place where "the trees were so thick a grouse couldn't fly without running into one." The span between paid caring and real caring, on a scale from real caring a 10 to no caring a 0, paid caring comes somewhere in the middle between 4 and 6. This is one of the many reasons why I won't accept pay for staying with Jr. To accept pay would drop me down into the paid category, which happens automatically. Then it's a job. Following rules and laws and keeping my hind end covered and out of trouble is more important than the individual. Loyalty to a friend is no longer the consideration.

I don't mean to be insensitive to the care worker, because for the most part, I believe they are people who care, but still, it's a job. You go home at a certain time every day. Leave the job behind the best you can. What I'm getting at is that everybody I talk with, who has or has had someone in a nursing home, talks like this. When I told Mitchells a little bit of what we'd been through, they weren't surprised by any of it, had their own stories, but we chose not to linger on the subject. We knew it well enough we didn't need to labor ourselves with it. It was a time for jubilation having Jr home.

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