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Monday, August 31, 2009


cloud crawls over bullhead 31aug09

Just two weeks to the end of summer. Then the changing of the leaves. It seems almost like cheating to live in mountains as beautiful as these are in every season, every weather, every time of day and at night. They're lush and bountiful with the life force. Having the green world in such abundance around us, it's uplifting within to drive in it or walk in it. No matter how my mind is racing, a walk in the woods calms it right away.

In the past I have taken a bottle of wine or whatever liquor I want, like Wild Turkey Rye, a book, paper, pen and camera, a few apples, and went to a moss-covered rock beside the creek with water falling over rocks to my right and my left, each with a different sound, and sit there all day from the time I get up in the morning, or soon after, until the clouds turn pink. The amount of time is not a rule. Nothing is a rule. Sometimes I spend a fair amount of time in a beautiful place in the woods. Just sit down and enjoy all that's around me. I'll do this in future too. I know some places tourists never find.

It's no fun without a dog. Cats are not good walking in the woods companions. They are alert to on edge past a certain distance from the house, and then there's the distance where they're freaking out from anxiety. They know this is where the cat eaters come out at night and look for cats. Then there's the distance they won't go beyond. At that point, they find a place to hide and wait for me to come back. They'll wait for any number of hours for me to return, so I have to return the same way I went. Caterpillar gives out first. TarBaby can go quite a ways, but then he wants me to hold him. He wants to climb on my shoulder. He begs and pleads with me to take him back home, using claws for emphasis.

If I don't have to go on for some reason, I'll stop there and turn around so they can settle down and go home. If I have a reason to go on, TarBaby will find a place to hide, a culvert is a good hideout for a cat. He will wait there until I come back, no matter how long it is. When I pass that way going back, he needs to be held and petted and talked to and thanked for his devotion. Who would I wait 3 or 4 hours in a culvert for? I draw a blank.

I heard a screech owl just over my left shoulder, once, no more than 15 feet away. I sat stone still and the owl did its screeching. I imagined what that sound must do to a mouse. Possibly it scares them so much it sets them in motion so the owl can spot them. It's an eerie sound up close. From a little distance it sounds kind of pretty. Up close it sounds like Dracula is going to get you. I'm going to eat you when I catch you little mouse.

I've seen a bluejay settle on a branch no more than 20 feet away and groom its feathers right there in front of me. That was a joyous feeling. Saw a crow do the same thing, but more like 30 to 40 feet away, higher up in the trees. Those are moments you don't dare expect. They just happen as they happen. Like a redtailed hawk flying just a few feet ahead of the hood of the truck driving down my road. I see it turn its head left and right, left and right, looking back with one eye and forward with the other. Those are special moments. Unforgettable moments.

Walking down the back road that was the wagon road up the mountain along the spine of a ridge all the way down to Whitehead, down to where the creek that flows from the waterfalls runs under the road, is a beautiful walk. Winter, 6 to 8 inches of snow, I was walking with the dog at the time Sadie, snow everywhere and the dark lines of tree limbs, branches and twigs everywhere, something like a snowscape on a Japanese screen that went all the way around the viewer. A crow flew up over the ridge from my left to my right, no more than 2 feet over my head. I heard the sound of wings. And lived to tell it.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


jimmy gibson

Jimmy is one of Jr's more faithful and true friends. He drops by from time to time, sometimes with his wife Elsie, sometimes without. Elsie is every intelligent man's dream wife. Jimmy was in the Army and saw combat in Korea and later he re-enlisted for Vietnam. When he wasn't in the Army he was working in coal mines in West Virginia. In his later years he's been through every kind of medical thing there is. Jimmy has recently had some heart work done. They tore open his ribcage in the front, opened it like two gates to the inner sanctum. Jimmy has had lung trouble, cancer, one thing after another. Elsie keeps him going.

Jimmy came by to see Jr today. He used to come by when Jr was not well and bring his riding mower to mow Jr's grass, and Elsie went around with the weedeater. Jimmy can't ride the mower yet after his recent operations. Elsie won't let him. You can be sure he would if she weren't there stopping him. He worked with Jr sawmilling, off-bearing the wood as it's cut. Jr said Jimmy worked about the best of anyone who's worked for him. They've been friends many a year.

Paul Reeves came by today to see Jr. While he was there, the 3 of us sat and talked. Jimmy told about his work in the mines. He operated some contraption that rode the rails with two huge engines, each on it's own car. Pulling coal cars out of the mines is what they did. They were long and down low so they could go through the mine tunnels. He said to get down in the network of tunnels was a long ride in an elevator a very long ways, then he'd take his engines 5-10 miles through tunnel tracks. He told about 'roof-bolting,' putting 4' rods into bored holes overhead and gluing them in. They keep stability in the slabs of coal overhead, keep the ceiling from falling in. He said that once the ceiling fell blocking his exit. Somebody who knew the tunnel system told him a way around it. He said it was a 6 hour wait.

Paul Reeves came by while Jimmy was there. In the conversation he mentioned that somebody he knew said 'it's so dark in a coal mine you can feel it.' It's like one of those nights of overcast sky, no moon, no stars, just blackness so dark you can't see your hand 2 inches from your face. I'd guess before lanterns and flashlights, that kind of darkness was nearly impenetrable. One would need a torch.

The three of us talked and Jr would say something every once in awhile, then he drifted off to sleep on the couch. Everyone there was sympathetic, caring deeply about Jr, so sorry to see him fading as he's done. They come to see him now to support him. That's always been the reason, an affirming, saying, 'I'm with you.' Though he falls asleep, it makes his day when friends drop in, whether he can connect or not. These are the people who proved true to Jr through all the hospitals, nursing homes, watching him slowly shut down, caring for this friend they respect like I do. Jimmy, Elsie and Paul have demonstrated to Jr that they are only interested in Jr as who he is, not for what he has. I still don't get people that circle like buzzards a tractor mechanic for money and stuff.

Yesterday I saw Supercop of the Absentee Police walk by while I was in the post office lobby talking with Jerry Hawkins. She went by like she didn't notice. I sighed relief and went out the door before she came back by and we ended up face to face. I don't want it and she doesn't either. She's alienated me past the point of no return and vice versa. We don't know each other anymore. She loves Uncle Jr so much she alienated him attempting to keep him in the nursing home---for his own good, at his expense not hers. She's not been by to see Uncle Jr since he's been home, nor has she called. Kinda tells me something about the nature of her caring. Jr too. It's not a loss, because he doesn't even know her. As soon as she was out of school she was gone. That was 40 or more years ago. Uncle Jr is just an idea in her head, a composite of what she's heard about him.

I've seen in the years I've been looking after Jr that Jimmy and Elsie are perhaps Jr's closest friends, the ones who visit regularly, do things for him he can't do or has a hard time doing, like mowing the lawn. Bringing him food of some sort from time to time. Elsie is a good cook too. Harold Hayes' wife Betty sends some good food from time to time too. Harold is another friend of Jr's as faithful and true as Jimmy Gibson.

I always enjoy Jimmy and Elsie when they come around. They are what I think of as true friends to Jr, and true human beings. By now, they've become my friends too. They're honest as honest can be, the kind of people you can count on when they say they'll do something. They're not church nuts, but they come under what I think of as a true Christian. I will say the same about Jr. He, too, doesn't go to church, but he's lived his life demonstrating his genuine concern for his friends, neighbors and relatives. He hardly knows anybody outside that circle. Yesterday he asked me why everybody is being so good to him. I said, Maybe you've been good to them and it's coming back. I gave that to him for something to ponder in his place between asleep and awake.

Good people I'm grateful to know.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


tommy jarrell & fred cockerham

Today the mailman brought a little box I've been anxious for. It was the 2009 collection of CDs from Field Recorders Collective. 13 CDs are in the collection. Every one is a gem. I've put in the jukebox v1 of 2 with Tommy Jarrell playing fiddle, Paul Brown banjo, Mike Seeger guitar. It's Tommy playing not many months before he died, meaning he is way up in years. His fiddle and his voice are weaker than earlier recordings. That is not criticism. It means he has a slightly different sound in fiddle and voice. The fiddle has a lacelike quality about it. It's subtle and complex, the master's touch every draw of the bow. His playing has the ultimate maturity about it, up in his 80s playing effortlessly.

The recording was made in 1984. It was American Music & Dance Week at Pinewoods Camp in Massachusetts. They had a small house for Tommy to stay in. Tommy did his fiddle instruction from the porch of the house. Jerry Epstein recorded the concert of Tommy with Paul Brown's banjo and Mike Seeger's guitar. Paul Brown's banjo sounds as good with Tommy as Fred Cockerham's does, but different, of course, his own style. Good banjo picker. I wrote y'all about an album made by Paul Brown and Mike Seeger a month or 2 back in their Rounder album from early 1990s.

This series of field recordings from the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s has been made available 10 to a dozen released every year since 2004. This is 5 years now and about 60 CDs of old-time music in these mountains. Especially in the 60s and 70s music folklorists were driving around in these mountains finding people like Bertie Dickens of Alleghany, Dan Tate from Fancy Gap, Albert Hash from Whitetop, Fred Cockerham from Low Gap, Benton Flippen from MtAiry, Esker Hutchins of Dobson, Sidna and Fulton Myers of Laurel Fork, Charlie Higgins, Wade Ward, Dale Poe of Independence area, Joe and Creed Birchfield of Roan Mountain TN. Fiddlers and banjo pickers from all over the Central Blue Ridge. One of the CDs in this year's collection is Union Grove 1969. Another is Dock Boggs of Norton VA,recorded in 1966 at a concert at ASU in Boone.

Much of the very best music in my house is in this collection from the beginning. It's as great a resource for the radio show as can be. This collection has been played to Alleghany County from WCOK over these years. 2 more CDs available of Tommy Jarrell, who has quite a number of them already. He is the master fiddler of master fiddlers. Several videos are available of Tommy playing and a documentary film about him, Sprout Wings And Fly. It's beautiful from start to finish. Art Wooten plays Sally Goodin at the end in the parking lot of Galax Fiddler's Convention, Tim Smith beside him playing; behind him watching were Whit Sizemore and Tom Norman, fiddle and banjo of Shady Mountain Ramblers.

I see this collection as the result of the hippie invasion of the mountains in the late 60s and 70s. Many of them came to learn mountain music at the source and went on to wherever they lived taking mountain music with them. An awful lot of folklorists went over these mountains recording musicians. These CDs from Field Recorders Collective are the harvest of seeds planted in that time. Kilby Spencer, son of Whitetop Mountain Band, gathered the various recordings of Albert Hash, original fiddler of Whitetop Mountain Band. Kilby has been recording musicians around in our area for some years now. Fiddler Raymond Gentry from TrapHill is one. is the website. One of the folklorist musicians of that time was Ray Alden, who is the one collecting all the field recordings for these CDs. You can be sure it isn't because he's making a fortune on it. I hope he is better than breaking even. Surely must be. He's doing us all a favor making this music available. The years when these recordings were made was in the period when the older generation was the last generation of mountain musicians who matured before electricity changed everything. These musicians like Tommy Jarrell carry in them the tradition that went before, the only access we have to what the music was like in the last few centuries in these hills.
Here comes granddad poppin his cane
I swear he ate that groundhog's brain
The first LP I bought of mountain music back when I was new here was of Tommy Jarrell with Oscar Jenkins and Fred Cockerham playing banjos. Now it's available on CD. Good selection. It perked up my ears. And they aint been the same since.

Friday, August 28, 2009


angel of night

A few minutes ago a shower came through with some wind gusts in it that set the wind chimes to singing their song as random as the dance of the flames in a fire, patterns that never recur. It's like a 24 hour day with Jr where no period of time is like any other, no event like any other. Again, today I was telling someone who knows Jr about the shape he's in, noting that when I leave the house for an hour to grocery store, this and that, I know not to enter the house with any expectation. Whatever is found will not be whatever expected. I make a mental note to myself turning the door knob, no expectation.
Driving a little bit ago, I noticed how happy I feel on the inside today. A few encounters today with people that live out of sight of the house. Needed to make a trip to the PO and the gas station. Saw Hillbilly Wes and he reminded me of Hillbilly Show and we need to think up some jokes. He is a good character to have in the PO. Always good-natured and full of laughs. At the BROC meeting in the Pines last Wednesday, Ernest Joines told of opening his PO box and there was Wes's hand. Ernest told the experience from his side of the wall and West told it from his. Then both of them told it again, more experientially the second time, the whole table area of about 20 people laughing.
Jr not in so much pain today. The pain in his knee still there, but not so bad. Nurse told me it takes a few days for the medication in the first patch that releases a little at a time over three days to get up to the dosage needed for the pain. Today his knee is in far less pain. His back hurts far less. He showed me how he can sit straight up in bed with no effort, when before, it was a major effort. He's feeling a little livelier. It seems to have lifted his spirit. He's up from the bed quite a lot during the day. He's a bit more alert when he's talking with someone. He seems to feel a bit livelier. He's also sleeping more than before. He complains most of not sleeping, just lies there on the bed between asleep and awake, focused on his pain that never goes away and pills don't help. Now that the pain is receding, he appears to be coming back to life. It's looking like the pain has kept him weakened and vague from the ongoing effort of bearing it.
A neighbor who has known Jr all his life came by to put a telephone jack in his bedroom so he can have the telephone by the bed, the landline phone that he's used to that is on when he picks it up and off when he puts it back. He knows how to do that. A keyboard of tiny numbers that light up and tiny buttons to push that are too small for his unpracticed fingertips he can't understand. A friend of Jr's he grew up with dropped in Sunday evening and during their conversation Jr talked about wanting a phone jack in the bedroom. Every time he's talked about it with me, I tell him how it can be done, that I can do it with a measured number of feet of wire and a staple gun, and a jack from Radio Shack. No.
He thinks me staying there is plenty to ask of me, certainly not to work or expend any effort. I tell him I like doing various things that need done. It is not a problem. That's what I'm there for. I can't convince him it is not a problem or an issue or anything. He does not like to be a trouble to anybody. Now he's a trouble to everybody, in his mind. I explained to him what his neighbor said when Jr offered to pay him. He said Jr had already paid him all the nights he listened to Jr make music at Jr's house when they jammed Wednesday nights. I told him, You've spent your life doing for other people. You're known for it. It's coming back now.
It embarrasses him he needs such help. Of course it does. I'm sensitive to that and give him his privacy when there is hardly any. We had to take the door to the bedroom out of the frame so he could get the wheelchair through the doorway. Now when he has to sit on the pottie pail I know he doesn't want to be seen. I make it a point to stay out of sight of the doorway. When I have to pass it I look straight ahead to give him the comfort of not being seen in his awkwardness.
Everything I do or say is aware of how humiliating it is for him to be in such a condition, losing his mind, body in pain, helpless to take care of himself in most basic ways when he's lived his life self-sufficient all the way along. It's not denial. Jr Maxwell is a humble man already. In my estimation, he doesn't need any humiliation. He's already there. I do what I can to keep the sharp rocks out of his path. My respect for who Jr Maxwell is continually is present. I believe that has a lot to do with why I feel quite often in a happy mood, because my respect for Jr is such I cannot let this helpless time in his life defeat him.
I can't let him look at the same spot on the ceiling over his bed in the nursing home day and night waiting to die. His name isn't Winston Churchill, but he's an important man. I see that I am able to assist Jr in this time. It feels good in the heart to see him feeling at least a little bit better, even a bit more clear in his mind. When neighbors and friends come by to visit, it always heartens me to see his enjoyment. I thank God frequently for this opportunity to assist someone I respect so deeply in a tough time.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


composition in gray #2

I was somewhat awake when Jr called me. The clock said 2. He was on his bed and said, Did you hear that? I said, What? He said, A loud explosion, blew the hell out of everything, felt like lightning hit me. I can't move.

As you might guess, I suddenly didn't know what to do. Didn't know how to interpret when he heard and felt. Stroke? Heart attack? Dream? He couldn't move was no dream. He managed to get one hand to respond to his will enough to move just a little. Then it moved a little more. He moved his arm, then the other hand gradually and the arm. He straightened a leg with much pain. He wanted to sit up, but couldn't. I put a hand behind his back and lifted him lightly, his face wringing itself dry from pain in his back. He sat upright on the side of the bed, his feet not touching the floor.

He wanted into the wheelchair, which he likes to negotiate himself. I called the hospice number expecting an answering machine. Somebody who just woke up answered. She then connected me with the nurse on duty, who was also asleep. I did't feel right waking them, but I'd been told when something happens in the night to call. The nurse was baffled. First time she'd heard of anything like what I'd described. She wanted me to watch him and if it got worse to call back.

He crept into the wheelchair and wheeled to the living room with a great deal of effort. He wanted something to drink. I suggested and ensure. OK. I brought him one and he told me I pet him too much. I said, That's what I'm here for. He drank it down a little at a time. The pain in his knee never let up. The pain completely occupied his mind. He wanted to go back to bed. He tried to make the wheelchair turn around to go the opposite direction. He kept it at until I saw this wasn't going to get anywhere. I took the handles, turned him around and headed him through the doorway. He tucked his elbows in and I pushed him over to the bedside. I gave him a couple of pain pills while he was up, too.

I didn't know about the pain patches that had been delivered a couple days ago. I wanted a nurse to put that on him. I was holding out, hoping this would be the solution to all his pain. It's a 3-day patch. Next one I'll have to put on him this coming Sunday. It is about an inch long and a half inch wide. Transparent like a piece of really clear scotch tape.

He was in agony in the morning with his knee. I was jumping up and down inside for nurse to get here. I was up at 7 this morning , unable to go back ot sleep after waking, wondering what that lightning strike was last night. A few minutes after 10 the CNA arrived to bathe him. She knew about what had happened in the night, and I told her what has happened since; he got his feeling back and was up in the wheelchair. She said the nurse was on her way and would be here soon. The nurse arrived after Jr had been cleaned. He was in too week a state to get into the shower.

I talked with the nurse a good bit, talking about the incident in the night. By this time, after thinking about it much of the night and all morning, I'd come to see it must have been a dream. Posibly he moved in his sleep and a surge of pain from the knee triggered a dream, a lightning strike and a big explosion. That's what it felt like; dream mind saw thunder and lightning. Like the time a week or so ago in the night he was rolling the wheelchair through the living room where I'm sleeping on the pallet on the floor. My feet were in his way. He tried to push my feet out of the way with his foot. I dreamed a cat was playing with my foot while I'm in the bed at home sleeping. I sat up and said, Stop it. Jr was there in the wheelchair, the lights were on and I was sitting up on the floor. The nurse felt like it was probably a dream, too.

It was a joy for me sitting here seeing how they work with him, hearing how they talk to him. Everything they did and said was from the caring place within. They fussed over him like he was their Emperor and they were his adoring servants. He was given a shave. The nurse took his blood pressure, felt his pulse, and listened with the stethoscope. I'd known her for several years and Jr knew her dad for a whole lot of years. Having them here was like having friends visiting.

In all the Hospice people I've become acquainted with, I see a light, a very spirited light. I can't help but see them as people living what it means to be a true Christian. These are every day of the week kinds of Christians, who don't browbeat anybody. I can see in every one of them their work makes them happy. It's a lot of work and they get tired, but they feel fulfilled by what they do. Their genuine generosity of spirit seems such a rare thing in this time that I'm continually overwhelmed by what they do for Jr and their concern for what I'm going through, as well.

It's a whole new paradigm. When I'm used to the people coming through the door threatening nursing home, inspecting, not being friendly at all except in such obvious superficial ways they don't even need acknowledging, every encounter with the Hospice people is shocking. They're so open and generous and real. Their work has real meaning. It's not just a job.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009



Today I heard myself say to someone I'd just met who'd been here 4 years, "You'll never get used to it here." Then I thought, that's not saying anything. It gives no idea of what I mean, except just that. People who come here from other places never get used to it. That's not a negative thing to say. I think of it like sailing a boat and making music, no matter how much you know, there's always more to learn. Always more to learn. I took it for granted he knew what I meant, but when I look back at how vague it was, I doubt he had a clue.

I came here without any foreknowledge of where I was going. Mountains. I like Chinese poetry and mountains is one of the themes over the centuries. I had a notion of mountains as aesthetic beauty. That's what I came for. And that's what I found. 32 years of getting used to it has made it a fine boat to sail. Comically, over 10 of those years I spent in town and driving back and forth to town, lost touch with the mountains except for regarding the roads extensions of deer trails that I'd rather walk. I stay in touch driving, the up and down, the this way and that, familiar views, familiar houses, familiar people, familiar sky.

I'm struck by how many houses there are owned by people who work hard to make their money. It's like the harder the work, the less the pay. I've never agreed with that. The guy that makes the least is the one working the shovel. The one that makes the most is riding a golf cart. To work hard every day of your life, except for party hardy weekends, to pay for a house, a pickup, a car for wife who has a job, kids and everything else, is an achievement I have to salute. I am impressed by how frugally they live to afford all that they pay for every month. It's one month at a time, the way I live, the way we live in America. During economic meltdown, people I knew were estimating how many months til they were broke.

When I'm outside the mountains, which I hardly ever am any more, I find myself among people who give mountain people no consideration at all, just ignernt hillbillies. My grandfather from Kansas City, a greenskeeper of public golf courses, was here visiting. One day I sent him up to Tom Pruitt's house to get acquainted. When he returned I asked him about his visit. "He's just an old hillbilly." I swelled up inside like a toad, not liking to hear Tom dismissed as a hillbilly like hillbilly is something on the bottom of some scale. I beg to differ. I suppose I went into it with expectation and came away disappointed. I wanted grandpa to see the Tom I knew. He saw a peer of his still living the way he lived growing up pre-WWI. The old way. Like though his parents came here from Germany, they didn't teach the kids German. It was the old way. And grandpa had friends in the Ozarks, farmers. A lot of the men who worked him lived in the country. He knew what he was saying, though this was the first hillbilly he'd ever met at home in the hills. I realized it was ridiculous of me to get puffed about grandpa dismissing Tom as hardly worth the bother. I had the impression they couldn't really talk. Tom did all the talking and grandpa couldn't understand a word he said.

The time spent with Jr keeps me away from my mountain, but keeps me in touch with the people I know of these mountains. Both are equally important to me. I've never been one to know a lot of people. I prefer to know a few people well than a lot of people superficially. It makes a lot of people think I'm being something I'm not, but I can't concern myself with all that. Like my friend Carole says, "What you think of me is none of my business."

The time with Jr I see as my transition from 10 years involved with Sparta and the highway to my solitary life at home I came here to live, which I haven't got to yet. It's a great enjoyment staying with Jr. Like I've said before, it's like being a monk in a monastery with the old abbot. I like the stillness and the quiet. He isn't interested in bluegrass any more or any sort of music. I don't need to listen to it either. He doesn't watch tv and neither do I. I don't even listen to the news except driving and that just for short spells, enough to tell me it's enough. I read and he sleeps. I'm there for any need that arises, like the phone rings. Jr can't work the telephone. Invariably he pushes the off button when he means the other, cuts off whoever is calling and thinks they hung up and doesn't understand any of it.

Our friends at Hospice sent a volunteer today to give me 7 hours I need to be away from the house today for a BROC meeting to get the Hillbilly Show planned. Since we believe in eating while we meet, we're meeting at the Pines. BROC is the one branch of Sparta I will continue with. I love what BROC does like I love what Hospice does. BROC is just plain folks helping out other just plain folks needing help. From the Hillbilly Show tickets, the money goes to two scholarships a year to graduates of the high school who want to get started in college somewhere of their choice, people whose parents can't afford to help. It's $500 apiece. All the people involved with BROC are the kinds of people I love to know. It makes me happy to be among them. They are people of these mountains who carry in each of them the real heritage of these mountains, which is good.

It's not about Hatfields n McCoys. Besides, that's West Virginia. For nearly everyone I know it's about loving God and living by the integrity of their values, people with values. I don't mean like fictional saints going around by any means. I mean in the human scale. Even the rowdy ones have values. People that will stop and go out of their way a little bit to help somebody who has a problem, that's a hillbilly. Anywhere in this county your vehicle breaks down, quits running, and you're at the side of the road, first pickup comes along will stop and help you out. There's a whole lot like that in mountain people that makes them special.

Of course, there's the dark side too, as with everything and everybody. There's a dark side wherever you are, even the moon.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009



With so much talk on the news about health care reform, I don't listen to the news during this time. It's something I'd like to hope about, but dare not hope so much that I can't listen, because I don't believe anything I hear, for starters. And what I do hear is so absurd I turn it off. The last time we had a President who represented hope, he was killed. Hope has no place on Capitol Hill. It's like betting on a rigged race.

I got my learning in the time of the 1968 march on Washington about the Vietnam War. The next day's papers, all the corporate papers, told absolutely false reports of what happened. Consistently. I looked at the NY Times, AP, Washington Post, Time and Newsweek. They all told the same story and all of it was lies. At the time, I subscribed to the Village Voice, an independent paper. Their reporter told it like it happened. He also told that LBJ held a press conference before the event and told the reporters what to report. Like the good little anti-Democracy corporate sheep that they are, they all reported it the same.

It said a lot to me about journalism at the time. It's worse now. I've taken none of it seriously since. That was as good a learning as I needed in my early years of political awareness to cause me to invest no energy or hope in anything to do with politics. Plus, knowing the attack by NVietnamese patrol boats was a lie from the start, many years before the government admitted it was a lie, I lost all confidence in our government having anything to do with the will or the rights of the people.

From then on, I've only seen it get worse. After well over half a century of insurance corporations and pharmaceutical corporations buying laws by legal bribery called lobbying, the laws are all in their favor, against us, and the rights are theirs, not ours. I'd like to be able to hope that the mess can be ironed out, but don't see it anywhere near likelihood. Though the R-obstructionists keeping out of it gives me a little hope that I can't help but think of as a false hope. This is Newt Gingrich's style, the man who secretly divorced his wife while she was in the hospital dying of cancer in Atlanta, and married a babe in DC, at the same time he was busy nailing Clinton to the wall with lies. It's failed before. I'd like to see it fail again. Keep their nasty fingers out of it, and maybe something, at least something, might happen of a fairly positive nature.

What I've seen of Health Care over the last couple of years is so discouraging it caused me to write the two previous paragraphs. Maybe Health Care would be better called Health Production. The technology is incredible, even inconceivable. Technicians are good. Nurses are good. Office staffs are good. It's in a belief. When I'm in those environments I feel like so much attention is given to the empirical data on computer readouts, the source is of little to no interest.

It's science that got us as far as we are in the medical fields, and science will get us farther. Science, for it to work, for it to be science, is objective. It addresses the objective only, keeps subject out as much as possible. Doctors and nurses and nurses aides are educated by the scientific approach. I've no argument with that. Just looking at it. As we've advanced in science in the medical fields, the subject aspect is forgotten, lost, not a part of it. Nurse comes into the hospital room, says something cheerful, fills out forms and charts and leaves. Objective. The feelings, the inner needs of an individual, are peripheral. That comes under psychology. Which, also, is a science. Again, I'm not down on science at all. How else do we get photographs from the Hubble telescope? Science made it and put it there. Science believes the evolution process and science is in process too, moving ahead remarkably fast. In it's evolution, I'm believing that some time in future the subjective will be allowed its due and people in nursing homes won't be treated like stacks of lumber anymore.

I come from the subjective side where emotion, spirit, mind are important parts of who each one of us is, even more than the skeletal frame. I'm more interested in the activity of the soul than names of all the body parts. What we ultimately believe informs who we are. Like I believe the soul is the most important aspect of who each one of us is. I don't know how science accounts for the soul, because it's all so far past anything I can understand, it doesn't matter. But from my way of seeing, which, I suppose, is right brain way of seeing, the body is like a glove puppet the soul wears to give itself physical definition to help it function in this physical world. It doesn't mean the body isn't important. It's like a car is important for the body to get around in like the soul gets around in the body. It's good to keep the car running well, tuned up, fresh oil, like it's good to keep the body running well.

It wasn't until I found Hospice that I found respect for the subjective, for the patient himself, his being, as important as the illness. He's not just the illness in a body. A girl working in the nursing home told me one day she loves helping old people, but you get to know them and really like them and then they die. She said it made her not get to know the people anymore, because it hurt so bad when they died.

What I saw in the nursing homes was that, denial of death, people working there with their emotional lives doing the best they can to help people and not be affected when they die. In Hospice they get to know the people and care about them and love them and nurse them comfortable as possible into their next life with a feeling of fulfillment you've helped somebody through the hardest time of their life when they're helpless and dying.

Hospice has what I found missing from all the AMA approved experiences I've had. By not denying death, they want to help people move on comfortably and, as much as possible, on the person's own terms, and supporting them in it, believing the individual's life is worth something. Go into a nursing home and you have no rights, but to quit eating. You're not even a consideration except as a file number. They're overcrowded, understaffed and overworked. If they weren't so needed, they ought to be outlawed. If we're going to have realistic health care reform, nursing homes will be operated by Hospice guidelines. The nursing homes would be hospices.

Monday, August 24, 2009


This morning I woke with a feeling we're closing in on Jr's last breath. I sat a few minutes dropping some tears thinking about Jr going up yonder to live in green pastures. I have two overwhelming feelings, joy and sorrow. Joy to know Jr will soon be in the light feeling no pain. Sorrow for myself and everyone who cares about him. I waited a few minutes before looking in on him. When I looked, he was lying on his back under the covers, stretched full length on the bed, hands folded over his heart. Naturally, coffin was my first thought. I looked to see if he was breathing. He was. I spoke to him. He was awake. He said heard dogs fighting in the night. He got his gun "and put sand in their asses." He heard people talking.

He wanted to get up, but wanted to stay in the bed even more. I brought him a bottle of ensure, which I do when I find him awake. I thought his intestinal tract was empty before, but this time it's a void for sure. Every day all week a b-m. By now he's flushed. Over the last week he's had no intake but an ensure a day, a few times 2. This morning I had to change a depends on him, which turned into the cussing ordeal of the day. As always, I tore up 3 latex gloves getting 2 on. Jr was on the bed wanting me to tell him what to do. I told him be still, I'll be quite a lot longer, don't know when I'll get started. Finally, got the 2nd glove on and the air bubbles out of the tips of the fingers. Found some fresh depends, pulled one out and a little plastic sheet kind of thing to put under him on the bed.

What an ordeal. To get the first ones off, I couldn't make the tabs work, so I just ripped them off, cussing all the damn way. Then had to wipe his butt, not a thrilling thing to do, but it wasn't as bad as I always imagine. Every time I do that, I think of Butthead calling Beavis Ass Wipe, and the thrash death metal of Anthrax. It at least puts a smile in my thrashing mind. Even though my mind runs away with itself, I feel a humble grace deeper down that tells me this is the best thing I could be doing with my time right now. It's the same humility as foot washing. This part of my mind has to bear with the other part of my mind that freaks over feces. Even though the part of the mind that freaks knows with certainty at the same time there's nothing to get weird about. Then I settle down and do what needs to be done with no problem.

I tore up 3 depends trying to get them on him. I said, "Let's just put regular underpants on you." He agreed. They went on easy. He rolled onto his side, head on the pillow, pulled blankets over himself and eased into that place where he spends most of his time now, between asleep and awake. It's a humbling time for both of us. Not humiliating, but humbling. I think of my friend Pat, who lives in upstate New York. She did this with her dad, and they never had the best of relationships. She did it despite that. She also took care of a friend in the City while he was dying of AIDS in his last several months. She left her family both times. I think of her daughters and the compassion she passed to them as realism, not just a pretty word about morality.

At least 10 years ago, it took awhile getting there, I resolved a question I'd carried for some time about service to humanity. I think we commonly call it, making the world a better place. Every once in awhile I hear somebody say, The world would be a better place if everybody would this or that or one thing and another. Everybody is not going to do any one thing but eat, shit and die. Whatever it is, aside from those 3, it's not going to happen, so it's a useless, pointless thing to say or think, when not even everybody has heard of the Beatles.

Another way to look at it is that my world, the world composed of people I know, people I see in the course of a day, relatives, like that, is a very small world compared to the world of 3 billion. If I shift my focus from the definition of humanity such that it's composed of everybody on earth, to one, which is still humanity, it's suddenly manageable. When somebody in my world needs help I can provide, it benefits my world, making it more like what I want it to be, one where people help each other. When I do it, then my immediate world is helped immensely, the world I actually live in. It's a small world where words, deeds and individuals have meaning.

It's been a good day, altogether. After the crazy morning of frustrations, one on top of the other, Jr perked up, wanted something to eat, something to drink. He wanted to look for his billfold, pistol and liquor bottle, wanted to know if they were where he left them. The pistol is a nice .22 that makes a fairly loud pop for a .22. He asked me if it was loaded. I asked him to hand it to me. I took the magazine out and the bullet in the chamber, handed it back to him and said, No, it's not loaded.

My apprehension was that he has so little control over his fingers now, and he's forgotten where the safety is, how to kick out the magazine, everything about it. I didn't want it firing in his hands while he's fumbling with it. It was a little testy feeling to watch him fumble with it loaded. I know. Sounds sexual. But it aint. It's lethal. This isn't symbolism. It's a gun ready to go off when the trigger is disturbed. Bang bang, you shot me down. Bang bang, I hit the ground. Bang bang. Cher?

The gun, the liquor bottle and his billfold are the 3 items he keeps track of. He can't use any of them anymore, but they are the items in the house he wants to know where they are at all times. He wants me to know where they are too, in case he forgets. I let him creep around in the wheelchair, watch him wedge himself into a tight spot he'll have to back out of the same way he went in. I sit and read, watching him out of the corner of my eye. He's too slow to watch without jumping out of your skin waiting for the next movement to happen. I see it as good exercise for arms, shoulders, elbows, wrists and a good exercise for mind, something to figure out. He prefers taking half the day to me taking the handles of the wheelchair and getting him to where he wants to be in a jiffy. No. He wants to do it himself. Doesn't want to be an aggravation to me. I tell him he's not aggravating me. It's what I'm here for. He'd still rather do it himself.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


green mountain boys c.1990

When I talked with Jr this morning the first time, him lying in the bed too weak to get up, he said only slightly awake, spoken like he was dreaming, "I didn't sleep last night. I saw my whole life. There's good ones, and bad ones. Mostly good ones." He drifted back into his inner space he occupies lying on the bed resting, too tired and weak to do anything but lie down. 20 years ago I visited someone I knew in the hospital 2 days before he died. He said he'd been looking over his life. Half of it was good and half of it was bad. He'd forgiven everybody everything. It had an air of finality about it, and he went away.

I don't mean to predict or prophesy, because I know any of my guesses about the future are less accurate than flipping a coin. But when Jr spoke this morning, it came back I'd heard the same thing once before in a context similar. My friend who died 20 years ago thought it hilarious that Elvis died on the toilet and wanted same for himself. He got it. I thought that hilarious, him wanting it and getting it. I loved it for him, wanted to be able to tell him. I also loved what the nurse said, "That BM was very important to him." My thought at the time: To say the least. Said, "I reckon."

My prayer is that Jr go peacefully in his own home, preferably in his sleep. I don't feel right interfering in someone else's karma by prayer for anything but their comfort. Maybe he needed to give me the experience of cleaning chamber pots and diapers before he went on. I do believe that God put us together for my good as much as for his. I know God gave me this to do, because Jr needed help and I needed to help someone for my own inner experience. We were put together for both of our sakes, equally. Therefore, I feel no need for a reward, payment, anything like that. I'm getting what I need simultaneously. For one thing, learning about expectation. It's a subject I've given much thought, and as a result it has weakened in me over the years. Jr started giving me lessons in expectation, until I got it. Still I'm not free of it, but recognize it when it happens and can make a mental note, another reminder of what I already know. And that's just the penguin poop on top of the tip of the iceberg.

Jr has taught me a great deal about the world of musicians and mountain music. The people he talks about in the past he's picked with at dances, in fiddlers convention parking lots, the names of people who by now are legends of that generation when bluegrass was new in the mountains, are the names he made music with. Wayburn Johnson, Cullen Galyean, Gene Mead, Vic Daniels, Tiny Pruitt, Tommy Malboeuf, Art Wooten, Otis Burris, Jay Burris, Vaughn Brown, and so many more the list would be too long if I knew it. These fellers were the big league of bluegrass in this area, guys that could really pick.

Jr and the other musicians in his band, the Green Mountain Boys, never cared anything about recording. That's mountain tradition. Part of it is the humility required in mountain culture. You don't show off, you don't make a spectacle of yourself, you don't draw attention to yourself. God gave you a talent, you thank God for the talent, so it's not just you due the credit. Recording is not the point. The point is making music. Recording for them was about like twitter is for us now. Had enough of new-fangled gadgets, weary of them, don't want any more. 78s, 45s, 33s, reel to reel, 8-track, cassette, cd, download, ipod, etc. Comes a time enough's enough.

I don't mean to imply Jr was mama's little angel. He was a wild man in his childhood and all through his life. I've admired in Jr all the time I've known him that he's allowed his inner wild man expression throughout his life. He's never been arrested and never had a ticket for speeding. This only means he never got caught. Considering how he drove and some of the shit he got into, then it means something. It's like a lifetime merit badge in wiliness.

Banjo pickin was Jr's wild man expression. On the stage, in a jam, picking the banjo gave his wild man plenty of exercise. He learned at age 23 that the wild man let run his course can be self-destructive and can cause some gravely lamentable pain that is far reaching and long lasting.
Jr had good times with his wild man. He said liquor makes a musician play better, and more liquor makes it more better. Then there's a point where it makes the music worse. Jr said he liked to play in that place just before it starts downward, at the peak. It helped him keep mind out of his picking and it greased his joints.

He loved good white liquor all his life. He said he started drinking age 14. Fourteen seems to have been an age of new changes for him. He started banjo at 14. Started sawmilling with his daddy at 14. Started sawmilling alone at 18. Because he only wanted to drink that which was illegal, he had to know certain underworld people to get it. It's a very strict code among people who make, have made, bought, drank white liquor that you rat on no one. Ever. For any reason. The prison code, because many of them have been in prison for making it at some time or other. It's illegal, but mountain men aren't giving it up because it's illegal. Hellfire, everything else is illegal too. It's not like a great deal of people in our country under 60 are going to give up reefer just because it's illegal. It shouldn't be, so it's done anyway. People go to prison for that too, but the old-time bootleggers scratch their heads at the absence of ethic among drug dealers where they rat on each other freely. Jr is a man who could be trusted by all who knew him.

I have an unsettled issue with myself. Much of my thinking is for Jr to go on and get out of this painful, useless body that doesn't work anymore. I appeal to God, hasn't he had enough misery and sorrow? If it gets really bad, I would be all for helping him on his way. Ethically it seems justifiable, but legally it's out of the question. And because the ethics of it is foggy, I couldn't allow myself to help if he pleaded. It's an ethics issue I'm not sure of. I wouldn't want to dive into 5 feet of water thinking it's 30. I believe I'd be with allowing him the option, but not with me around.

These are things I think about, but what I see happening is both Jr and I believe it is best for his soul to go with whatever he's given to go through. Knowing nursing home is not an option whatever happens, I go into this trying time grateful to the people of Hospice for helping me keep him out of nursing homes. We'll ride it on out. That's all the boost either of us need, the knowing that nursing home is not going to get him. Now we can both go through whatever it takes, relaxed.

We have had conversation about it, and he's told me he couldn't do suicide unless it's a circumstance such that he has no choice, like putting him back in a nursing home. I keep him knowing day to day I'm here to help him, and that means whatever it takes. Dumping a chamber pot isn't anything. It's not something to dwell on looking at, but it can be easily dealt with. He dislikes being helpless and "trouble" to anybody. Every morning in our first conversation he'll ask what I'm doing today. I tell him I'm staying here with him. He's glad to hear that. He wasn't sure.

In the picture above, l to r: Bill Caudill, Harold Hayes, Jr Maxwell, Bob Caudill, Johnny Miller.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


Benton Flippen & the Smokey Valley Boys

This morning I wanted to play old-time string bands on the radio show. Brien Fain won Galax again this year in old-time banjo. Last week when 4 musicians were here in the house talking music-making memories, Robb mentioned something about a time he was playing guitar with Brien Fain and Wiley Mayo, fiddler. That flashed in my mind, because it was Robb several years ago who told me about the cassette tape of Rock Mountain Ramblers. I bought the cassette, recorded by Bobby Patterson in Galax, 1997, loved it, but never played it on radio because the tape player there is messed up and I don't like fooling with it. Then Bobby put Rock Mountain Ramblers on a 2cd set with everything they recorded in the session to make the cassette.

Listening to Rock Mountain Ramblers, the first of four bands in the hour, I was thinking of Robb playing rhythm guitar with Wiley Mayo and Brien Fain, a little bit gaga seeing in my head Robb playing all-out hard-driving old-time, thinking: WOW. Of course, I knew he had it in him, as he'd played rhythm with Southern Pride so many years, a hard-driving old-time band. It was a reminder of how good Robb really is with a guitar. Larry McPeak played rhythm guitar with Rock Mountain Ramblers. Larry plays bass with the McPeak Brothers, a good bluegrass band from the Wytheville area, and bass with the VW Boys, a bluegrass band with Tim White's banjo based in Bristol.

For ye who don't know anything about mountain old-time music, think of electric hardcore punk rock, like the Clash, the Ramones, the Sex-Pistols, acoustic without vocals. it's hard-driving acoustic music with so much energy it doesn't need to be plugged in. It's the same energy that became rock and roll when the instruments went electric. It was something like a leap in consciousness, playing the same thing a new way. In the old days the songs were the familiar tunes of the day that were traditional tunes everybody played. It's how you play the tune that is important, like jazz in the 50s playing Broadway standards, every musician his own take on a traditional favorite like How High the Moon.

Old-time tunes are the traditional standards of the time before electricity, fiddle tunes like Shortnin Bread, Turkey In The Straw, Forked Deer, Lee Highway Blues, Polly Put The Kettle On, Cacklin Hen, Wreck Of Old 97. Train 45 is the fiddle virtuoso piece in old-time like Orange Blossom Special (another train song) is in bluegrass, and Free Bird in rock. In both the old-time tunes, the fiddlers play their versions of train sounds and train rhythms, and find notes chickens make in Cacklin Hen and Chicken Reel. Old-time was squared-dance music. We think square dancing boring now.

In elementary school I could barely tolerate it when we had to learn square dancing. I hated it. But, if I'd learned it when that's what the grownups did in the culture of the time, I'd have loved it, growing up watching the older people having such a ball and wanting to get in there and do it too. It was lively dancing. Now, the dancers tend to walk through the motions. In olden days they were dancing as all-out as the banjo was a-cluckin. It was a dance then. Picture then as now, the young people in teens, twenties and thirties blowing it out on Saturday night after working hard all week, the men into a little white liquor between dances, the girls twittering over the guys, temperatures rising, the dance floor keeping time with the band. The older folks in there among them, keeping up, dance a more subtle, graceful style of the same thing that takes less energy. They used to do all that kicking in circles too.

The great 60s lead guitar heroes, Jimmy Page, David Gilmore, Eric Clapton, were doing with electric guitar what the old-time fiddler does with a fiddle. The fiddle is the lead instrument in an old-time band. Benton Flippen, Thornton Spencer, Richard Bowman can get all kinds of notes out of a fiddle, creating the same awe in their listeners as the guitar boys did their fans. Much of the pleasure of listening to old-time is hearing the styles of various fiddlers and how they approach certain tunes.

Individuality is the core of old-time music. Every fiddler must play his own way. It's the same with banjo. In the old days you had to figure out an instrument, and how you figured it out had a lot to do with developing your style. Young kids now figure out an electric guitar in the bedroom with headphones. It was the same fascination for a teenage boy then to learn fiddle and/or banjo and play square dances as for today's teenager to aspire to rock star. The motivation then was the same as it is now: chicks like musicians.

The show this morning was a great deal of fun. At the beginning I likened what we were about to hear to Galax on Saturday night when the old-time bands are a-layin it to it. Among the 4 fiddlers heard today, Wiley Mayo, Eddie Bond, Benton Flippen and Richard Bowman. I wouldn't want to be a judge at a fiddler's convention to pick between them. Brien Fain played banjo with Wiley Mayo, Josh Ellis, new to New Ballard's Branch Bogtrotters, played banjo with Eddie Bond, Roger Wilson played the banjo for Benton Flippen, and Marsha Bowman Todd played the banjo with her daddy Richard on the fiddle and her mama Barbara on the bass, the Slate Mountain Ramblers. A remark I've heard several musicians make, If old-time aint got drive, it aint got nothin, drifted into my mind throughout the hour. We had drive in abundance this morning in the county's airwaves.

Saturday morning at 10
WCOK 1060 AM Sparta

If you want to hear some good mountain music, this is where you hear it. You can pick it up almost everywhere in the county. When you spend time in the mountains, no matter how little, it would only be enriching to you to tap into some music without judging, without prefacing it with, I don't like banjos, I don't like country fiddles, it's so old-fashioned it's ancient. Just let it be what it is, whether you like it or not is of no importance, and to hear it as the soul of these mountains, a reminder that there is a unique culture here that is not a lesser version of the culture you came here from. Every weekend there's old-time and bluegrass bands playing in various towns around us and in Sparta. There's the Crouse House in Sparta on Monday evenings, the Jubilee Tuesday and Saturday nights, and every county around us has places where traditional music is being made. Jams are all around where people are welcome to sit and listen. They're all safe. Little kids love old-time music.

Friday, August 21, 2009


bullhead 8.21.09

I feel like one of those cartoon characters walking around with a signboard on the front and one on the back saying something like The End Is Near or Eat At Joe's. Something like what I call missionary zeal takes hold of me when I think about Hospice. I went to the meeting several years ago where people interested could get involved. The talk was about setting up a bureaucracy, which I didn't want to be a part of. I knew it was necessary as working structure, but there was so little about what they do, a woman asked at the end, "I just want to help people. Is there anything here for somebody like me?" I thought, 'Amen, sister,' and was the first out the door when set free. I paid Hospice no more mind after that.

I figured it was a good thing they were doing. Hospice worked with Jr's and my friend Jean in her last months. Jean was very happy with what they did for her. She went on at home in peace, a radiant light. I didn't know what all Hospice did. What I thought was somebody goes by periodically to be a friend and talk about spiritual stuff before somebody dies. I've had several conversations with Hospice people over the last few days and found the reasons I was so dissatisfied with agencies and bureaucracies. I took it for granted they would regard patient with basic respect, would want to hear about his ways, what works with him, what doesn't, what food he likes and doesn't like. They didn't want to know anything. They 'd listen to me yap if I persisted, but you catch on right away when your input isn't welcome.

Listening to the women who came here to the house from Hospice tell me about what Hospice does, I understood why the agencies didn't perform as I'd expected. There's that word. It was because I assumed service agencies were there to help and would take a personal interest in the patient. Turns out I was "expecting" was radical. First thing I was told was Hospice is about the patient's comfort, keeping patient comfortable as possible. Knocked me over backwards. 5 to 7 years ago when I saw Jr was fading and so lonesome sitting in the house all day, I was assessing for myself how best to help Jr going into the hopeless and helpless time in his life, I came to comfort, the one thing I can help him with that is not controlling in any way.

I wanted to help him, not control him. I wanted him to be able to make his own decisions as long as he was able. My ideal was that he could die at home, in his own integrity of who he is. He had the life of Job that would wring a rhino to its knees. As I knew Jr better, we became friends. He has seen by now he can trust me to do what I say I'll do, that I'm not here to take from him in any way. By today, he's comfortable when I'm around. I don't want anything that's his. I've got enough of my own, too much. I want him to have someone with him in his time when he can't look after himself, someone he can trust on every level.

It's a very high privilege / opportunity for me to have the trust of a man of these mountains. He knows when I talk about him with other people, I only speak of him in respect and say nothing he wouldn't want me to say if he heard it. I want to allow his privacy. And that is another Hospice principle, to allow the patient his privacy as an autonomous individual. Respect is very important. When he was regarded without respect, like a load of lumber, this old dog would start paying close attention and a growl would start forming in the throat. A lot of the Rights that Hospice allows the patient start with the right to be informed of everything that involves them and their care. No more lies. The first one is the best one, "the right to be informed and participate in your own plan of care." I'd not experienced with the facilities and agencies involved with Jr's care anything like a right to be informed. They might have had it in writing somewhere for looking good, but in practice it was just a bunch of words.

I was not willing to allow anything short of respectful behavior with him. Every place we dealt with was unsatisfactory in my way of seeing. I knew I could keep him more comfortable than a nursing home / prison could. None of them came up to my principles that I then regarded self-evident. Evidently they were not. Then the women from Hospice lined out everything I was unwilling to allow Jr to live without. Them telling what they provided was like my own list that I will not allow anything short of for Jr. I felt like we fit like a plug and a socket. It was funny hearing them tell me the Hospice philosophy and it, word for word, my own. They are here to keep him out of a nursing home, so he can pass his last days in the comfort of his own home.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


The spirit in this house has lifted over the last couple of days, the change of the mattress a symbol of all the outer and inner change. Monday I called Hospice. Tuesday two sharp, intelligent, attentive women, what I call true human beings, came to talk with me about Jr's particular situation, like they really wanted to know. What they were telling me they do was what seemed to me so simple a concept that is missing altogether in service agencies and facilities. The last two days, Jr and I have relaxed so much that my friend Carole I talk with on the phone every day, said this morning I sound relaxed. No more threat of nursing home, investigations and anxiety for leaving a coffee cup in the sink yet to be washed.

I realized in this process of relaxation that I'd come to see our situation here at the house like having our wagons in a circle fighting off one Indian attack after another. Always ready for the surprise attack. A watch your back atmosphere all the time, dreading the next invasion of the Absentee Police, not afraid of them, rather anticipating the bother, wishing they'd stay home and watch more tv. Now, nursing home is not only not an option, it's not even a consideration, because no power can get him in one against Hospice's will. Going back is a daily fear of Jr's, and for me it's dread of more bother with bureaucratic mind, which isn't connected to rational any way you look at it. It's connected to money and money only. Profit. But, that's the nature of Capitalism and it's how we live in Capitalism. Money is first in all considerations. I don't know that Socialism is any better when State agencies run everything. Get in line for your turn to be regarded a suspect.

My dream world is a place where we look after one another and everyone has care as needed. I think that's what Jesus was talking about when he said love your neighbor, do onto others..., love God. The basic simple qualities of his teaching are 2100 years later as idealistic as they were then. How can you love your neighbor when you can't trust him? When he's siphoning gas from your pickup at night and you can't catch him, but you know it's him, how can you ever like the jerk? Say your neighbor is calling your wife when you're not home, flirting with her, and you heard it from her best friend, not her; it's kind of hard to like that guy. Love? No way. Not even possible when how to kill him and get away with it is all you can think about.

So you write that verse off, something you can't do, and it makes you feel bad when you think about it. Guilt. But it's really not a problem, because nobody else can do it either. You want to put your focus on something you can understand, like God hates queers. But how come he thought so much of King David? That doesn't really count. It was King David. And how come it was important that Jesus be in King David's bloodline if David was a fag in scandalous love with his boyfriend Jonathan, parents and relatives freaking out all around them, which the Bible so explicitly illustrates. That part you're supposed to skip and go on to the parts about slaughter and mayhem, killing and the all-night hedonist parties after a battle, the OT justifying genocide and slavery.

The anxiety lifting after all we've been through, when I've only wanted that an honorable man not die of despair when he doesn't need to, inspired a great deal of relaxation in both of us. I was going to say it was more in me, but no, Jr was the one looking at prison by somebody else's whim. The forces around us were shooting arrows of blame and lies, threats and suspicion, hitting below the belt to get him away from me and into a nursing home, for his own good. All he wants is his own bed, his own home, and his own life, not to be thrown into prison again. The bureaucrats and the Absentee Police want him filed and shelved in the lumberyard of the waiting to die. They want strangers to feed him pabulum that would gag buzzards, instead of friends and neighbors at home to feed him what he likes. So what if he wants a whopper junior. It's better than anything they put before him at the nursing home.

At a time in his life when all pleasures are denied him, and the exit draws nearer every day, I say let him have what he wants, even if it's Pringle sticks and beef jerky. He's well past 21 and I'm here to allow him his basic human rights as an autonomous individual. Some let on like, what's the big deal? That's kind of 19th Century, isn't it? What's so hot about personal autonomy in a police state? How much personal autonomy do you have at an airport? We're so used to it after all these years of being searched at airports and men with guns watching, that it becomes how we do what we do. It becomes culture like in China nobody tells anybody outside the family anything that's important to them. It's been Chinese custom all along to rat on neighbors and relatives to the government, the Emperor, what have you. Mao broke into the home encouraging children to rat on their parents and teachers, wives to rat on their husbands. Like it's custom in our mountains not to trust anyone, it's more so in China.

Then along comes Hospice on a white horse shooting silver bullets and saying Hi Yo Silver, Away. Away with the threat of nursing home coming from any sector. Away with being watched suspiciously for the first mistake in this game where the patient is the one never considered to make a decision for any aspect of his life, regarded the one who knows least about himself. That they listened to me, his care provider, who is with him every day for a few years now, I found curious right off. When I found they were interested to know my observations of his patterns of behavior, that they were encouraging me to talk, I was heartened. They wanted to hear what they needed to know, instead of acting toward me like I was in the way, telling them what to do, and certainly not a reliable source for information about the patient.

The very first right in Hospice's list of patient's bill of rights: The patient has a right to be informed and participate in their own plan of care. My jaw dropped. This had never been the case. Number 2: The patient has a right to be treated with respect, consideration, dignity, and full recognition of his or her individuality and right to privacy. Unprecedented. It goes on. They are here to assist the care provider keep Jr comfortable in his own home and his own bed, not to inspect, threaten and kidnap, but to assist. As the two women drove away, I felt like angels had been sent. You can be sure I thanked God. Continue to.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


appalachian banjo picker

We've been having August rains every day, an inch each of the last three days. The ground feels healthy underfoot, like all the growing things with roots are satisfied and happy. Mid August the green of mountainside forests develops a thin brown haze that grows as the locust and some other leaves are turning brown and falling away. These are the first to lose their leaves. I've heard the yellow locusts are now gone away like the chestnut, and what we have left, the white locust, is on its way too. I've been seeing that looking at the mountainside across the highway year round, watching the daily changes. Watching the crows fly through the trees of their home. This time of year the crows lose wing feathers. You see them flying with a gap or two in each wing like a missing tooth.

The same family of crows comes around every day to see if any good garbage has been slung outside. They fly in with wings spread all the way out, pinion feathers curved forward, turning in tight circles and landing at what looks like it might be something to eat. This late in the summer their neck feathers are getting shabby and the feathers less well groomed. If I'm interpreting what I'm seeing correctly, don't count on it, the young one I called the brown-headed one, the one that didn't seem quite well, he's become the bottom of the pecking order. Having lived with chickens and among humans much of my life, I understand pecking order.

I changed mattresses on Jr's bed today. He had a houseful of company this morning. After they'd gone, he was up and alert. I'd been wanting to change the mattress for him for so long, about a year, and when I suggest it he won't let me, because it's too much work. Today I decided this is the time. I didn't ask. I tore all the sheets and blankets off the bed and stood the mattress on its side, slid it to the back room where the other mattress was. About a year ago, well-meaning friends brought the mattress from the back bedroom to his bed because it was newer and more firm. He accepted it because it was done in good faith and he didn't want to hurt their feelings by undoing what they did for him. He's missed his mattress ever since. It was his nest. It fit him. I'd mention I could change the mattresses easily. No. You'll hurt yourself. When he speaks, I don't try to persuade him any other way. It's what he wants.

He said today he's not been able to sleep since that mattress has been on the bed. He can't get comfortable on it. Then all the institutional mattresses he's been on that he couldn't sleep on for the same reason as at home. I pushed it right by where he was sitting, and he paid it no mind. I pushed the other one along the floor by him and he paid it no mind. I studied it to find his shape in it to put it back on the bed like it was before. I was looking to give him back his nest. I think of it like a dog that walks in a tight circle in a bed of leaves and lies down in the nest, a comfortable bed.

I remade the bed, knowing by now how he likes the blankets and make it ready to receive him, so all he has to do is wheel up beside it, stand up with every last bit of energy he can pull together, twist around and sit on the bed. The other one was too high for him too. Today he sat on the old mattress and didn't seem to take much note of it. He pulled his legs up and turned onto his side in a half fetal manner and fell off to sleep the moment his head touched the pillow. A short time later I wanted to see if he really was asleep, I spoke lightly, "Are you awake?" No response. He fell into sound sleep. I couldn't help but think of a dog in a nest of leaves, how comfortable and relaxing it is for them.

I've been through so much of having to put my foot down regarding how my friend is being treated, I've become practiced at it. I will not allow him to be treated like a stack of lumber, but he was taken away a couple of times and put on a shelf in the lumberyard, and there was nothing I could do to help. Both times, there came a time I had to step in. Abuse. He fell into despair. I call that abuse. If I'm able, I will not allow as respectable and honorable a man as Jr, who has lived his life in touch with his own integrity, die in despair when he does not have to. I will not allow such a man to die of despair when he is my friend I value as a true human being.

At the first one, on the ninth day I saw despair in everything about him. He said, "I got to get out of here. I can't stand it another day." He meant it. He said, "I been studying ways out of here and found several. The radio has a cord." At first I thought he meant out the window in the night, something like that. I knew he meant it when he mentioned the cord. He never talks about suicide. It's not something he wants to do. It's there for an option, but it's not what he wants to do. He'd rather tough it out. It's how he's lived his life, toughing it out. It wasn't drama. It was dropped through the bottom despair. For him, being in the place all day and night, it was an insane asylum. It's what he called it. The second one he called a prison. It felt like one, too, from the perspective of an inmate. The first one would make a good set for a movie shot in an asylum.

I walked with him out the door of the place to his freedom. In the doorway of his home he said, 'Home, Sweet Home,' his winning song at fiddlers conventions. I'd run off all the "service" agencies that disturbed his peace. I freed him from two nursing homes. I'm committed. This morning one of his visitors told to me going out the door I'd be getting a Reward for this. I understood what he was saying, and understand the principle, knew he was speaking from his heart. I said, "I get the reward simultaneous with with what I do." I didn't know how to define what I really felt, but this was close. The act is its own reward. That's how it feels. Smoothing his way is all I really do, and that's all he needs. It smooths my way. Now that I say that, it has powerful meaning. It smooths my way notably and I hadn't even thought of that part. But that's what it is. As I smooth Jr's way, it smooths my way too. How I know that is I feel light spirited and happy all the time, even when I'm feeling down about something. I don't need any other reward. Certainly nothing to do with money.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009



TarBaby is here with me using his nose to wedge his head under my hand as I'm typing, to get my hands off of that crazy keyboard and on what's important: cat. He's determined that I keep at least one hand on him. He has a strong need for affectionate attention this evening. I'm only at the house a couple hours a day, and it's just not enough for TarBaby. Since dog died about 6 years ago, TarBaby has been the protector of the house and his 2 sisters.

He feels anxious about his role. It's a big role for a cat. Dogs come by. A possum hangs around. He knows the critters of the night are bigger than he is and they're wild. They fight to kill. They say coyotes eat cats. I assure him I appreciate what he's doing for me. It comforts him when I let him know I'm aware of his commitment to me, his gift to me in return for my commitment to him. Sometimes I tell him I've known him all his life, from the day he was born, and have loved him ever since that day. He closes his eyes, listens and purrs. It's seldom, actually, he has such a deep need for being held as this evening.

He's been anxious for some time. Holding him, talking to him, petting him, relaxes him. It even seems like he gets energy from my attention. When I drive up, he comes running or walking fast from wherever he was mouse hunting, requires that I pick him up and carry him to the house. When I set him down on the ground at the door, he clings to my clothes with his claws wanting to go on being held.

TarBaby and I have a friendship of 12 years, his whole life, that includes communication in silence, by eye contact and body language. We're good at it. I often wonder what it is like for a cat to have such a close understanding with a human heart and mind. In my experience with cats and dogs throughout my life, it seems an awful lot like they regard us as gods. That's what Jesus said we are. Maybe the cats and dogs see it and we don't.
In the time of my childhood, it was generally regarded by adults that animals didn't have souls. That was the common belief. But I knew cats and dogs in childhood and they communicated like they had souls. The soul, being the essence of God in us, is the place within that loves and responds to love. I've been loved by all of them I've had with me over the years. They love and they respond to love. They have souls. They, like us, are souls with bodies attached. I was never able to get it that the entire adult population of the world I was in couldn't see it. It was so obvious to me, it bewildered me about adults. It was a crack in the preacher's credibility at a young age.
Understandings such as this set me off in my mind, in my own direction when I was seeing what looked like the obvious to me, and no one else saw it, and if I mentioned it, I was disregarded. I've talked with many people of my age with the same experience. Seems like something happened around the time of WW2 when people were more susceptible to believing what they're told to believe, than going by what's in front of them. It would have been heretical if I'd mentioned any of that to the preacher. I learned right off not to take big questions to him, because what I got was a what-you're-supposed-to-believe answer. Even teachers at school wouldn't entertain such thoughts.
There came a time when I tried to learn how to be like the people that didn't see what I saw and it never took. I couldn't do it. Thus, I left the "world" and went to the mountains for semi-solitude and got involved in the "world" in the mountains. The mountains have been the context of my spiritual path, learning from experience the way the old-timers learned.
From the time the cats were kittens I've been telling them I love them, and feeling same from them. It relaxed them visibly. I'm recalling the first time I called TarBaby my friend. He went into a purring stillness of satisfaction, very much like he knew the meaning. Still, when I call him my friend, he has this particular stillness about him and purring. It was like saying that word was the same as running my hand over his head. I just now said to him, TarBaby my friend, and he did like always, a quiet feeling within of contentment.
This is how I give him the energy to go on as protector of the house and his 2 sisters when I'm not here most of the time. It seems like he's getting his energy aligned with mine. Like a rechargeable battery. The last several days he seemed anxious like I've never seen him before. I realized he needed some focused attention and touching.
He's with me here, front legs over my left arm, his face in the crook of my arm, a particularly affectionate gesture. I thought it would be a good thing to give him full attention this evening, take some time for just TarBaby and remind him I appreciate him and why, write to you about him and tell you about what a great cat he is, and let him feel it. He just now started purring loudly. I like knowing a cat as well as I know TarBaby. They're only 'dumb' because they can't talk. When it comes to intelligence, cats have it in abundance.
One of my friends jumped in my face some years ago when I said something about TarBaby being a great cat. She got all defensive / aggressive and tore into me for thinking my cat was better than other cats, particularly hers. That was so far away from what I was thinking when I said that, I had to review in my mind what I'd said that she took in such a way. I tried to explain that to say he's a great cat doesn't mean he's The Greatest. He's a great cat to have in my life. It was one of those times I learned again not to explain anything when cornered like that. If that's the way she wants it, that's the way she's got it. What does it matter to me or TarBaby? It took a long time, but I finally did learn.
TarBaby is now sitting on the corner of the desk staring at the floor. I just now said, TarBaby my cat. He turned his head half way toward me and then back, a gesture to say he heard it. I don't know what I'd do if I were told to recant believing a cat has a soul or be burned at the stake, and it serious like in medieval times. I'd probably say, OK, where do I sign? After all, duress as motivation negates the recanting and I'm free. Like Galileo. Why be a martyr over the obvious?

Monday, August 17, 2009


heaven and earth

One of the aspects of getting older that I like is finding how fluid the mind is, how thin as air it is, how incredibly unreliable it is, how ways of thinking guide patterns of behavior, how living in the mind can stunt inner growth, how adamantine mind can be. I see it in myself, believing with certainty some event I'd been involved in happened a certain way, would testify to it in court. Come to find out, it wasn't like I remembered at all. Where did what I remembered come from? I think it's called false memory. How do we know what's false memory and what's not? Then, there's deception and self-deception. It can go on and on and it does.

Of the 3 billion earthlings that live on the planet's landmasses like clusters of ant colonies, ever at war with neighbors, every one of us has his/her interpretations of experience. In a courtroom, multiple witnesses are consulted looking for the thread that runs through all the different versions of the same moment. We see through the filters of our minds, or, in other words, our experience. The man that swaggers like a tough guy, does his hair like a tough guy, brags like he's a tough guy, who has been in prison, which precedes him wherever he goes, his identity, sees through a very different filter from a teenage girl with a bad case of pimples, a nose she doesn't like, and mouse-colored hair, who pours her heart out to a pet gerbil. These two people cannot see the same thing that's right before their eyes the same way.

Multiply that by 3 billion and we have a whole lot of misunderstanding going on. We're seldom at peace in our own minds, so when we get together in big groups, identify with the group, the club, the tribe, the county, the nation, and everybody has conflict going on in their minds, then the whole bunch will have no peace, will keep war going created by mental conflict. There will be murders, robbery, bigger and bigger police forces, more and more prisons, military industrial congressional complex, wars to keep the economy going and the people divided, because people divided are easy to manipulate.

All of that, because individually we don't have peace of mind. Hence God comes to earth in human form and gives perfectly clear guidelines on how to have inner peace, which amounts to getting along with the people around us, bypassing mental conflict, and loving God. But that's no fun. "Do you know what that haystack-headed bitch said to me? Well, she looks just like a haystack a-settin on a pair-a shoulders. I aint lyin, honey, I'm tellin ya, she looks just like a haystack. About kills me ever time I see her."

Big Maybelle, a Chicago R&B singer of the fifties, had a song that was two women talking on a sidewalk in Chicago, Big Maybelle one of them. She lets the other woman have it for telling her business all over town. The other woman has a petulant, smart-mouth way about her, coming back with, "I call em as I see em.... You got Mississippi written all over you." They never come to agreement, so Big Maybelle ends it with, "Ya better watch out!"

Being in this world, not of it, appears to have a lot to do with peace of mind, free of conflict in the mind. Judgment sets mental conflict off like a dynamite cap. Then you get all that follows. "Why's everbody down on me?" Maybe I was down on them first. Several years ago, somebody I knew a short time said, "I don't like people, but I like you." That didn't appeal to me. I felt I understood what he was saying, but at the same time it told me it won't be long til I become people, so we'll settle it right now. I'm already people.

The foundation of all drama from Greek times to now is conflict. The nature of this world is duality, the spin of opposites, black and white, that creates all the colors between black, the color of all colors blended in pigment, and white, the color of all colors in light blended. The Impressionists would not use black, because it was not a color. That's just one way of looking at it. The other way of looking at it is black is all the colors; thus, it's a color. Rouault certainly thought so a few years later.

Look down through the centuries at schools of philosophy that contradict the one that came before, back and forth, back and forth. It seems like the pendulum swing is the result of momentum, like footsteps to catch us as we fall forward. In history, a renascence is followed by a reformation, a rejection. It opened doors to too many unknowns. Like hanging a couple of dried and painted elephant turds on a painting called Madonna, and the mayor of New York wants it taken out of the show, because he's a Catholic. Turds and Mother of God don't mix. But that's just one way of looking at it, which, fortunately, American law allows.

Seeing the mind can go anywhere it wants and justify anything, create reality by repetition and deny anything out of existence makes a good case for illusion. Put a dozen people in a jury room after a trial with the same evidence to go by and see how many versions of the same thing come up. Gore Vidal artfully demonstrated in just a few words there is no history. History is written from memoirs and letters that are, by nature, self-serving, and newspaper articles, which we know are consistently incorrect. Plus, for everyone involved in a given event, it is a different experience.

I see Jr in his bed as near mindless as can be. he has said he can't think any more; his senses know more than his mind. I saw his mind flow the same as down a drain over the course of a week. Every day there was less and less, until it was gone. Now mind is gone and body lives on. 23 hours a day in the bed, so weak he can't move or think. He says he doesn't sleep, but he always looks asleep. When I say his woman friend is on the phone, he's awake, though just by a thread. He is aware. He can respond to something said if he understands it. While he was up about an hour ago I took the moment to change bed sheets and he said, "You don't have to do so much." He was ready to crawl in as soon as it was ready. The phone rang. He wanted his pee cup. It was in the kitchen sink being washed with detergent. I answered the phone, got the cup, finished the bed and left him to his privacy. A whirlwind moment in a day of stillness.