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.