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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.

1 comment:

  1. You are being rewarded every day. I understand that way of thinking. I also beleive more rewards will come. You know the old line about what goes around comes around? I think mostly it's meant in a negative way, like if someone does something bad to you they'll have something bad happen to them. In your case it's positive. Even though you are getting daily rewards more are definitely on your horizon. I know I am rewarded and humbled every time I read about your devotion to your friend and wish for both of you well-being and peace.
    We should be at Bear Bottom this weekend and I hope to get to finally meet you. Thanks for an uplifting blog! I've also enjoyed reading about your "children", Tarbaby and her sisters.