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Tuesday, September 29, 2009


My friends have been on my mind a lot today and what it means to be a friend and have a friend. Jr makes a good example, because anyone who ever met Jr Maxwell is his friend. I've spoken that to several people who have known him all his life and they all agree it's how he is. It's real and genuine too, not anything about it insincere. Of course, he's been at odds with some people along the way, as we all do, as is part of our existence, but if any of them was to walk in his door you'd never notice there'd ever been a problem, because in his mind it's over. It's in the past. This is now.

This is a man who has lived his entire life in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in Whitehead, a rough way of living, a rough life, and he loved it rough. In a way, he has a case of short man syndrome, but it's kept to himself and he was never one to try to make himself seem bigger than he is. When he was a kid, whoever it was keeping the Whitehead store at the time, kept boxing gloves in the store for anybody who wanted to box. The boys took to it. Jr, of course, was good, because he was good at everything he put his hand to.

He learned foremost, it seems from looking over his whole life, that taking it is more important than giving it. He never gave it, so to speak, in any kind of aggressive way in his whole life. Never once had a fight without the boxing gloves, and that wasn't over being mad. Like a natural born martial artist who knows he can kill anybody with one finger, but never does it, even if provoked, a man with a gun is the same.

He had an older brother, who, in Jr's words, 'was too quick with a gun,' and ultimately shipwrecked Jr's life and the lives of many others in one moment of that quickness. Jr was a constable in Whitehead for several years and never arrested anyone. A couple of boys get drunk and fighting and making a ruckus, he takes them home. He mentioned one boy who was into all kinds of trouble regularly from being drunk and stupid. He drove the boy home one night after an ordeal and talked with him about what he was doing and what it was getting him. They guy was never in trouble again, set out living a sensible life and did all right. One day many years later he came to the shop to see Jr and tell him how that night had changed his life.

My first experiences with Jr was putting up hay with him and Lois in my first year on the farm. They made it fun. It wasn't like work. Jr talking telling funny stories, pure, raw mountain as they get. I'd been getting acquainted with mountain people gradually, learning how to know people in a way I'd never known before. In the culture I came from the amount of information you could amass in your head was important. In this culture it's your character that's important, or used to be. Still is among the older people and the lovers of God. It took me a long time to adjust to being around people who'd never heard of Elizabeth Bishop or Andy Warhol and didn't want to. So I had high phone bills for several years talking with friends from my former culture gradually weaning myself of it.

It's another world of thinking, another world of doing. Like Jr quit school after 11th grade because he wanted to work and be making some money. Me, I wanted to be in school because I didn't have to work if I was in school. I'd have put off growing up forever, if it weren't a process that gets you later if it doesn't get you sooner. Jean put her finger on it: she said I live my life like a college student. I guess you'd call it arrested development. Or maybe it's just that I've felt transient all my life until I got here to the mountains that crept into me gradually until there came a time that when I left the mountains to go to a city, I felt like I was in a world of crazy people and wanted to get back to where the sensible people live.

Then it got to where I can't cross the county line without intent to be back before bedtime. I don't want out of these mountains and I don't want out of this county. Even narrower to Whitehead would suit me, but I do need the mall that Sparta is. It's a mall where you drive from store to store instead of walk. Like today I needed to drive to town to drop some prescription bottles off at Halsey's, the purpose of the drive to town, then to Kerr where I picked up a little spiral notebook for keeping notes. I've found I make a lot of notes and lists lately, am always looking for scraps of paper to write them on. Finally it came upon me to carry a small notebook and write the notes in it. The last one is down to 3 pages, so I went to Kerr to get another. Then back to the house fast as I could git, like Arnold Schwarzenegger riding a dirt bike away from an exploding factory inches ahead of the flames.

Today's entry, 'Life should be about fun.' a quotation from the Hong Kong men-with-guns movie I saw this afternoon by John Woo called HARD BOILED. Was it ever. Chow Yun Fat of CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON said it. He's a gun toting Hong Kong cop who is out there on his own, like a Steven Seagal character without, of course, the slightest character development. It was about gunfire from start to finish. Just what I wanted to see. In Hong Kong men-with-guns movies the only time guns aren't going off is when they're reloading, every 10,000th round. It was pure Surrealism in camoflage. Woo makes a visually stunning film. Content is a void, but that's ok. It's a genre that is sometimes fun. This one definitely is. You don't even need subtitles. Good soundtrack.

The next time I saw Jr was the next summer down at Ralph Crouse's trout farm at the foot of the mountain in Whitehead, in the bend on Air Bellows Gap Road. The following summer I helped Ralph out some at the trout ponds, like seining a mess of the trout to deliver a given number to High Meadows and Roaring Gap restaurants. Jr and Ralph were neighbors and friends all their lives, and sometimes Jr came by, and when he saw me he spoke to me by name. I'd already learned very well never to expect anyone I meet to remember my name next time we meet or that they've ever seen me. When I was used to it, Jr spoke to me by name, and I thought, What? It stood out. Listening to him and Ralph talk in their mountain way of speaking was one of my joys. I first wrote down accent, but it's not accent. It's a way of speaking unto itself.

They went off for a couple weeks to restore an old log cabin and make it like original someplace where they had to take a trailer to sleep in and have a kitchen. They asked me to go along, but I was committed at the Stern farm in the busy time of year and couldn't justify going, though really wanted to. The thought of participating in the restoration of an old log cabin with two mountain men who can do anything like that, and what I could have learned from them has haunted me ever since. Seeing it then as I see it now, I would have gone.

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