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Saturday, September 5, 2009


jr & jean 2 and a half years ago

Today I have been thinking about the day I dropped by Jr's shop when I saw him sitting in a wooden chair inside. I wanted to talk with him about the music store I wanted to open to sell cds of mountain music and strings. He was all with it. While we talked I was taken by how depressed he was. It didn't seem right for Jr Maxwell to be that depressed. It was just a few years after Spider Woman. He asked me to the house to have a drink with him. I found him so depressed that, like I said, it didn't seem right. I hadn't seen him in several years to sit down and talk with him.

I've always known someone here to sit and talk with for hours at a time. It's how I learn the culture, listening to someone from the old time ways tell of those times, telling their lives that hold my interest every word they're saying. First was Tom Pruitt. I discovered in Tom an awful lot that is from another place and time. He stayed in place and everything changed around him. Over 14 years he had told me memory after memory of people he's known, his family, preachers, church, working 2 big horses to haul tree trunks out of the woods, his mother dying in his arms. She was the love of his life. He told me one time that there are two kinds of women, mothers and whores. His mother was the only one that wasn't a whore. He also told me he could cook better than any woman. You already know that's not so. I've never known a woman as bad a cook as Tom. For bread, he put water in self-rising flour, wadded it up in his hand and sat them on the woodstove. White bread.

Another time he told me that men with a lot of hair on their bodies, and women that have twins and triplets are closer to animals than the rest of us. This is somebody who didn't believe evolution at all. He was back in the flat earth cosmology, pre-Copernican, where rational is not an issue. Pre-reason, living by the heart, feeling deeply, emotional. Electricity moved in here when Tom was late 30s, early 40s. There was no urgency about electricity or plumbing. Tom built a bathroom off the side of the house. It was 16 years before he connected water to it. That was all he had to do, connect water that was already in the kitchen, a gravity line from a spring box up the hill. After he ran water to it, he would take showers. He never bought a shower curtain. He kept a mop by the shower stall. After a shower, he mopped the bathroom floor.

I learned Tom's beliefs. For one, he only read the red letter text in the Bible. His Bible was a NT. For Tom, that was what it was all about, the sayings of Jesus. All the rest of it was all right, but the only part that's important is what Jesus said. I agree. So did Thomas Jefferson. He printed some copies of a Bible that was only the words of Jesus. They're still in print. The Jefferson Bible. Tom was very much a pilgrim. When they sang Amazing Grace at his funeral, the Old Baptist way, a pool of tears on the floor between my feet grew larger and larger making a miniature pond on the polished hardwood. The fullness of who Tom was I felt was in that song.

Tom's Brother, Millard, I've listened to for 14 years tell his and other people's stories in his life. Millard was a Regular Baptist preacher, among the last that preached the old time way. Millard was a good preacher. He really was a vessel for the Holy Spirit. He told me about preachers from the past, how the church meetings were, his own visions, like the time an angel appeared to him in his living room. Millard was a hard-shell. He was born a Regular Baptist and a republican. And he died a Regular Baptist and republican. He believed never changing was a form of Godliness. God doesn't change, so God's devotee shouldn't change. A Bible scholar and a very interesting man.

Jr is from the same world as Tom and Millard, Whitehead. He grew up in the old time way, that was changing from about the age of 20 onward. He started out riding horses. Model As came along. He has lived through the changes of the 20th Century that started here around 1945. Jr has told me thousands of experiences that all go together to tell me his life. A few years ago it came to him he'd told me everything about his life and there wasn't any more to tell. We were up to the present. So we stayed in the present.
I started seeing that the worst thing for Jr was lonesomeness. He was the embodiment of a bluegrass song. Lines from bluegrass songs he thought of as truths he carried, a kind of scripture. Every evening I'd leave to go home, he'd ask me to come back the next evening. Gradually the despair lifted a little bit. Jean came around quite a lot. Often she would cook a meal for all of us. Jean told her story over a period of years. I was thinking I can't do anything to help Jr. It's a totally inside himself, his own business kind of thing. It cheered him up over time as we talked over two drams apiece over a two hour period. Both of us are sippers. His blues gradually lifted, a bita, if for no other reason than having someone to talk to who pays attention.
After awhile of telling each other our lives, we became friends. He learned he can trust me and I learned I can trust him. A few times he asked me why I don't talk much about my life. I said, It's too damn boring. His life was spent taking the moment face on, in motion, seeing a lot of people, having experiences with other people like hunting, being married, work and so on. I live almost entirely in my mind. It entertains me, but to somebody else, I don't know. It wouldn't register anything to Jr if I were to tell him about Andrei Tarkovsky's film Andrei Rublev, when the Tartars, Mongols, were slaughtering the people of a medieval town in Ukraine. Things that interest me like film, reading, varieties of music, are of no interest to Jr. I've told him of a scene or two from Steven Seagal films where Seagal is shooting it out and pulls some clever trick. It wouldn't do to attempt to tell him my appreciation for Peter Greenaway's film, Prospero's Books. It wouldn't work. And I don't care.
All my mental stuff is for my entertainment. Nonetheless, he appreciates my painting. He likes that I can render a likeness. He tends to think I can't do anything, because I can't weld, take a tractor motor apart and put it back together so it runs better than it did before, or operate a bullnoser. But when he looks at one of my paintings he appreciates that there is something I can do. That makes up for not knowing how to operate a backhoe and not wanting to.
We don't know every detail about each other's lives by a long ways, but we understand each other, and that's worth a lot. That's why I want to be his care provider, because I want him to have somebody with him who understands him to help him in this most difficult time of his life when his mind is gone and he can't do for himself. I want him to have someone with him he can trust absolutely. I know for a certainty he can trust me absolutely. And I want to know how he's doing at all times. And I believe God gave him to me as a teacher for this experience. Jr is possibly the most humble man I know. Right now he's passing to me lessons in humility.

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