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Saturday, October 31, 2009


road to the future

Misty and rainy all day. It added gloss to the colors of autumn remaining in the trees. It's not been a good year for color in the mountains. When the first colors to come into the trees were turning, the reds and yellows, a big wind and rain storm blew the loose leaves to the ground. About all that was left was green leaves. Had to wait awhile for the green leaves to turn. They did and then another storm took care of them. By now the mountains are looking like a multi-color quilt again. Slow time getting here. Not a dynamic leaf display this year.

Tonight at 9:20 I am here in these mountains 33 years. Everything has changed quite a lot in that time. I have changed too. I drove much of the day after packing the pickup with the last load of stuff. I remember getting on the interstate where it passes through Charleston, and saw the city go out of sight in the rearview mirror behind the wall of cement that was the highway. Only a church spire left, then nothing. I felt at that moment like I was saying farewell to that phase of my life. It was gone, buried in the Past.

A new life was ahead, 6.5 hours up the highway to the Blue Ridge Mountains, Alleghany County. I had no idea where I was going, only mountains. All I knew about mountain people came from Doris Ullman photographs of Appalachian poverty and Walker Evans photographs of same. They prepared me for nothing. In fact, I had to get over what I saw in those pictures right away, because they represented specific people sought for the purpose of a photograph of poverty. There's poverty in the cities too. Even worse than in the mountains. Sure, there's a little illiteracy in the mountains, but again, nothing like in the cities.

I had some spiritual purpose in coming to these mountains. First, to get away from my former influences. A year before, I had discovered with certainty that God indeed Is. My religious upbringing drove me away from God until I realized about 15 years later that the problem I had with religion was the human mind invented it for the control of the many by the few. I still see religion that way. What happened was I saw past religion to God, that God is not at all like what I'd been taught to believe, ruling my life by guilt, fear and the negative: you better not. What I found was God is Love and love has no part in much that is said to be God's will, which often gets taken for punishment.

God doesn't punish us. God loves us. God understands us. Somebody slipping up on his path is the same to God as a baby wetting its diaper. A reasonable mother doesn't punish her baby for wetting a diaper. She lovingly changes the diaper, even though she doesn't like the act itself. I was raised to believe God is always looking for sin to punish. We punish ourselves. God doesn't have to. We way over-punish ourselves according to God's way of seeing. It's something God has to accept in us, because we don't understand an awful lot. We're his beloved babies.

We fight amongst ourselves, scheme against each other, revel in punishing each other, and say we do it for God, while God allows us anything we want, even making other people's lives a misery in God's name. It's our role to learn what is self-destructive and self-nurturing. God's advice to us over and over is to turn our attention away from the self-destructive and embrace the self-nurturing. If you want a good life. It's up to us. We have to learn to make our own decisions, so we get scripture to help us. Then scripture gets used to take our decision-making away. If we can't learn to make decisions that benefit us rather than bounce back and hit us in the face, how can we have a good life, which is what God wants for us.

In my first months in these mountains I read several times and thought about a poem by Wallace Stevens I felt had something to say for me. It's The Poem That Took The Place of a Mountain. The following lines are from the middle of the poem.

It reminded him how he had needed

A place to go to in his own direction,

How he had recomposed the pines,

Shifted the rocks and picked his way among the clouds,

For the outlook that would be right,

Where he would be complete in an unexplained completion

What I was looking for was to be complete within. I wanted to start over in a culture new to me. I've come to believe that as I discovered the culture I'd landed in, I discovered myself. Though it was strange and new at first, I gradually learned mountain culture was the most familiar, as I'd essentially grown up in a mountain home in flatland cities. This was the culture of my grandmother, the most important person in my early life. While thinking I was going way out into something remote and unfamiliar, like the hunters that come here thinking they're in the boonies, I found myself so close to my inner being that I've come to call Alleghany County the home of my soul. I came to live among the people of my own culture and didn't know it. But God knew.

God said, without words, this will be a good place for you to learn what you need to know. He set me down next to Tom Pruitt and said, learn from this man. He later set me down next to Jr Maxwell and said, learn from this man. Both, in my way of seeing, were complete men. Complete human beings. God gave them to me for spiritual guides to help me find my own completion. In the case of Jr Maxwell, to have earned the trust of a man of these mountains I respect as I respect Jr means a very great deal to me. That's better to me than a crystal trophy.

Friday, October 30, 2009


whitehead 28oct09
This morning a visit from Hospice director to inform me that I can take several hours in a day off with volunteers sitting in while I'm gone. I know they do and they're a great service. Several of Jr's friends and relatives offer to help. The nurses and aides who come to the house are saying I need a break, everyone says I need a break. I'm with all of it. Only problem is, when I'm not there with Jr, I feel like I'm wasting my time and don't know what to do. I watch movies and a little of this and that, but a good movie seems to flow right by me. I'm not where I'm supposed to be.

All day I've been remembering the time when I was first in the mountains, at Tom Pruitt's house one evening he told me the people here didn't know they were poor until Roaring Gap came in and told them they were poor. Whether or not it's the case, these are the dots Tom connected to explain where the understanding that mountain living was poverty came from. They thought they had a good life. Now I'm being told I have stress and I need help and one thing and another. I didn't know this before I was told. I don't know. I do know that when pushed too far I can snap and make myself clear in no uncertain terms. But I need to do more of that anyway.

I've felt this kind of stress before and made it through. Today I was asked if I have any plans for after Jr. Only to go home. My purpose for being there will be over the moment of his last breath, and the leavings are for other people to fuss and worry over. I don't want any of it. I will have fulfilled my commitment to my friend and that will be that. It has nothing to do with anyone else. It's between me and Jr only. I do anticipate a rush of family and friends thanking me for what I've done for Jr, and I'll accept and be gracious, because they're sincere. By now Jr's relatives and friends have become my friends. All good people, the kind of people you want for friends. Joineses by nature are super fine people, anyway every one I've known. Jr's mother was a Joines and Edwards.

I don't mean to discredit the people who recognize stress when they see it. It's just that after a day of examining how I feel, it turns out I don't want time off except when I need it for something like a BROC meeting or doctor appointment, Kermit's barber shop, grocery store, like that. And time out for the occasional movie. It turns out the movies I like tend to be 2.5 to 3 hours long, so I see them 1st half one sitting, 2nd half another. There is also the consideration that the cats are stressed with me being gone so much. I believe they understand. I've told them I'm helping a friend in a difficult time.

Sonya Joines's column in this week's Alleghany News was just right. She wrote of how our animal friends lay down and die when we their human friends pay them no mind. I remember a case maybe 10 years ago or less of a baby a young girl left with her grandmother who didn't want it. The baby died after 2 weeks. No one touched it. No one talked to or held it. The baby died from absence of love same as it would from absence of food. When the mother of my cats left her babies with me the day their eyes opened, I knew they needed mother love as much as food. Vet told me they wouldn't live, but I knew they would. I'd already turned on mother love.

Several years ago I pulled up to park at the vets and saw a young donkey in the back of a pickup that was dying. The man told me it's mother died and it can't stand up. I knew what the problem was. I knew the baby would die. I also knew I could bring it back to life, but I'd have to take it home and spend a lot of time with it, turning on the love and feeding it by hand with love. I wanted to do that, but told myself this is not my business. I can't save the world.

I don't know if the donkey survived, though I doubt it. All it needed was mother love. I've often wondered since then if I could have talked the man into letting me take it home to bring it back to life. It seemed a bit presumptuous to me to tell a stranger I know more than he does about raising his stock. Too many subtle complexities involved. If I'd have brought it home, I could have never returned it, because loving it back to life I would have to fall in love with it and then couldn't part with it. All this ran through my head and I had to leave it be.

A little girl of around 7 was with the man, his daughter. I had a feeling I could convince her that she could bring the baby donkey to life by loving it, by taking care of it as her pet, like a kitten, be its special friend, be it's mother. I believed she could do that. But I wasn't convinced her daddy would think much of a total stranger telling his little girl to fall in love with the donkey. I believed he would not get it as much as I believed she would.

Again, too murky a territory to enter concerning somebody else's business. I imagined he'd heard legends as I had in my teens of donkeys and Candy whatever her name was in a Tijuana bar. Of course, her daddy's first thought about me would be a pre-vert, and it just wouldn't work out. I can't help it when a possum runs under my tire from the side of the road. There's a lot I can't help. But there is some I can help. It's up to me to learn the difference.

I believe there is a fine line between the two. Old-time religion says that helping somebody is "works" and works don't matter to God, so let them suffer, it's none of your business. I don't hold with that. Like what I'm doing with Jr I don't consider "works" and I wouldn't care if I did. I consider it making my world a better place by helping a major figure in my world in perhaps the hardest time of his life, the helpless time of his life. Works or not, works is neither here nor there to me. My only concern is that Jr Maxwell not die of despair abandoned to the lumberyard of nursing homes. I believe Jr Maxwell an extraordinary human being, a rare individual, and it a God sent opportunity for me to be with him in this time. When Dean Richardson said we need a preacher to pray over Jr, I didn't say it but thought, I pray over him all day every day. It's prayer from the heart that God hears.

I learned today he was baptized May of 1934. I'm glad to have that for the many who will want to know, sincerely want to know. This one date from church record will settle many a concern, because Jr didn't have any piety in his life or self-righteousness, those behavioral characteristics that identify the righteous. He is merely a humble man who called no attention to his humility. Jr's humility is a part of who his is, not something dictated by s'posed-to and affected for show. The way I see it, someone walking truly the pilgrim way will always be mistaken as not in line with God's teachings (church dogma), and when his time comes to pass on, many would question his salvation because he made no show of it. He only lived it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


found heart

Leaves are falling out of the trees. The meadows are turning brown. The lawn is bright green. 2 crows walking in their independent meanderings peck for worms in and out of the 2 shades of green, the shadow of the house and the sunlight. One of the crows raised its head and walked along the edge of the shadow.

On waking this morning I already felt what I've been feeling ever since: burnt plumb out. It's something sleep doesn't cure. It's a kind of paralysis, unable to move without forcing it. Unable to take an interest. Feeling like I want to go out the door and never come back. Let somebody else handle it. Irrational thinking to be sure, and I know it. Thoughts and feelings run wide open buzzing like a dirt bike race. Exhausted from it. Even feeling resentment toward Jr for doing this to me. Again, like getting mad at the ocean.

What my more sensible mind knows is I committed to whatever when I promised Jr I'd stay with him all the way. I didn't say it idly. I said it believing I could take more than I actually can take. I've done that before and paid the price. This with Jr isn't like paying a price for committing beyond my abilities. Not at all. Like when I believed wiping him was where I drew the line, that line is way in the past to where wiping him is nothing to even notice.

I've reached a place that has been my limit heretofore. It doesn't mean I can't or won't transcend it. I will. I'll push the envelope of my own limitations. No threat of nervous breakdown with all the support around me. It's time now to start calling on the support. I called Melia this morning to ask her to stay with Jr and hour and a half today while I go to doctor appointment and grocery store to get some little cups of pudding and apple sauce to mix his medications in. He can't swallow the pills as of the last couple of days.

Judy from Hospice came this morning to clean him. Since the last couple days have brought changes that require new thinking and doing, she was telling me how to turn him over in the bed every few hours, mix his pills with pudding or something after crushing them. I didn't want to hear any of it. I wanted not to listen. I wanted to be the average man and just not hear it when a woman talks. I wanted to shut down. I wanted to go home and sleep in my bed and stay in the bed until it turned boring, which I imagined would be at least a few days.

I even found myself thinking I wish Jr would just let go, a thought I don't allow. But I don't like denial either, so I let myself think it. It's a thought I give no attention, because I don't mean it. It's just my frustrated, burned out mind dragging up all the self-centered ways of seeing everything. I'm even doubting my interpretations of the waves of joy and sorrow I feel so much of the time, thinking it has been stress all along and it's making me cuckoo. I tell myself it's about Jr, not about me. I see that if I'm going to go on keeping Jr, I have reached a place where I have to take care of me too or I might not be able to make it. Bullshit. I'll make it.

A lot of self-serving, self-doubt thinking and almost entirely irrational. It feels like the mind wanting to shut down. Again, I tend to see it as the transcendent place where I push the envelope of my own abilities.

I just now heard some stirrings. I went to see how Jr was doing. He was wanting to get up to pee. When he saw I was there to help him get up, he smiled with that look that says, It's you, the one that helps me. My heart melted and I knew what I'm doing writing this is letting off steam to keep the boiler from blowing, because I've no choice but to go through this and come out the other end. It's like the way Jr describes his life---God put this down in front of me for me to get through it. Jr too.
I helped him to the pottie chair. He'd already wet his diapers and the pad on the bed. No problem. Wet diaper in one of those plastic grocery store bags, tied and in the trash. Wet pad to washing machine. New clean pad in place on the bed. Not even a minute. Using a new kind of diaper I'm not comfortable with, but will have them learned soon. Something about that moment relieved some of my inner tension. What it did was pull me outside my head a moment to clarify perspective.

One of Jr's friends told me a few days ago I need to do this kind of work for pay. He said I'm good at it and would make good money. I had to tell him I couldn't do this for money, there's no money worth what I'm going through, and I don't ever aim to do it again. Jr just now asked me for some water. I jumped and was happy to get it for him, feeling returning to my heart. I keep little bottles of water in the refrigerator. Unscrewing the cap to one, I felt a welling up in the heart that stopped me, the dam holding back the tears about to break. I leaned my forehead on the edge of the kitchen sink and let a few tears fall to the floor, tears of the joy I feel serving the master.

Took him off the pottie chair and sat him on an open diaper on the bed and fidgeted around trying to get that thing fastened, then him comfortable. I wanted to get him closer to the center of the bed without pushing and pulling on him, went around to the other side and pulled the pad he was lying on and did it easily. I said, 'We done it.' He smiled his particularly Wiley Maxwell smile and went to clap his hands, but missed. Tried again and missed. Hands connected the third time and held each other as he lay back with a smile on his face. Again, he told me he couldn't make it without me, and my heart came back.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


composition in gray #13

A new statistic came across the radio yesterday. 39% of Americans believe evolution is the process of creation. That means 61% don't. I'd like to see a survey of the percentage of people believing the earth is round. It's good the tyranny of the majority doesn't apply to natural laws. If only 39% of people believed gravity, it would be too low a percentage to allow as a law. We'd all float rapturously into space, freezing to death a few miles up, then crisping like pork rinds. Ignorance really is not bliss. Maybe that has something to do with why we're not such a blissful bunch of people in Prozac Nation. Not much danger of evolution going away due to low approval rating, or the earth flattening like a pancake.

I recall in the 50s when the Russians put up the Sputnik, suddenly we had a rush in America on science and math that lasted a year or 2. Deeply rooted American antipathy toward education wins in the end. During WW2 the intellectuals in Europe came to America, the brain drain, got jobs teaching in universities, raised our educational possibilities, and now those intellectuals are dead of old age and the few that have carried on their legacy do it in private funded by foundations, berated by politicians. They keep quiet. In America we don't kill our intellectuals. We ignore them. When we get an intelligent man in the White House, the forces of ignorance gather round like demons and render him ineffective, or kill him, whichever.

I've been looking at this last election that was something like the white man's last stand, finding it interesting to see it happen in my lifetime. At the same time, I know the white man isn't going to take it lying down. White man has a lot of power, all the big power. Even though things are quiet now, I have a feeling a groundswell, something like a tsunami could be happening in the collective subconscious of white man.
It could rise up suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, and cause quite a problem. The Cheney-Bush administration demonstrated white man foresight doesn't exist. If a lone gunman gets Obama, he better be black. A Clarence Thomas type black man that tap dances for white man could easily be hired to do it. If a white man were to kill Obama, the entire world would come down on American white man. Would he care? Hell no! We got all the nukes we need and multiple thousands more.

I don't believe any of this will happen, mainly because things never happen as bad as a jaundiced projection can make it look. Everything is subject to infinite possibilities of change, so the way something looks now to somebody who listens to the news maybe 15 minutes a week, reads no journals of higher learning, investigates nothing, is even less informed than a recliner quarterback, is certain not to ever be the case. It's how the mind works, drawing lines between dots like in the constellations, making apparent order out of apparent chaos. Trying to figure things out, possibly looking for foundation.

It doesn't work for me to try to figure things out on such a scale as the American Mind or direction or anything. I can't even figure out what's happening in my own present moment, let alone somebody else's or everybody else's. I like to believe the images I make by joining dots with lines are the way things really are, but they are not. Not even close. I'm in a time of my life where I want to draw all my figuring-out mind inward toward my own immediate world and think not at all of anything outside my literal arm's reach.

I won't drink CocaCola because the plant in Columbia hired hit squads to kill union activists and their families. My boycott doesn't hurt CocaCola at all, but I support my own integrity having a DrPepper. I think of it every time I punch the DrPepper button instead of the CocaCola on a drink machine, also realizing every time it makes no difference to anyone but me. It's my own personal thing, the boycott of one.

I doubt I've even been right in my political projections or even how I see the present moment right where I stand, let alone Washington DC or New York, Beijing, West Jefferson, Sparta, even Whitehead. Right now at this moment, TarBaby has his front legs draped over my left arm. Tapo is on the foot stool waiting for TarBaby to get up so she can have the special place.

My mind is focused entirely on Jr and being there in the house with him. It's a cause of a bit of stress in that I can't be 100% and do everything with a smile for him. I have to allow myself my inability to be all-seeing, all-knowing where his condition is concerned. There's a bit of stress in the need to maintain my own life at the house while I'm devoting all my time to Jr's well being. I need my own time, which I take without guilt, that makes it possible for me to spend all the rest of the time with Jr. I like to keep something close to a balance. Sometimes I feel out of balance and sometimes in balance. A wavering thing, a wave.

The news has become a nuisance for me. I turn it on and it's full of silly stuff like a kid in a box in an attic and a fake spaceship balloon. Surrealism has become realism. The absurd is our cultural foundation. Makes it interesting. It's like the art of the 20th Century that was way out there and incomprehensible to the masses, now is our way of life. It's said art precedes life, in that it happens first in art. Drawing lines between dots again.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


composition in gray#12

At 8:30 this morning I woke, sat up and saw Jr's foot on the floor in his room. Oh shit, I thought, another one of them days. I sat there a moment getting myself used to it, clearing my mind of expectation. All I knew was he was on the floor. But anything could be the case. I got up and took a look. Worse than the least I'd hoped it could be. Much worse.

He'd pulled his diapers down and let go a load in the bed, tried to get up to go to the bathroom and slid down the side of the bed leaving a track like a snail, asleep on the floor with his head wedged into a small space just big enough for his head. It was bad. With one half of my mind cussing, the other half put together the plan of sequence of events for cleaning up. Leave him where he is until I get him cleaned enough to put him in the wheelchair where he can wait while I change the bed. First step, a bucket of warm water, 2 wash cloths, latex gloves.

I did what I had to do, exactly as I'd planned it. Hospice nurse's aide Judy was scheduled to stop today, so I called and asked if she could schedule Jr early in the day. She came right on out. Tuesday and Thursdays are the days she comes by to clean him head to foot. She has even shaved him while he was sleeping. She's good. She talks to him tenderly, knowing it relaxes him. A few times he has said to her, 'I'm ashamed,' meaning embarrassed. She explained she cleans 8 and 9 people a day, this is what she does. She's good at keeping him calm, relaxed in her care. He has come to know her by now, so it's more like a friend dropping by.

Taking the sheets off the bed and changing all the padding that protects the sheets and bed, stuffing them into the washing machine, setting it going, and back to putting new sheets on the bed. Jr was in the wheelchair watching what I was doing when Judy arrived. He felt so bad I could see it in his demeanor. Inside, I was feeling what I was feeling, sometimes huffing and puffing feeling mad. That kind of thinking makes me stop my mind and tell myself it's like getting mad at the ocean. There's no blame, no fault, and after all, I wasn't drafted.

He told of how he fell through the roof. It was thin plywood, like eighth-inch, and he fell through. His car was still on the roof. He was worried about the car being on the roof, how we'd get it down. Judy told him it is out in the parking space and the car is fine. That was the end of it.

From start to finish did not take a great deal of time. While she worked on Jr, I worked on the bed, so when she was finished, he could go straight to bed. When he was tucked in and we left the room, I told him I'd keep the cows out of the house. He said, OK. Judy looked at me funny. It's something I say to give him a little laugh. It started a few years ago when he was asking what I did while he was sleeping. I told him I kept the cows out of the house. He thought that was funny, so I say it from time to time to give him a smile.

A little bit later nephew Bill came by and friend Harold Hayes. He was fairly far away by then and couldn't open his eyes or participate. I spoke to him with hand on his shoulder telling him who was there. He muttered on his breath and drifted away. I brought both of them up to date on how he's getting along. At one point he apologized to me for being a bother. I told him he's not a bother, this is what I'm here for. Then realized I'd probably been telling Harold a bit of what happened earlier and Jr heard me and felt ashamed. I didn't feel too good about that. I remember his subconscious is still there and it's that part of Jr I connect with. I need to stop talking in his presence like he's not there, because he is, and it doesn't feel good to be talked about when you're helpless.

Mary from Hospice came by and sat with him so I could run to town for grocery store. That was a big help and she's a wonderful woman. I bought THE BIG ONE this time, the giant size laundry detergent. I've been running through the smaller ones, one a week. This one might last two weeks. I'm learning a lot of things women know these days, like laundry every day, cleaning up after other people. Seeing myself do these things I think about all that women know that men don't have a clue about. A thought ran through my head, more men need this experience. But I threw it out, because it's something I can't do anything about, but for myself. It reminded me of how grateful I am for this experience. The parts that make me cuss are good too, as it's just a way of easing frustration. Beats breaking dishes. And it's more fun.

In the afternoon I turned the telephone off and stretched out on the floor with a pillow and dozed in and out of sleep for 3 hours. My electrical system was cranked up so high it took quite awhile to drift out of consciousness, but that was OK. I just lay there to relax and follow the mind like watching clouds, just let it roll wherever it goes, at first hurried thinking that slowed down and slowed some more to the point I felt like I was about where Jr is, in a place that is not quite sleep, but unaware of everything, even thought, a zone of peace that still sees pictures in the mind, but thinks nothing of them.

Monday, October 26, 2009


cosmic chagall #4

The fullness of what's going on in my heart today is such a complexity of feelings, it's like all possible feelings were stuffed into a blender and turned on HI. It's another cup runneth over day, and in its own way. It feels like I have terminal weariness. I want a nap, but the phone has rung so many times today from people wanting to know about Jr, and Hospice, I know I'll be woke if I don't turn off the phone, but I don't feel right about that today, because today felt crucial to be awake. A little bit ago I wet a washcloth with cold water and held it to my face. It felt like my whole face was crying, not just my eyes, like a waterfall of tears flowing down my entire face. I've never had such a feeling before.

It was every feeling there is to cause tears from highest joy to deepest sorrow and all in between. Why don't I sit down and cry? Because it hasn't happened yet. An hour or more ago Elvira Crouse came by to see Jr. They grew up together, same church, same school, near neighbors, and live now almost a half mile apart. She told me when they went to high school in Sparta there was no bus the first two years. They walked to Sparta and back together every day those two years, about 4 miles each way. To them, they're the same as brother and sister.

He was about as far gone in deep sleep as I've seen him when she went into the bedroom to see him. She leaned down and spoke gently into his ear, telling him who she was, talked to him, and he responded yes and no appropriately. He was hearing her and it was registering, only he wasn't able to respond. She talked to him like that quite a bit and I had to leave the room. Knowing that observers change things, I didn't want to interfere. I wanted them to have this moment to themselves, as it may likely be the last. That's the mental justification. What happened was I had to get out of there because my heart was overflowing and I had to have my space too.

At 5:30 this morning I woke and saw Jr sitting up in the wheelchair. The last 4 days not an ounce of energy to move with, refusing anything but a sip of water maybe twice a day. It likely took him an hour to get from the bed to the wheelchair, which was beside the bed, but it was a major effort. I got up and went to him, asked if he wanted on the pot. No. Bed? No. You want to sit in the chair? Yes. Of course, there was no way I could get back to sleep, so I sat looking at some newspapers Dean Richardson drops off for me every few days. I'd go ask Jr if he'd like pottie chair, bed or wheelchair. It was the chair every time. He just wanted to sit up, evidently.

At 8:05 I called the Hospice office pleading for help. Before the Hospice nurse arrived, Robin stopped in on her way home from work. She is a nurse in the Wilkes hospital. Jr was thirsty. He wasn't satisfied with the little sponges any more. I keep little bottles of water in the refrigerator. He drank about 16oz of water, about 4oz of applejuice, and 2/3 of a jug of ensure. I was in awe. Hospice nurse arrived and investigated vital signs, found his blood pressure a little low. We put him in the bed and he went to sleep as soon as his head touched the pillow.

Robin and I sat at the table with coffee and talked a while. Bill Joines came along, one of Jr's musician friends, son of one of Jr's musician friends, good guitar picker and singer. He wanted to check in on how Jr is doing. Jr was so sound asleep he looked actually dead and it gave me a chill until I saw sign of breathing. Ross came up from the shop and we had good conversation all the way around, Bill and Ross talking about the cars Bill used to drive.

There was a period of time that the phone never rang and I talked with 4 different people. The phone has 'call waiting,' which I prefer to ignore, but now that Hospice is involved, I don't want to miss a chance that it might be from there. 4 in a row like that and not one from Hospice, all of them people wanting to hear how Jr is doing and offering whatever help I might need. All the conversations concerned how near Jr is, wanting to be advised of changes.

I'd called Elvira earlier, believing she might remember Jr getting saved and baptized. She couldn't recall. I told her he'd told me he was baptized in the baptizing hole by the bridge near the old Whitehead mill. She wanted to get in touch with Irene Wagoner to find out who might have the church records for 1935, thereabouts, to see when/if he joined the church at Liberty. She believed he'd joined the church; getting saved and baptized precede joining the church. It seemed they were excited about it, in that they were afraid Jr might not be saved, as he never went to church and went his own way his whole life. Elvira said Jr lived his life with compassion, treated everybody right and was always doing something to help somebody. This is becoming an important question now to Jr's closest friends. They ask me and I tell them what he said about the baptizing, and I always add that the light in Jr Maxwell's soul is so bright the darkness won't receive it.

I would, however, like to have some statistics to go by, like church records, if such can be found, and if he's there. I've come to know the Jr within that not many others know. He's told me things he doesn't tell around and doesn't care to have told around, his beliefs where God and integrity are concerned. To Jr, that is a subject he never talks about, because he doesn't believe it can be talked about. It's private to everyone. Jr is a man to pray in the closet, not in the street. He's never trusted people who wear religion on their sleeve. His inner life is no one else's business, only his own. I'd like to have something concrete to cite, because his friends asking are sincere and love Jr enough to want to be able to see him in heaven upon his departure from his earthly body. It's real in them and I respect it in them and hope I can find a document that verifies it. It will make an awful lot of people happy, and would be told all around. All of Whitehead will be happy to know Jr Maxwell is where their love for him wants him to be.

Not many months ago Jr said to me he didn't know if he was going to heaven or hell. All I could say was, hell wouldn't have you. He looked at me funny, trying to see in my eyes just how I meant that. I smiled lightly to let him know I meant it literally. Elvira gave me the word compassion today, a definition of Jr Maxwell in one word. Strangely, though I've seen it for years, the word compassion regarding Jr didn't come to me til today, from someone who knew him since they were babies.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


neighbors in the meadow

A fairly quiet day today with temp in 50s in the afternoon, comfortable on porch with long sleeve flannel. Easy with a tshirt for a few minutes, but there comes a time sleeves help. Sometimes I have wondered all along in the time of living with 4-leggeds living here too, what they must think when they see me take off orange and put on white. Go around every day in different colors. I've seen them watch me change clothes and wonder what they must make of us humans being different colors. I imagine they think it would be a fun way to be. Maybe they get tired of the same color all the time, but I doubt it. Like Caterpillar is the same color as a rock. When she's hunting she goes into the woods and sits still out in the open like she's a rock. TarBaby can hunker down in the shade of a rhododendron and disappear.

The cats learned when they were kittens about thicknesses of various pieces of cloth I wear like tshirt, denim, sweat shirt, how far they could put a claw in it before I let out a yelp. They've learned that about every thickness of cloth I wear. I noticed in their play they would sink a claw into each other until they heard a yelp and let go. Feeling what their claws can do. They can swat each other with no claws or sometimes sink in a claw just enough to make the other one hiss. They know the threshold for every degree of pain they have in mind. They only bite full force when they're fighting another cat that came into their territory. With each other, they never bite to hurt any more than for annoyance.

They've never bit me. When I do something that hurts one, like a time Tapo was on the desk and had her tail hanging down the front of the desk. When I leaned forward it hurt her tail. She took a lunge at my hand with her teeth and just slightly touched the skin as her way of saying, That Hurt! The attack with her teeth looked like she was biting me, but I only felt the tips of her teeth as gently as the slightest touch. I saw she was talking to me, telling me it hurt, but she also knew no intent was behind it, that it just happened.

I've thought how sad it is for other cats I've seen that have done that and the human they live with goes apeshit hollering YOU BIT ME! And then all hell breaks loose. Cat runs for the cat hole. I've an idea that we're harder to learn where behavior is concerned than they are. We're wildly unpredictable, esp where a creature is concerned that humans think has no soul, no feelings, no thoughts, no intelligence. Beasts. But that old way of regarding the 4-leggeds is gradually fading away. Thanks to science, really, we humans have begun to see that they feel and think, yet I can't help but believe humans knew that all along. Like Aesop's fables. The ancient world is full of fables about animals that think about things. Yet in the ancient world animals were the same as dumptrucks or pickups, beasts of burden.

One of the more interesting statistics I've remembered is that more people around the world are killed by donkeys every year than die in plane crashes. Who'd have ever thought it? When you think about it, Africa, South America, Central America, the Middle East, the East are loaded with donkeys. A lot of people don't treat animals right, like nearly everybody, and a donkey is an African herd animal originally. They have feet and teeth to fight with. To live in the world of wild animals that fight to the death, they're all furious fighters. I've an idea when a donkey has had enough of beating and berating and being hurt all the time expected to do every kind of hateful work, there comes a time when the donkey lets go and does what it has known it could do all along. Then, of course, the humans kill the donkey, because it's a killer donkey. Hee Haw.

Then there is James King's song Echo Mountain about the dog that saved the baby from the wolves, and without knowing what really happened, the man killed the dog, then found the baby alive with dead wolves around it. A tear your heart out song. It's one that gets to me every time I hear it. The cries on Echo Mountain are a painful thing to hear. When a man don't use good judgement, it's the innocent that pay. That song will be played on bluegrass radio to the end of time. It's a tear-jerker that works on me every time, even just thinking about it. I've heard somebody else sing it, but James King's will never be outdone. It's forever James King's song and will never be forgotten by anyone who ever heard it.

Mournful songs were well liked in the old days. Like Knoxville Girl, I took her by the golden curls and dragged her round and round. In Mattie Grove, Lord Arnold cuts off his wife's head and kicks it against the wall. Carter Stanley was a good one to sing the mournful songs. The Story of the Lawson Family where on Christmas Eve dad killed his wife and all the kids but one, the one that lived to tell the story. We still have them in pop culture from time to time, but they're not nearly as good as the old-time ones, because the old-time ones happened like they were told in the song.

When I was a kid I saw the intelligence in dogs and all the animals, but the people I grew up among, the culture I grew up in, taught me it isn't so. But I never really believed it. Almost did, but not quite. Then got to knowing some and by now when a squirrel runs under my tire and there's nothing I can do to avoid it, I feel the same as if it were a child, only it's legal to run over a squirrel, but not legal for a child. A squirrel runs under my tire and I get away with it. A child does and I don't. I believe the animals have souls and I pray for them the same as I do a human.
It seems to me a soul is a soul, each one a drop of the universal ocean that is God. I like to tell people who drop in to visit Jr that if his conscious mind doesn't recognize them, it's ok, because his mind doesn't work anymore, but his soul is wide awake and he knows you there. I don't know if they know what I'm talking about, but I believe in every case they did. Whether or not they went along with it they never say. I just say it because I believe it.

This was one of the many things I knew in childhood that were taught out of me by school and culture. In my nonconformist outsider way of life in my adult years I've been able to return to what I knew as a child that culture denied. Not many years ago, less than 5, I heard a man interviewed by a dj in Galax in a conversation about the Rex Theater where some of the first bluegrass bands played, Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, Stanley Brothers, Reno & Smiley, and so on. This would be late 30s, 40s, and the elderly man said, 'In them days people thought somethin of one another.'
That, too, returned to what I saw as a child. I had to come to the mountains to find the tail end of a culture where people thought something of one another. It took some getting used to when my parachute landed me amongst people who believe their neighbors are more important than celebrities.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Jr on the phone

It's hard to tell what I'm feeling anymore. Two days of Jr's niece from down the mountain, a woman who watches soap operas all the time. The women I've knowN who watch soap operas make their lives into soap operas to the point that when you're in their presence, you're in the cast. There's no way out of it. Two full days in full soap opera and I was about to pack up and go home. We get along good, but I know I can never trust her in even the littlest way; therefore, I watched everything I said, trying never to say anything that can be twisted into drama. That gets old.

Plus, today, the girlfriend that calls multiple times a day wanting me to wake Jr so she can hear him make noises she can't understand, then hang up when he falls asleep with phone in hand and the thing starts beeping, telling me it's time to put it back on the cradle. Today I'd been through so much the last couple of days I needed a quiet day with just me and Jr in the house, no dramas, nor girlfriend calling. The third time she called I just let it ring about 25 times until it finally quit. Then she shows up in the car. When she saw him, she came to me and said, 'I didn't know he was this bad.' I said, 'You've seen him, and I've told you repeatedly.' She said, 'But I didn't believe you.'

That was it. From then on I only encouraged her to leave. She's a drama mama too and 2 of them together in succession was the limit of what I can take. Though, I had to remind myself she's not right, after she told me that was my sister she talked to day before. I told her it was not, my sister is in Kansas, told her who it was, but she continued to believe it was my sister. Whatever. It's my sister.

And last night niece below the mountains called me at home to tell me she wasn't comfortable with me leaving Jr alone. I told her I need 3 hours a day of my own to feed cats, etc., and it is on the condition I have those 3 hours that I am able to spend 21 at Jr's. I wait until he is off into dreamland and comfortable before I leave. It's not like I just go out the door when I feel like it. If she wants to come and sit with him while I go home for my 3 hours a day, please do, I'd love the assistance. I don't like him being alone either. Oh, she didn't want it that bad.

It just happened that it went all over me after days and weeks and months of all I've been through with Jr that these soap opera queens come in and start telling me their preferences. They can just perform their preferences and I'll be glad to let them do it. Oh no. They want me to. Oh no, I've got things worked out with Jr, me and Hospice, with a good flow and a good balance---I don't do what I'm told by people who drop in from time to time for 5 minutes and know everything there is to know about it. I'm friendly with both these women, would like to like them, but I don't care for made up drama in every day life. There's enough without making more.

I'd called Jr's friend Jerry earlier in the day leaving a message on answering machine I'd like him to see Jr, because it seems to be getting close and I'd like him to have a chance to see him while he's still here, if he wanted to. Jerry couldn't go in the house, afraid he was coming down with something he might have caught in the hospital, so we sat on the porch on a good 65 degree sun shining day. As we talked, I told him I've remembered what he said last time we talked, 'You don't know these people.' Told him I'd thought plenty about it, knowing his meaning, thanking him for the counsel. It reminded me that even though I think I know them, I really don't.

I told him of some people I know who came here from Savannah, got a raw deal from a particular realtor and they were mad. They wanted justice. I said, Wait a minute. You don't know where you are. Yes I do. No you don't. It's different here from where you came from, not better, not worse, just different, and you don't know what you're jumping into. Then I get some bluster of not being afraid and all like that. I said, You oughta be. I recommended they pipe down and let it rest. I knew Jerry was telling me the same thing I was telling them, and I knew there was truth in what Jerry said. Only difference, in my case it wasn't about being mad over getting swindled, it was about expectation.

Also with Jerry I was able to vent about the craziness over the last couple days. It's like a little tornado came through, stirred everything up and left. At least it left. Today I spent quietly, Jr sleeping or dreaming out loud in whispers some of the time. When he would come around a little bit I'd give him little sponges with cold water in them on sticks like tootsie pops water flavor, and then some sponges dipped in ensure. He was unable to do anything today but lie in the bed and sleep. All that drama energy wears him out too. He was happy to see her and have her there, and it was mostly the attention he gave her that wore him out. Paying attention wears him out in a hurry now. It's like his mind is set on drift. The mental whirlwind affected me more than it did him. He can't connect with mental any more.

It's felt like a mini-crisis for me, having these two women and a couple others coming at me out of the blue the last few days telling me to do things I already know don't work and have known for a long time don't work. Sometimes it gets into long lists of things I must do right now. All of them things I've thought about or tried long ago and they didn't work then, they'll certainly not work now. I've had to get with myself to remind me this is Jr, me and Hospice. I do what the Hospice nurses tell me to do and nobody else. They say I'm stubborn and they're right.

Friday, October 23, 2009


thelonious monk

TarBaby is with me this evening on the desk sitting between my arms listening to Thelonious Monk and Charlie Rouse play at the IT Club in Los Angeles, Oct 31 & Nov 1, 1964. It must have been a week or weeks before that I had the great good fortune to see Monk live at a place called the Bohemian Caverns. It was in the time when bohemian meant hipster, somebody whose entire identity is involved in being cool. Bohemian meant something quite different in the middle of the 19th Century, more like a nonconformist intellectual. So Bohemian Caverns meant a totally cool place where the coolest music was going on.

I have to say, when it comes to cool, with Thelonious Monk about 10 feet from me sitting at his piano like Mr Cool on ice, I felt in the presence of the ultimate in cool. Monk emerged through a doorway on the right, walking very short steps, very slowly, creeping along with all attention in the place on the man. Dressed in a black suit, black hat and black shoes, a step of no more than a foot's length at a time, he crept in slow motion to the piano, stone faced, eyes straight ahead. He took his time lowering himself to the stool, adjusting it, raising his hands to the keys, slowly, slowly.

The first notes of Blue Monk in that sound that is only Thelonious Monk. The band came in with good jazz drum, bass and Charlie Rouse. It didn't feel quite like I'd died and gone to heaven, but it certainly was the coolest moment of my theretofore severely boring life. I couldn't get over Monk's presence, just being in the same space with Monk. I kind of held Monk and John Coltrane up the highest, thought nothing could be better, but Charlie Rouse was just right. I found I preferred Rouse with Monk than Coltrane, but probably because it was fresh and I'd never heard it before, when I'd heard Coltrane a thousand times, not that that gets tiresome, because it doesn't.

I was in the Navy at the time in radio school on the base at Norfolk. Both Navy and Marines were in the class. One of my marine friends liked jazz as much as I did. He found out Monk was playing in DC at this place the Bohemian Caverns on a Saturday night. We took a bus from Norfolk to DC, which was beyond the range we were allowed to go on a weekend, but it was one of them only-if-you-get-caught deals. We both needed to see Monk with him that close to where we were. At the DC bus terminal we bought a map and found where Bohemian Caverns was.

It was quite a ways, but we had plenty of time and we walked. It was deep in a black section of DC, but neither of us was racist and both in our uniforms. We felt no fear and there were no threats. It was in the Civil Rights time and both of us were sympathetic and felt comfortable. Everybody in the club was black but us, but they all had a welcoming attitude. It was a tense time racially. We didn't hoop and holler slinging beer around like the rest of the guys at the barracks did. We were the only ones in the barracks who could have tolerated the music we were listening to. No, there was the black Sgt in charge of the barracks. We told him in advance we were crossing the line to see Monk. He believed that a worthy cause, and he had duty or he'd have gone with us.

On the ship several months later I had a black friend who loved jazz, played vibes and piano on the order of Ahmad Jamal. When we'd leave the ship in various ports in the Mediterranean, he knew where the jazz clubs were. He'd get to talking with the band during intermission, jazz musicians, like Muslims, friends as soon as they meet. His name was Ameen Nuraldeen, Muslim, grew up in Chicago as Bill Sleets. One of the coolest things he ever did was go to Billie Holiday's funeral. He told me when he was in his teens he walked by a place where Muddy Waters was playing and remembers all his life hearing the Muddy Waters band inside this club he walked by too young to get in. The bands in the clubs we'd be visiting in Spain, Italy, Greece always invited him to play. He would only play two tunes and no more, unless the piano player himself asked him to, not wanting to show up or take over the piano player's show.
I'm remembering a time Ameen and I went to Rome together when the ship was in port close by. We passed a shop with several Muslim men sitting inside talking. He wanted to go in and meet them. They received him as a brother right off, hugs, greetings in Allah. He introduced me as his friend who was not Muslim, but believe their path is real too. They received me as they did him. Ameen knew Arabic, and they sat and talked at length. I didn't understand any of it, though he'd tell me what they were talking about from time to time. He'd been to Mecca and they had too.
Not a whole lot of years ago I found Ameen and visited him for a week in Philadelphia where he was living then. I went to mosque with him and was received in wide open friendship by the Muslims there. We went to the Philadelphia museum one day, looking around in an exhibit of some African things. Ameen spoke to the very black guard, asking something about this structure we were looking at. In short order they both found out the other was Muslim, the one working in the museum as a guard from Ghana, and were friends immediately. Ameen spoke with another black guard another time who was also Muslim from Africa living in Philadelphia. Through Ameen I saw Islam is truly a religion of peace.
I'm not able to credit the photographer of the Monk photo above. Found it in google, public domain. Evidently Monk had a bad case of depression. I'm glad they didn't have prozac in his time. We'd have never known the sound he gave us.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


air bellows gap road

It's been another blessed day such that everyone I saw in the course of the day is someone I love. Meaning people I know, have known awhile, like very much, appreciate who they are, and love the soul in each one of them. I woke this morning to Richard Joines coming in the door. I sleep on the floor just inside the door. I saw Richard and jumped up right away. I'd called him the evening before and asked him to come to see Jr. They are cousins by Jr's mother Loretta Joines. Richard's dad was fiddler Howard Joines. Richard is a bluegrass mandolin, guitar and bass player.
He's grown up like Jr has and can't play like he used to, but the way I see it he's still as much a mandolin picker just like Jr is still a banjo picker. It's only their fingers that won't do it any more. If their fingers would work right, they could still do it like they one time could.

I'd thought many times to call Richard and didn't get it done. Last night it came to me and it was a reasonable hour, so I called before I let it go again. So glad I did. Jr was sleeping lightly. I spoke and asked if he was awake. He moved his head and opened his eyes a bit and said he was. Richard walked around the bed to get over by where Jr's head was, and I said to Jr down by his ear as clearly as I could,'This is Richard Joines.' He looked at me like he didn't get it. I said, 'Richard Joines.' He got it. He looked up at Richard, threw his arms wide open and said 'Richard' with a huge smile on his face and a beam in his eyes. He took Richard and they embraced. I felt an upwelling of love in the heart seeing the love between them that covered their entire lives, the ups, the downs, perhaps Jr's closest living kin, and Richard down to just a few living too, of their own generation.

Richard Joines and his wife Frances are two people who live by the integrity of the heart as much as Jr does, though in their own ways. Richard keeps beagles, loves beagles, there's always a beagle on his ballcap. I remember some years ago we were talking about dogs, and he was telling me how he sees that a dog that is bred for chasing rabbits is having it's life's fulfillment when it's chasing a rabbit. And a fox dog is feeling its own fulfillment running a fox. Bird dogs feel their fulfillment getting birds. He's hunted with them so much and so many years, he came to see that when a beagle is chasing a rabbit, it's fulfilling it's life's purpose within, in its own being.

I recall that when he was telling me this I was especially struck by the insight in it. There it is, obvious as it can be, but how many people see it? Richard saw it. It told me Richard is a thinker whose mind looks into things and sees much that other people miss. And like can be said of many of the people of these mountains, don't try pulling something on him and think he's not going to get it. He'll get it before you do. I don't believe anyone who knows Richard would contradict that.

My friend Carole and friends of hers from Cincinatti bought some adjoining land in the Stratford area and had 3 houses put up. Richard was the one hired to do the bulldozing for the house places. Carole watched him and determined he's an artist. She said she enjoyed watching Richard sculpt the ground with his bulldozer as seeing a sculptor work with a hammer and chisel. Jr was a bulldozer operator too, and they worked together many years. They made an awful lot of music together over the years.

Richard said to me of Jr that he was gifted, everything he did, he did well. He was indeed gifted. Jr had a brilliant mind that if he had wanted to direct it into academics could have a PhD in something like molecular biology, or if he wanted to be corporate, he'd be a good CEO. He has a brilliant mind. In the country where all the work is physical, learning an instrument is an exercise for men, women too, with exceptional minds, who need something to work with in the mind, something to master. And they do become masters. I'd call Richard a master mandolin picker as I would call Jr a master banjo picker. Richard has a good mind too that, like Jr's shows best in simply how he lives his life. Both treat everyone they know or meet with ultimate respect, no matter what they might think about whoever it might be. Both Richard and Jr are men that the people who know them respect for who they are.

Frances, his wife, is the daughter of Elvira Crouse who grew up across the meadow and creek from Jr. They grew up in the same church, Liberty Baptist, went to Whitehead School, knew each other all their lives, and live maybe a half mile apart now. These people are proof that mountain people aint ignernt. I recall my grandmother's viewing in Kansas City I think 1989. It was like a big crowd of people talking as loud and fast as they could talk, a great big talk fest of people talking over each other full tilt. I was sitting with my head down. A great uncle I'd not seen since I was probably 8 sat beside me. I was half in tears. I said, I'd guess everybody in this place believes the people I live among in the Blue Ridge Mountains aint nothin but a bunch of ignernt, illiterate, toothless, inbred, Beverly Hillbillies, and look down on them like not worth notice. But one thing about them hillbillies, I said, is they know respect. There is no respect in this place. He was right there with me. I said, They aint no hillbilly with this little respect.

Later in the day talking with Vonda, Jr's niece by his real wife Lois, a Lowe from Low Gap, we were talking about the preponderance of urban people around now. I told her I left the city to get away from city people, and it's the mountain people God sent me to live among, not because he wanted me to be a missionary to them of how to live better like city people, but to learn from them, learn how to live life with real integrity, learn how to appreciate other people, learn how to be a true human being. I have city friends, though I feel something special in the heart when I'm among mountain people, even if they're the kind of people in court every week, felons who have done time, the most devout God loving Baptist people there are, everything in between. The thread I find that runs through all mountain people, and this probably goes from Alabama hills on up to Maine, is respect. It's what mountain people have a hard time with when they live outside the mountains. They come back saying there's no respect out there. I believe respect is the invisible barrier between mountain people and the suburbanites coming here from cities, simple respect.

I couldn't thank Richard enough this morning for coming to see Jr and he couldn't thank me enough for calling him. As he was going out the door, I thought, a truly honorable man. There are many in these mountains. I don't mean to say it's 100% by any means, but it's a rule of thumb. Like when I met my 4th cousin, Keith Worthington, in his 70s living in Oskaloosa KS, and saw he was of these mountains. He didn't even know we came out of Tennessee. But with Keith it was like being right here in Whitehead. He was a man who'd worked hard, partied hard, fought hard, lived hard, and had in him that mountain respect. We had a beer 10 in the morning and I sat gratified to find I have kin who have that respect in them. I felt like we connected right away when we shook hands. I was with his brother Eldon, another man whose grandparents came out of these mountains; he still had mountain in him too.

I think of Jr's fiddlers convention winning tune, Home Sweet Home played bluegrass style. I've felt happy all day over Richard coming to see Jr, and a little later Johnny Miller and his boy Walter came by to see Jr again. I was happy Jr was receiving all this love, Vonda here too, whether he knew 10 seconds later who it was, or even if he didn't know who it was at the time. His conscious mind isn't working any more. But the subconscious mind is still functioning and his soul is still there. He knows down below the conscious mind who it is and the love feeling he's receiving and giving.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


by john cohen

Clear sky, full sun, temperature in the 60s, short sleeve weather for a day. Earlier, I saw a photograph of Roscoe Holcomb, banjo and guitar picker, singer of old time music from Daisy, Kentucky, a suburb of Hazard, where mountain music is very much alive. Judy Carmichael had stopped by to see Jr and Vonda is here. We were sitting at the table talking about gospel singing. I had a 2cd set of music from East Kentucky, most of it from all around Hazard, and played them a singing of Great Speckled Bird by an unidentified woman in a Holiness church there. It's sung so beautifully in the mountain way I feel it in my soul.

I remembered the time these two guys dressed like mechanics came into the store I had in Sparta, Backwoods Beat Music. We talked some. They were brothers living in Wilkes, originally from Hazard. It turned out they were both musicians in a gospel band. They browsed around and we talked. One of then said to the other, pointing at a b&w picture I had on the wall in a frame of Roscoe Holcomb, 'Look! It's Uncle Roscoe!' 'Why it shore is!' 'Where'd you get that picture of Uncle Roscoe?' more a statement of awe than a question. They had to know how I had a picture of their uncle in my store in Sparta. It was a photograph in a poster for a Roscoe Holcomb album, the photo by John Cohen of New Lost City Ramblers, who played banjo and did a lot of field recording in these mountains, emphasis on banjo pickers, plus photographing and filming in b&w.

They brought up the b&w film John Cohen made called HIGH LONESOME SOUND. I had a copy at home. One said, Remember the little girl carrying the cat? I said, Yeah. That was Aunt something whose name I don't remember. When we go into a coal miner's house in the film when he's getting home from work, the miner was their grandpa, and the boy sitting at the able who looked do be 12-14 was their daddy. There was a picture in the book of their grandpa playing a guitar in a Holiness church. Several pictures of in and around Hazard. Several pictures of Uncle Roscoe. They told me about a banjo picker Lee Sexton who lived down the road from Uncle Roscoe. They showed me the house in the book. He's another old time banjo legend from there. Coal miners.

One doesn't tend to think of coal miners as musicians, but many of them are and they're really good. It seems the harder a man's life the more dynamic his music. Like Morgan Sexton, Lee's cousin. Looking at the pictures of him, he looks like a man who is built of solid muscle, the kind of man that you know a handshake would feel a hand rock hard. And he plays such a lyrical banjo and sings a good song, a man who worked in the mines all his life. Lee Sexton has the same look of a man who worked like a workhorse all his life, was paid next to nothing, but can pick a banjo with artistry.

We talked quite awhile and they told me a lot about Uncle Roscoe, so I now feel almost like I know him. They didn't know Uncle Roscoe had 2 albums on Rounder label and is in about every collection of Kentucky old time music, and many of old time music. I had in the store a book of John Cohen's b&w photographs for half price. When they were telling me about Uncle Roscoe, I took the picture down from the wall and handed it to them. I couldn't do otherwise. They bought the book.

Some 4 or 5 years ago I was at Jr's and we were listening to WBRF playing bluegrass in the evening. For an unknown reason the dj put on Roscoe Holcomb playing banjo and singing Little Birdie. He has a really high voice from way up in a holler. I was loving it. After about a minute Jr said, He cain't sing for shit. Cain't pick for shit neither. Then the dj turned it off in the middle and started playing something else. I wanted to go on hearing Roscoe Holcomb, but Jr already had the remote in his hand ready to gong him when the dj beat him to it.

I wanted to go on hearing it, but if the dj hadn't turned it off when he did, Jr would have in the next second or two, so I'd missed the song either way. That's ok. It was just funny, like the dj heard Jr. Maybe he got some phone calls. Turn that shit off! His voice isn't pretty, but it's real. It's no where near as beautiful as Ralph Stanley's. Ralph and Carter Stanley made Little Birdie their own. Nobody else can do it and it sound right. I tend to like Roscoe's singing of The Hills of Mexico. Among others.

In the film, HIGH LONESOME SOUND, Roscoe talks quite a lot telling bits of his life. He said he was a coal miner and when the mines shut down, he and everybody else were out of work. Hard times. He prayed to God to give him something he could do to make a living. He picked up banjo and played guitar at square dances. He can make a square dance go with solo guitar, he's that powerful a picker. Same with a banjo. He made his living ever since making music. That doesn't mean he lives high and mighty, but it gets him along, and that's good enough. Probably means he has a new refrigerator and washer and dryer, and maybe a car that doesn't break down all the time.
Roscoe is one of the many gems of old time music. He plays in church too. Roscoe is one of the many reasons I love playing mountain music to mountain people. Hillbilly music good as it gets. Pure, raw hillbilly with no trimmings, no concessions to money, art for art's sake by artists of the real. Constantine Brancusi, abstract sculptor of the 20th Century, said Art is reality itself. Old time music is the art form of these mountains. In this way it is the living spirit of these mountains.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


dance of autumn

It's unknown what happened to yesterday's entry. It didn't happen because the character in my mind that is me stepped through a door into what he thought was a room and it was a closet, but he closed the door and it locked. That's it, cat shit. On the phone with Carole this morning she said there was no entry today. I believed I'd written one. I went to the house while Jr was sleeping for a 30min round trip to see if it got stuck in drafts or some other place. Maybe I'd forgotten to click the publish button. There wasn't a trace of an entry anywhere, not even the recycle bin. All I can figure is I totally forgot, and I do mean totally.

Hospice volunteer Jane came by during the day to give me some time. I went home and watched INDOCHINE with Catherine Deneuve, a woman beautiful in the way only French women can be beautiful. I'd seen it several years ago when it was new and all I remembered was I loved it and would like to see it again. Vietnam before it became Vietnam, when it was a French colony, Indochina, when Saigon was the Paris of the East. It was a film so beautifully made in every way, it pulled me all the way into it, no thoughts of anything else. 2 1/2 hours of art from the archives of the most beautiful films ever made. Not that it's the only one, but it's among the very finest. Another in its league of a near perfect French film might be Nellie et Monsieur Arnaud. The 2 are only related in the feeling they leave behind in the heart.

I watched the film, entered some pictures from camera into computer, and came back here to Jr's. Hospice nurse came by and worked on Jr quite a bit. When I settled, I read in the Audacity of Hope. Evidently my tired mind associated that time at the house, feeding the cats, entering pictures into the computer, and the habits of what I do there like make a cup of tea, with writing the day's entry. When it came time to go to the house in the evening to make the entry, I sat here reading Obama with the same fascination as watching the film. I slept on the floor last night with only a pillow from the couch, none of the blankets I put down to lie on. Keeping the house at 8o there's no need for a blanket. It was just as comfortable as usual and no fuss. Toss the pillow back to the couch when I get up. May do that more often.

I've an idea that if I were to make a deep examination of what I'm feeling, it would most likely say tired, real tired. The kind of tired women know about. It's not that I do much or that I miss any sleep. I only miss naps for the telephone that rings every time I attempt one. Tired is what it is. The stress doesn't bother me much any more, but I also know I do feel it on some level. There is a longing to sleep on my own bed with one or more cats piled on. Also the weariness of continual concern for Jr's comfort. It might even be said I'm emotionally wrung out. Several times a day a tear glides down the side of my nose.

Harold Hayes, bass player for the Green Mountain Boys, came by with Betty, his wife. Both were moved to tears by what they saw. They stayed awhile, talking to him. Betty was so tender with him tears popped out of my eyes seeing it. She put her hand on the side of face and said to him, 'Jesus loves you, Jr.' I lost about a half a pint of tears over that one. She asked me how his soul was. I said his soul is fine. She was meaning has his soul been saved. I assured her it was. She was happy to hear it, like she cared about Jr so much she hoped he was headed upward, and now can relax that concern. I was thinking at the moment that I don't believe any kid who grew up at Liberty Baptist in Whitehead in the 1920s and 30s got out of there unsaved. I didn't think at the time to tell Betty he'd told me he was baptized in the Little River by the bridge, that is now the new bridge. The Little River Boys was the name of his first band. I'll tell her next time I see her about the baptism. Harold had a hard time. After awhile, he had to go outside and be by himself.

Earlier in the day, 9:30, Johnny Miller came by with his boy Walter, who is about my age. Johnny is now 80. Johnny is a bluegrass fiddler who played quite a lot with the Green Mountain Boys. He and Jr are friends as good as friends get. Johnny has a lot of first place ribbons and trophies from fiddlers conventions. Jr was sound asleep when they came in, but I knew he wanted waking with Johnny there. He'd raise hell with me if I didn't wake him when I told him later Johnny had been by. It took him a little while to come around, but we finally got it to him Johnny was here and he made the connection. He couldn't talk or anything. He wanted water, so I gave him the little sponges with water on them, several. Jr and Johnny weren't able to talk about anything like music making in the past or anything. Johnny talked to him some. He knew it was Johnny. I called Johnny yesterday and asked him to come see Jr because he's getting close and I knew Johnny would want to see him.

I told Johnny I have a cd of Ola Belle Reed recorded at Brandywine with him playing fiddle. He lit up remembering Ola Belle. He said his brother Sonny played banjo with her, which answered my question after seeing Sonny Miller named in the recently released cd of Ola Belle's radio shows, wondering if Johnny and Sonny were kin. He said he made an album with Ola Belle in 1972. I'll be looking for that now. I didn't have the Ola Belle recordings with me, but I had one from the Field Recorders Collective, the same place the Ola Belle came from, to show him what kind of thing it is. He looked at the picture on the cover and said, 'Why there's Dale Poe. And Wade Ward. And Charlie Higgins.' These were older master musicians in Grayson County when Johnny was coming along as a young fiddler.

My heart has been overflowing all day so far. I'm feeling tremendous love from all the people who love Jr. Being thanked in tears from the heart. I'm feeling weepy all morning today and into the afternoon. The 2 o'clock chickadee just sang on Jr's birdsong clock Joe Blum gave him. Since I've been writing this, tears have dropped off my cheeks to the floor in a steady stream. I feel like I felt at Tom Pruitt's funeral when the dam broke and I left a puddle of tears on the floor between my feet. Some of it might be sorrow, and some might be stress, but what it feels like is my heart with a love feeling in it bigger than the heart can hold. My cup runneth over. The love and gratitude I receive from Jr's friends is what it is. They fill me up with so much love it runs down my face in tears. They tell me, you're going to get a blessing. I don't know that anything can make me feel more blessed than all the loving feelings that have come to me from so many wonderful people, people who are my friends now.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


cosmic chagall #3

In the night last night Jr called to me. He was barely able to speak. Actually unable to speak. He made attempts at words on breaths, not quite whispers. He took hold of the neck of his sweatshirt that was tight on his neck, because the shirt was pulled down in back. He said, knife. I found some good scissors and cut about 10" down the front to open it for him. Another time he called and woke me wanting to go pee. It was the old way of having to lift him from bed to wheelchair, wheelchair to pottie chair, pottie chair to wheelchair, wheelchair to bed.

This morning I found him crossways on the bed with legs hanging over the side. Barely conscious. I went to lift his legs to the bed and his face scrunched up like a raisin from the pain. I asked if he was comfortable with legs hanging over the edge. He said he was. OK. He lay on the bed all day like his soul was leaving he body, mouth hanging open, asleep most of he time. A couple of phone calls he couldn't function with.

Dean Richardson dropped in and I took him to show him Jr's condition. Later, John came in. John was deeply moved. Jr has always been a part of their lives. I don't know how close as friends, but he was always there, and John and Ross knew him since they were children and he was grown. I know that to a child in his world, Jr was the coolest one of all the adults.
I can see that for a child he would be somebody you'd look up to all your life.

Dean was telling me Jr was older than him in school by 7 years, so he was one of the big kids. He said Jr liked to put boxing gloves on the kids and teach them about boxing. Dean never wanted to box. I told him Jr picked up something from his attention on boxing when he was a kid. In boxing like a martial art, being able to take it is as important as giving it. Jr does know how to take it. He has taken enough to bring a rhino to its knees several times.

I've been on the verge of tears all day long. This morning I sat on the bed beside Jr and looked at him awhile, either asleep or far away, and my heart started welling up and eyes turning wet, feeling a tear creep down my cheek, knowing that if I let go it might go on a half hour to an hour. I didn't want to do that, so I got up and left the room thinking it probably would have been best to go ahead and bawl every bit of it out, yet at the same time, it felt artificial. It was self-conscious by then, determining whether or not to let it go took the spontaneity out of it, so I decided to save it for a time when it's more spontaneous, when I can't help but. It may be tomorrow.

Had to call Hospice nurse in the evening to ask her to come over. I'd called in the morning, but there didn't seem to be any urgency about it. He was comfortable, just different in that he couldn't move. That's all. I asked her to please come and look at him, because I'd been sitting with him all day in the same position, only moving a hand now and then. Breathing so shallow I couldn't see it. To tell if he was living I'd wait to see a finger or hand move. Today, seeing his profile on the pillow, I saw my grandpa Brink, my mother's dad, in his old age. I hadn't realized they favored each other so much. Similar noses and and face structure, as well as hair. It wasn't a perfect likeness, just enough to bring grandpa to mind. That made it all the sadder.

I went about the house today doing what I do, read, wash dishes, do laundry, feed the crows, with a heart running over, seeing Jr with not very much time left and really showing it, wanting to put my face on his shoulder and cry, but couldn't allow it, it would have been more than a shoulder could handle. Even now, a tear meanders down my cheek, one side, then the other. It's a welling up in the heart that overflows through the eyes.

I've been taking care of him because I believe his soul is valuable on the earth and valuable in my small world. I see it fading away like a candle down to the last bit of wax, the flame weakening and going on weakening until the tiniest little blue line around the top of the wick vanishes and a line of white smoke ascends.

Nurse came by, found he had a temperature of 100. She crushed a tylenol and mixed it with a teaspoon of apple juice, put it in a syringe and put it on his tongue a drop at a time, then with a sponge swab on the end of a stick like a smaller tootsie pop soaked with apple juice to get some moisture in his mouth despite being unwilling to drink something.

We pulled him around lengthwise on the bed using the pads under him to keep from having to handle him, which hurt. She got his temperature down to 98 before she left. She said his empty stomach helped the tylenol go to work fast. We covered him with a sheet and let him drift off to sleep again.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


the blue tractor #2
We're back to near lifelessness after a short burst of a few days of energy when Jr's plumbing was empty and had been empty. He slept all day today. Rose around 6. Major effort to get to pottie chair to pee. Major effort back to the bed. While he was still in the wheelchair, I sat on the side of the bed and said, 'Thought I'd have an ensure. Would you like one with me?' He thought about it a moment and accepted. This is the 3rd day in a row I've got him to drink an ensure by offering to drink one with him. Make it social, like having a drink of white liquor. Might be able to turn this into a comfortable habit, a drink of ensure together. If I'd just offered him one, he'd have declined.

Feeling uplifted today within. Not in a big way, but a nice way. Feeling support and gratitude from Jr's relatives and friends. It seems the buzzards have sailed away to someplace else, and all that's left are the ones that really care about Jr, himself, not the detritus of his life. I do, I feel uplifted within by all their support. I've been at it so long now with Jr, they all know I wasn't kidding at the start, that I've really been through it, and I'm not quitting until the last breath. I'm here for whatever it takes. Yesterday Jr apologized again for being a bother, wanting a sip of some water, but not wanting to bother me with asking me to get it. I told him this is why I'm with him. I want to fetch for him.

I use the time he gets up to go to the pottie chair to straighten up his bed, put the pads under his midsection back in order, the sheets and blanket ready to receive him when he returns. I know how he likes his pillows, so I set up the bed to receive him as he naturally falls into it. Today I put eyedrops in his eyes. They're about stuck shut from dehydration, needing some lubrication to get them open. Plus, they're closed so much now, open is an unusual state for them.

Ross told me today that Jr told him yesterday when I left the house to go to town that I only let him have an ensure a day for 9 days and wouldn't let him have any water for four days. Ross was appalled he'd say such a thing. I just laughed. It's like the time he told me Ross was keeping his money and not letting him have any. He didn't know what he was going to do. He didn't have any money and Ross wouldn't let him have any. I knew better, of course. I told him Ross is not ripping him off, that Ross is being honest with his money, and he can have any amount he wants just by saying so. I told him he has nothing to worry about. He smiled and said, 'I have to think about something.' Seems like his mind is a meandering creek. No telling where it's going at any given moment. Sounds like my own.

Yesterday he told me he wanted to go home. That alarms me when he says that, it being such a metaphor for Heavenly Home, but I've found he has never yet meant it like that. He thought he was in a hospital room. I said, This is your home. It is? This is your bed. It is? He looks all around the room and it's like nothing looks familiar to him. Like when he was in the nursing homes, when he wanted to go home, he wanted to go back to the house where he lives, that home.

We haven't had any conversations about dying. It seems artificial to me to bring up the subject, when it's so obvious. I don't see that he needs any religious or spiritual talking to. The artificial doesn't work with him. Jr has a firm spiritual foundation and has never been one to give his life over the the restrictions church membership requires. He is not, by nature, a sheep. If you insist he's a sheep, then he's the black sheep, like me. Jr is not one to have somebody else make his decisions. He likes to make his own. He's ready. But he's in no hurry.

Today while holding him up from the wheelchair so he could twist around to sit on the bed, get him situated, he says, 'Turn me loose,' and sits on the side of the bed. I was looking at his face up close in the half light, noting how he had developed the look of old, old age, that old age that is just old. It seems odd to see Jr Maxwell in such a state. He's been knocked down plenty, but he always gets back up.

I'm glad that the song I picked for the theme song of the radio show, a kind of seeing-what-happens picking on bluegrass banjo of Billy In The Lowground by Jr, has him laughing at the very start. He laughs and starts picking. He hasn't been able to laugh like that it awhile, maybe 3 or 5 years. When I start the show every Saturday morning, it gives me a kick to hear Jr laugh again, then lay it to it on his banjer.

Back to Jr's friends and relatives. They've been receiving me lately as one of them. I knew about all of them before, and some were suspicious in the beginning that I might be another taker on the scene. By now they see my motivation is the same as theirs, caring for Jr. I'm the only one with plenty of time to spend with him, when all the others have family and work. Seems to me it's only natural that I be the one that stays with him. The support I have is phenomenal from all directions. I tell you more about the Hospice support, but the support of Jr's friends and relatives is the equal of it. For anything, all I have to do is get on the phone and ask.

But I have the same disease Jr has, can't allow myself to trouble somebody unless it's really necessary. Also, I believe necessary is the only reason to make a call for help from one of them. That way I'm never crying wolf. What I've found is the people who are Jr's friends and relatives have become my friends for life, people I can always count on, who can always count on me. I've had to make a few calls. Not only do I appreciate all the support, I really like all the people concerned, more as time goes by. Caught myself dripping a tear today thinking about them.