Google+ Followers

Monday, November 30, 2009


ninemile, tenn, worthington mtn in distance

An email today from a heretofore unknown relative, Diane. Her mother was a Worthington and she does genealogy, found me by the blog, and would like me to help her fill in the information about my sisters and others. She goes back to Jesse Carroll of Ninemile too. She found his grave, which is evidently not so easy to find. My great grandmother was Dora Hale of Ninemile. Diane's great grandmother was a Hale from Blout. I must remember to ask her if she got a picture of Jesse Carroll's gravestone. I'd like to see it.

This coming year I might have the transportation and the time and maybe even the money to make a 3 or 4 day visit to Bledsoe County, Tennessee, visit Pikeville, look up some people who might be kin. Cousin Wendell Walker of Ninemile told me there are no more Worthingtons left in the county by name. There are several descendants of Worthington women in the county. An outdoor bluegrass place that puts on shows through the summer of regional music is across the highway from what was Worthington land until recently. The picture above was taken at Wendell's farm, what he said was the old Sam Worthington plantation. I didn't see much difference between what he called a plantation and what we call a farm. Land with cows and chickens on it.

The time I visited Wendell, he took me across the highway to the bluegrass place, since they were making music that night. I listened to several bands. I was interested to hear the difference between the sound of this part of Tennessee in relation to what I know of the Central BlueRidge. There is a difference, but I'd have a hard time naming it. Perhaps I could say in this part of Tennessee, the part of the world where Lester Flatt came from and Charlie Louvin, they have what sounds to my ear like a more casual style. Musicians around here lay it to it, but there, they have a little bit more laid back sound. Not a whole lot, just enough for an ear that knows one region well to hear another region the first time. There is a difference, though slight.

Since I discovered my Ninemile connection, and my grandmother's people came from the same Cumberland Plateau just north of Ninemile across the Kentucky line in Pulaski County, I've sought music from both regions. Have found a fair amount from that part of Tennessee that is good. But I've not been able to find any music in Pulaski County, Kentucky, though I know there are people in that county making music. It's southeastern Kentucky. There are people there making music. When I was in Somerset I went to the Chamber of Commerce welcome center. I had to explain to the man what I meant by old-time music. He said there's no music in the county. He asked somebody else. There's no music in the county.

I've emailed places in Somerset asking, and never get an answer. After I was home, I realized I should have asked the raving crazy man sitting on a kitchen chair in the town square, which is a traffic circle, on the edge of the traffic hollering at people who drove by. If I had stopped and asked him, he could have taken me straight to some music. I could see this old boy lived very poor, had that trailer in a holler look. He was still a hillbilly and proud of it. I almost wanted to drive back to Somerset and see him. But it's a long ways. I know there is music in Pulaski County, Kentucky. I think Roy Lee Centers came from a neighboring county.

I feel something like a continual longing to get back to Ninemile, spend some time, walk on the ground, feel the land underfoot my ancestors worked in their time. I looked over some of the land that was initially Big Spring Bill's land, daddy to Jesse Carroll. In my mind's eye I saw him working a plow behind two horses. I saw the big spring that was on his land. It was a beautiful pool with big natural rock formation walls, tree roots, and the water was littered with trash, old tires and stuff. I wanted to bring a canoe and spend a day cleaning the place up. Naturally, the first thing that came to mind was this is how people new to Alleghany see things, they want to clean it up. I let that thought drop immediately. Not my business. Clear water like it was in the old days, it was a beautiful place. Probably known for its beauty, the big spring.

Half my life, now, I've lived in these mountains on Waterfall Road. I've studied the culture, not as an anthropologist, but as the world my parachute landed me in. I fell in love with the county and everyone in it the day I exhausted finding everything that was wrong with the place. When I saw that I'd found everything that's wrong with the place, then I thought, let's look at what's right with the place. I didn't even have to look. I already knew. Tears welled up and my heart fell in love at that moment with the mountain people.

This moment occurred several years before I learned I have these mountains in my blood, through Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky. When I learned I have the mountains in my blood, it was one of the great days of my life, one of the very few great days. In my Charleston years, if I'd learned I had hillbilly blood, I'd have gone for a transfusion. But I didn't know what it meant in them days. I didn't know then that hillbilly meant as fine a people as you'll find anywhere on the earth. That's Appalachia's best kept secret.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


air bellows art museum
In the summer of 1958 or 59 I took a bus to downtown Kansas City to see Highschool Confidential. Jerry Lee Lewis. He sang the song that was the sort of theme song of the movie. The only thing I remembered was that it was in b&w, disappointing, no music much. I'd forgotten all together that it was a story of an undercover cop infiltrating a California high school for dealers of marijuana and heroin. Probably don't remember it because I didn't know what it was then. At age 16 or 17 I was disappointed. Jerry Lee opened and closed the film riding by a highschool on the back of a flatbed truck playing the piano with a band, him singing High School Confidential. That was it for Jerry Lee. Of course, it was crazy as it could be with the 50s reefer madness way of thinking. Or just the 50s way of thinking. That was crazy enough.

I'd rate High School Confidential down there with Tommy Sands and Annette Funicello teenage beach movies. They were boring then like they're boring now. When I was 11 I saw Victor Mature in Demetrius and the Gladiators. One of those movies of the early 50s about Bible times, and somehow Demetrius got to see Jesus or something like that. I sat in the theater seat crying at the end--I suppose Demetrius died and went to heaven. An elderly woman sitting in front of me turned around and told me it got to her too. When I was 33 I saw a minute or two of it by chance, and about barfed where I stood. Strangely, I knew what it was the moment I saw the screen. That disturbed me. Made me want some psychotherapy to help dispose of it. The thought of seeing it now makes my innards squirm. Mainly because it is so bad. Not even funny bad. Just offal.

When I was pre-school, my grandmother Brink would take me with her on a bus to downtown Kansas City to see a movie on her day off. She was the hostess at a restaurant I think was called Macy's Tea Room in downtown KC, in the Muehlbach (sp?) building. The name of the building may be false memory. She took me to see Betty Grable and her million dollar legs in The BigTop. We loved it. That was our fun time together, going to see a movie she wanted to see. Until the Red Shoes. I couldn't see it. I was too young. It was too adult a theme. I wouldn't get it. She was afraid it would corrupt my child mind. In my early 60s I found the Red Shoes in the library. It was a pretty good movie. I'd have loved it at age 5 more than now. The only thing I loved about it was seeing what it was that I wondered about ever since, what it was about that movie. I would have cried at the end just like I know she did.

Possibly it is my grandmother who set into motion my love for movies. She lived close enough to a movie theater I could walk to it, a mile or more, when I was staying with grandma and grandpa. We had a movie theater in a mile or more walking distance from home. Had to walk through a black section and a Mexican section to get to it. It was a chancy thing to do, considering how territorial young boys are and you're walking through their neighborhood and they don't know you; they either went to Catholic school or the black school, and I went to the white school. We didn't know each other. I never had any trouble. It turned out nobody wanted to give me any trouble because I was a white kid. I'd get looked at with a look like a white kid walking through their neighborhood was something you don't see every day.

In the summers during high school I lived with grandparents and worked for grandfather on the golf course, mowing greens, mowing around greens, mowing rough areas on the edges of the fairways. Watering greens, the whole upkeep of greens and fairways. I walked to the movie theater every week to see the new movie of the week. One called Tanganyika gave me a hell of a fright. Outside was dark when the movie was over. It had leopards jumping out of trees and big snakes dropping out of trees. A great long stretch of sidewalk I had to walk had tree limbs overhanging. It was so scary I remember it today. I knew that something was going to get me under every tree. Evidently I prayed without ceasing, because nothing got me. It was in this time I saw The Birds. That was quite a walk back to the house too.

When my grandmother Brink was 80 she came here to stay a week with me. Our entertainment one evening was to drive to Elkin to see Karate Kid. She didn't know if she could sit all the way through it, because of her restless leg syndrome there was no medication for then. She got so involved in the movie, like I did, her legs never bothered her one time. On the way home she told me some things I had absolutely no idea about, basically that my grandmother is a person in the world like me, hobbling along in confusion, doing the best we can with what we've got to do with. She told me about an abortion in Chinatown in KC in early 1920s. She told me why. Suddenly, grandmother came to life for me. Before, she'd always been my grandmother. She became a woman with a life of her own, and I was part of her life. The day she died, a color photograph of the planet Neptune appeared on the front page of nearly every paper in the country.

This weekend when Carpenters were here, they brought a 2disc sort of biographical film of the life of Edvard Munch. He's the Norwegian artist of late 19th century who painted the Scream, the human with no gender distinction standing on a bridge, orange sky, hands to sides of head, mouth a big O. Most amazing to all of us was that the people who made the film found someone who looked exactly like Munch. And they found an someone who looked exactly like August Strindberg, Swedish playwright of the time. All of us appreciate a beautifully made film, and we were in awe of this.

We watched one Friday night, the next one Saturday night, looking forward to it all day with scenes from the first half floating in the mind. Peter Watkins made the film. I must remember to google him. It is now in the top 10 or 20 of my favorite movies. There is a point beyond which I cannot say one is better than another. It's that small number I call among my favorites. There with House of Flying Daggers, Apocalypse Now, Shanghai Triad, 8 1/2, Pasolini's Oedipus, Runaway Train, Seven Samurai and a host of others. I like to watch a good film like I like to stand in front of a painting in a museum that knocks my sox off, like something by Antoni Tapies, Robert Mangold, Andy Warhol, Jean Arp. At this time in my life I can look back and say art is the only thing that has ever been of interest to me.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


air bellows art museum

It's choose&cut weekend in the county. Christmas tree growers open the fields to people who come to buy them directly out of the field for a great deal less than at a street corner lot in Charlotte or Raleigh, Winston-Salem or Greensboro. Probably Miami too. What a horrid job that must be to go to a city, say Raleigh, and stay in motels for a week or 2 or 3 while working the tree lot. Great target for getting robbed. When we're dealing in money we spend our lives in shark-filled waters. Everybody is after something that is yours. And today is the Christmas parade. It's like having a Mother's Day Parade on St Patrick's Day, the Christmas parade for Thanksgiving weekend.

It's all about marketing, persuading people to turn loose of some money. The traffic in town is as bad today as I've ever seen it. It was urban traffic, which made the urban people feel at home. My friends Lucas and Judy are here from Georgia. We went into town for the Chinese restaurant, to get our dinner to take home, and to see Joe and Melia Edwards at their tree farm on choose&cut Saturday. The Christmas tree patch looked like a giant parking lot full of expensive and big SUVs, like 4-wheel is the only way you can drive in the mountains.

Melia and Joe were both full-time busy. Got to talk with Joe a few minutes. He was lit up having a great time. This was the big performance day. They had hired people all over the place, directing parking, working in the gift shop, chainsawing the trees, hauling, wrapping. It was a big production for 2.5 days. They were on the ball. Everything flowed smoothly, or so it appeared. This is their once a year reaping the reward of taking care of Christmas trees year round. Driving in to find a parking place, Judy said something about seeing local color here. There were people everywhere. I said the only local color you'll see here is Joe and Melia. This is where you go to see city people.

In town was the same. I'm glad Lucas was driving. I can't stand driving in Sparta when it's playing city. People were getting in place for the parade. We went to the Chinese restaurant and Food Lion, and if we weren't out before the parade started, we'd be in the parking lot until after the parade. Though one time a few years go, on the day of this parade, Jean was at Jr's and decided she wanted a milkshake. This was in her last year. Let's go to Hardee's and get one. Jr, about the time he was starting to need a cane, drove through the parade at the intersection of Grandview. Found an opening between presentations, made it to Hardee's drive-thru, then back across the street in another opening. Neither one of them thought anything of it. Just another trip to town for something.

We made it onto the highway before it shut down for the parade. I had mixed feelings about the parade. A little bit of my support civic consciousness mind was telling me I ought to wait out the parade to be nice, to be acceptable, to see it whether I enjoy it or not, because it's right to support town businesses. That's a losing formula. Ought to doesn't motivate me to anything. It fueled my retreat from Sparta before the parade, the sense of obligation that came from nowhere but in my own head, and for no valid reason. I don't owe anybody an hour of watching a parade. We're a bit too old for parades. Judy, who grew up in Brooklyn, told of her dad taking her to the Macy's parade in NYC when she was 10. She sat on his shoulders.

I remembered seeing American Royal parades in KC every year, something to do with stock yards. I remember almost exclusively the black majorettes out in front of every black high school band tossing the baton straight up in the corridor between tall buildings, making it seem like it was 10 stories high the twirling baton went until it started downward. Occasionally, about half the time, the girl would miss it and it would hit the pavement on the rubber tip and go flying through the air in some unpredictable direction like a football. When the girl caught it on its multi-story descent, the crowd roared. My cousin Deena was a majorette at her high school. She'd shown me much of what she could do, so I had some appreciation with what these girls were doing catching one, as well as throwing it so it comes straight back to her hand, not on some viewer's head.

New parade regulation this year. Can't throw candy to kids at the side of the street. Somebody has to be carrying a box of candy and handing it out along the way. It's easy to see the good sense in that. The only thing about the parade that tugged on me was to see Mildred Torney ride by in a car as parade grand master. I know that's a big ride for her. In a way, it's the town honoring her for simply being who she is. Mildred was the first person I became acquainted with in Sparta, the librarian at the time. Naturally, the library was the first place I went to in Sparta after the gas station. Mildred, like Jr Maxwell, remembered my name the second time I saw her. That endeared her to me all through the years.

In that time, 33 years ago, it was simply custom that you didn't see anybody you didn't already know. If it's somebody from Away, a Flatlander, they're all the more invisible. Invisible as a consciousness. Like in the laundromat, people in there would stare at me like they were watching a television. I'd speak to one and be looked at like I'm a tv with no change of expression even that the person recognized she or he had been spoken to. It was like the television making a racket. I've felt a similar closeness to Mildred over the years as I've felt with Jr, simply because they remembered my name the second time I saw them. That's how rare it was.

Things are different now. I wouldn't have had any problems with recognition if I drove a Cadillac, but I didn't. Cadillacs have high visibility ratings. I learned over the years, though, to think nothing of all the people who saw me without seeing me, because it's culture. I find now after being here half of my life I've become the same way. I tend not to see anybody I don't know. I find I don't connect with the suburban folks from the peripheries of the cities. They're from a foreign culture. I used to live in that culture and it was mine, but it has faded into memory as I have crossed the bridge from there to here over the course of a third of a century. The culture of the country people has become mine. I know now what I looked like then. It makes me laugh within when I think about it, how little I knew, absolutely nothing, about where I was.

Friday, November 27, 2009


air bellows rock formation

Jr has returned to my mind today, has been with me all day. Driving the car, I think of it as Jr's. He's letting me drive it. I'll take better care of it that way than I would thinking it mine. It's mine to care for, like the cats. The cats belong to God, and I give them a home. I regard them more preciously this way than saying they are mine. I see Jr sitting on his side of the couch by the lamp, walker within reach, looking at the curve in the highway, watching the cars and trucks, like watching the river flow by.

I think of Jr's humility, how real it was, how unselfconscious. I think of other men his age and older I've known with the same deeply ingrained humility that doesn't require notice. When I hold Jr up high for his humility or his banjo pickin, it's not that I'm separating him from the men around him. He is one of them, not separate from them. In the old time ways in these mountains humility was valued. It still is. And these mountains are loaded with good banjo pickers. In Jr's mind, he was one of many and the least of them all. He knew Larry Pennington and Cullen Galyean. He knew he couldn't outpick them. Fiddlers conventions made that clear.

In those months and years when it was Jr, Jean and me around the table in the evenings, I gradually saw his spirit come back a little bit. He came up out of the despond of negative mind and dwelled less on his miseries. His last wife had discouraged him with the banjo as well as his closest musician friends dying around the same time. She didn't like bluegrass and she really didn't like banjo. He gave up both. He gave up both for her and she trampled him into the ground. He didn't die soon enough to suit her, so she gave up waiting and left him, taking everything she could get in a u-haul truck. Then she tried to get everything else in the divorce. The judge saw through her evil ways and granted her the minimum.

Jr was like the George Jones song, He Stopped Loving Her Today, the day he died. He had a hard time letting her go. He said to lose a wife to death is better than to divorce, because there is finality to it. Jean joined me in my effort to bring some cheer back into Jr, whose depression was difficult for me, simply because it didn't seem right to see Jr Maxwell in such a dark pit. I didn't see that I could do much for him but to visit him regularly, listen to him, talk with him, pay attention to him. Very few people came by to see him in the course of a week. I couldn't help the grief, but I could do something about the lonesomeness. Jr seemed to me too valuable a spirit for this earth to allow to wallow in the slough of despond.

His spirit came back gradually. In the time when I was writing the weekly column in the paper, I wrote an appeal to everyone who knows him to drop by and visit. I didn't mention his name, but people started showing up. I wrote similar appeals every week for a month. I was heartened to see how many people dropped in on him. They fell away again, but they did a very great deal in raising his spirit in that time. He didn't know about the appeals I wrote. Every time I'd see one of Jr's friends like in the grocery store, gas station, I'd ask them to drop by and see him.

It's difficult for us to visit housebound people, the lonely, when we're so busy. I mean that legitimately so; we who have work and family and bills galore to worry a man or woman to death don't have time or presence of mind to jump off the treadmill for a few quiet minutes to lift someone who is dragging bottom. Too, we tend not to think of ourselves as all that important, but we are. I carry some shame from not visiting people I've known in the past, telling myself I'm not able to help a given situation. But I left out that it doesn't matter. All that matters is this person, shut in, lonely, afraid, has somebody drop by as an expression of caring. Paying attention.

A lot of people do that too. We don't know about them, because it is all done privately. Mary Lee at the Hospice told me this county is good at taking care of its own. She said it's exceptional. I haven't seen as much of it as she has. Fact is, I've seen almost none. Have heard of a few, but it was something I never gave a great deal of thought to, until I saw how heartening it was to Jr to have another presence in the house. Somebody to talk about cattle with, or tractors, or auctions, or what have you. He liked to hear about what was going on in the world he couldn't partake of any more. He liked to keep up with the people he knew.

I remember the time I told Scott Freeman his band Alternate Roots is a good band. He said, There's a lot of good bands. He was right. When someone singles me out with praise for what I did for Jr, I always think it, but don't always say it, that a lot of people are taking care of somebody. A lot more than we know about. I'm now able to talk with people I know who are caring for someone full time understanding what they're going through, and especially understanding the joy they feel. Every one I've talked with taking care of somebody agrees that the joy is simultaneous with the act. That joy is the blessing. They're the only ones I know of who understand what it means to say the reward is simultaneous with the act. There's no future tense to it.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


orange tractor

It's Thanksgiving without Jr this year. Several of them over the last 7 years I've spent with Jr, making nothing of it, a Thursday with not much traffic on the highway. Today I had dinner with the Whitehead Richardsons, Dean and his sisters and their families. It was at Wilma's. Several of them put together a tremendous amount of traditional Thanksgiving cooking. I only knew about half the people there. Now I know them all. It was good food and good company. Dallas scored 2 touchdowns against Oakland while I was there. I saw one. It was made by a slick runner.

Couldn't visit TarBaby today. Last visit I took him some dry food from here and he liked it. I'll take him twice as much tomorrow. It seemed like a kind of dead day. No momentum. In many ways, just another day. In many other ways an important day for my culture, white American, a day set aside as America's sacred day. Mothers day and Father's day were created by greeting card corps, while Thanksgiving goes back to our origin, the original white people who suffered the disease-ridden voyages by sailing ship to face New England winters without chainsaws.

I don't know what it would take to get a shipload of people to leave England and go to a place Western Civilization had not touched. To start with, all they had was wood to build fires with. Forest everywhere and the wild animals to go with it and some people they believed in their belief system to be savages, who turned out to be curious and helpful, to their own peril. The beginnings of the prophecy by White Buffalo Calf Woman that the white people will push the red people out of their homeland. The first landing of a ship bringing the white wave that covered Turtle Island, the North American Continent, from shore to shore in a relatively short time.

Like I said, it's my culture's holy day, not for the people already living here in tribal systems. They don't think much of it. White Buffalo Calf Woman told them if they don't stop warring with each other, a white horde will sweep them away. I don't understand why such a remarkable human being as Sitting Bull was guiding the Lakota on the run. He was something like Robert E Lee, on the losing end from before the start of the Indian Wars as Lee was the Civil War. The industrial North where the money and war machinery was made could not be beat with arrows and spears. The rule of thumb in war has been the one with the most advanced technology wins.

It was the distress of the Indians that created Sitting Bull's tribal power, and the distress of the South created Robert E Lee's greatness. Both of them had to live with the humiliation of surrender after all or nothing wars. Sitting Bull ended up a dancing monkey in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show that toured in Europe. He sold autographs for .50, quite a lot of money then. And he gave it to beggar children in NY and the European cities they visited. He's known to have said something like this, you white people don't even take care of your own. He was struck by all the poor people he saw begging, esp the children. Robert E Lee's plantation was made into a cemetery. How humiliating is that?

I wonder what kind of people would pay for a voyage on a one way trip to an uncharted continent, chance determining where they landed, unless someone had been there before. This is probably all told in at least one book where someone has researched the lives of everyone who crossed on the Mayflower. And then to have lineage that goes back to the Mayflower is American hot diggity dog real breeding. I'd venture the men, at least, on that ship had an adventuring spirit, perhaps the equivalent in our time of someone who climbs Himalayan mountains or courier riders in London on dirt bikes weaving through the traffic.

If they weren't rugged men when they landed, they were soon after. Then more came and more and more. They built a nation from that one spot where the ship landed. What a curious bunch of people we Americans came to be, as broad a range as the whole world. East and West is interwoven here where we have names like Suzy Wong. The whole world is woven together here. Learning to get along is the American dilemma. The way will come. We do a pretty good job of getting along now.

The thing about us Americans is we commonly believe the problems we have today will be ironed out in the future. It seems to work out that way too if you don't get in too big a hurry wanting to see it come to fruition before your eyes. It's slow, but it does seem to me we're creeping along toward democracy for all, the American ideal. We're all taught it in school all the way along. It's what we believe. In a way, it's what we demand. It's what we will have. Of course it's imperfect. But it gets fine tuned over time. The pendulum swings this way for awhile, that way for awhile, stair steps upward through time.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


composition in gray #15

The weather today was sublime. 50 degrees all day, sun out, no wind, long sleeves comfortable. Beautiful day. Traffic in town the day before Thanksgiving Day was like on a Friday in the summer. Where'd they all come from? Turning onto Hwy21 by left or right turn was a serious wait, a city wait. Here, the waiting gets on our nerves, such that the wait at city traffic lights makes me want to turn the motor off. But I also wouldn't want it to be one of those freak moments when the motor wouldn't start and there I'd be in lane 3 of 5 unable to move. The cars in the lane behind me blowing their stacks about the idiot whose car won't go, giving me the finger as they go by in one of the moving lanes either side of me.

Sparta has become the image of change. More traffic every year. The business center has moved from the courthouse traffic light area to the 2 shopping centers with parking lots. It used to be a place where everybody knew everybody. Now you see a few people you know in Sparta, but not many. Nobody seems to mind but the old people who are disoriented by all the changes. At Food Lion they moved everything around in the store recently. One day I saw a woman I knew by sight, but not by name, and she looked as bewildered as I felt. I said, 'I was just starting to get used to the last change and now there's another one.' She said, 'Isn't it the truth,' and talked about it taking so long to get used to the last change, and now a new one.

Marketing technique. Make them search and they'll buy things they never saw before. When everything was being changed around, men in white shirts and ties, management, were there and everybody working in the store was on eggshells. Every time I passed somebody who worked there they'd welcome me to Food Lion. After the 5th time, I asked what's going on. They're supposed to greet people now. The white shirts were perusing everybody's behavior.

It was intensely artificial and lasted about 3 days after they were gone. I walked in the door and the woman working the nearest register said, 'Welcome to Food Lion,' without looking so I wasn't sure who she was talking to. The woman at the next register I passed said, 'Welcome to Food Lion.' A guy working in the produce section said, 'Welcome to Food Lion.' I was thinking I'd entered robot world. Everybody's name was Tron 000001, Tron 000002 and so on. It happened again, and again. That's when I asked what it's about. It seems odd for such artificial corporate behavior to penetrate Sparta. I'm glad it didn't take. But it will be back.

We still have Farmer's Hardware and Kermit's Barber Shop, The Jubilee, the gas stations and the liquor store up at the other end of town. It's a continual amazement how many banks we have in Sparta and how few lawyers, dentists and doctors. It's not amazing when you think about it. The young graduates of professional schools want the big urban money. There's no big money here. Only idealists will take up in a rural community. We haven't had any idealists since the 80s.

In the 60s and 70s when hippies were moving to the mountains to be authentic, they never took up in Alleghany. Grayson and Ashe had big hippie populations, but they bypassed Alleghany. I can make no conjectures as to why, just find it interesting it worked out that way. We have a few old hippies in the county, but not more than just a few. We have several that did the style but not the commitment to carry a youthful trend all the way through to the grave.

I never understood the cry for down with the establishment, when it was the establishment that created the records they listened to, the sound systems their parents bought them, the electricity that ran them and ran everything else in their lives. That was my argument with hipness. At a cocktail party in that time, the late 60s when revolution was the popular word and Che Guevara the pop image, the Beatles' song Revolution was new, I mentioned something about it and this woman in white satin blouse with long deco sleeves, gin and tonic in hand, let me have it for liking that sell-out song.

I couldn't help but look at her and think, 'sell-out?' I didn't know what to say. If you want to change the world, change your mind instead. I didn't see anything reactionary in that. The one way, you're beating your head against a wall, continually frustrated, and the other way you get someplace, and it gets better as it goes along. I didn't know that at the time about changing my mind instead, but it made sense to my intuition. Some years later I learned that to change your mind instead is to change where reality resides.

I've chosen to go the way of knowing the people around me, treating everyone with the respect I believe would make a better world if everyone did it; everyone isn't going to, but I can. I can make my world a better place, for one thing, just by paying attention to it. The world of the people we know and interact with is the world we live in. We need interactions with others, as does everything that's living, even cats. I look around at my world, the world I live in, the people I know, and I'm very happy.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009



Began the process of preparing the car for paint. Scraping the old clear-coat finish off with a razorblade and sanding down to the primer. All over. Tomorrow afternoon pick up title to car at law office, then to tag office to get tag. In the morning see TarBaby. Vet closed in afternoon. It feels like I'm starting a new momentum by beginning the process to restore the car. I'll think of this an art project, preparing the canvas. TarBaby 's white blood cell count has gone back upward. Maybe an xray will be necessary to find a hidden infection.

A black lab was lying on a towel in the room TarBaby was in. Her nose was banged up, dirt on her like she'd rolled on it. I asked Julie if a car hit her. Yes, it broke her left rear leg. I carried TarBaby to the window letting him look until he saw enough. I feel like I'd like to pet some of these lonesome dogs and cats that are not well, or are on their way to and from neutering / spaying, each one its own reason for being there. But I also don't know them and am not so sure about sticking a finger between the bars to pet the dog's nose. TarBaby seems to have settled in at home there. It must be that he feels safe in his cage seeing all the dogs and other cats come and go. All kinds of dogs out there, big ones too.

TarBaby's malady continues to be an enigma. I'm glad to see he's comfortable. He doesn't give any sign of being uncomfortable. The light is back in his eyes. He's filling out. He gives the appearance of understanding why he's there and gives in willingly to treatment. He seems to know that the others in that room have illnesses and fractures of their own. He has a stillness about him, like from being cloistered in meditation. Every day I let him know I'm not abandoning him. It certainly contributes to his calm demeanor.

Driving down the Twin Oaks Mountain Freeway, the mountains the other side of the river in Virginia were all in sunlight, while this side of the river was overcast, one big cloud. It had a glorious feeling about it. They're beautiful mountains and I don't know that I've ever seen their contours displayed as they were today. The gray of leafless trees. I thought to get some pictures of it, but it didn't seem like it would translate well to a photograph. One of those panorama scenes that a photograph reduces to a few inches by a few inches. A glorified postage stamp. But it was a nice view to enjoy from the top of the mountain to the bottom.

From seeing TarBaby I went out 18 to Sparks Hill to talk with Allen about painting the car. He showed me how to prepare the present finish for painting. It had clear coat on it. Plus, the front part of it had been repainted and reclear coated. Nearly all the clear coat was gone. All of it was gone from the top and the top of the trunk. We stood in the driveway talking a couple hours on this, that and the other. It had been several years since I've seen Allen. He's mostly doing repairs now. He hadn't painted a full car in 5 years. He said people fixing up old cars like I'm doing isn't happening much any more.

He also told me the engine, a 3300, will go from now on. With 126k miles on it, he said it will go that many more. I said it doesn't burn oil. He said it won't if the oil gets changed. I enjoyed every minute of talking with Allen, and appreciated all he taught me concerning preparation for painting. It has to be sanded all over by hand. If I'd followed my heart I'd be working on car bodies. In the time of my life when I might have started that kind of work, I was such a neurotic portrait of confusion, I couldn't make a rational decision. I wanted to believe it could be done, but knew better in the back of my mind.

It was a period of my life I stumbled through, stumbled and fell, stumbled and fell. No experience living in the world of making money and having expenses. What I had to do to make money, jobs. Attempting higher education and unable to even get started. Not knowing what it was about or why. Primarily, I couldn't read with any comprehension. Reading is essential in educational situations. Anyway, it was then.
2 years sailing the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, I read every minute to myself. Right away I started reading novels of the French resistance during WW2 by existentialist philosophers, Camus, DeBeauvoir and Sartre. For a couple of years that's what I read. I can't say I started that time with much comprehension, but after 2 years of reading writing way beyond my ability to read, they pulled me along and I came out of it ready to start my education, knowing by then how much I needed it, able to read. I've never used the education to make money, but to give myself foundation.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Drove to town today to see TarBaby and go to grocery store. He was glad to see me. He wasn't possessive like he wanted me to stay. He went back to his cage of his own volition this time. I suspect the women working there love him up pretty good. He has an attractive charm like Jr had that charmed nurses every time he was in the hospital. Nurses loved him. The nurses at animal hospital are drawn to TarBaby in a similar way. It's good for me to see TarBaby too. It keeps us in touch. TarBaby is a big part of my life. I want him well.

In the front of my mind all day has been finding some chrome wheels for Jr's car. It has 14" wheels. No place makes chrome wheels that small. I might have found one place that does. I had no idea the wheels have been getting bigger and bigger, up to 18" wheels, 19". The tires are flatter, thinner. 14" is obsolete. I remember when 14" were new, they were so stylish. My first car, a 49 Ford, had 16" wheels. Old fashioned. It's too much to think about. Thin ties, wide ties, in between ties. I chose no tie.

Sometimes I feel like my friend Swami Yogeshananda, an American who spent his adult life in Hindu monasteries. He came out of monasteries after 35 years to start a Vedanta center in Atlanta. Vedanta is to Hinduism something like what Zen is to Buddhism. He came back like in a time machine. Everything had changed. I told him he left the world in the Age of Ozzie and Harriet and returned to the world in the Age of Beavis and Butthead. He missed everything in between. He has left Atlanta now, turning his center over to another Swami to carry on, and has taken refuge in a monastery in hills of Southern California, Trabuco if I remember correctly.

In my heart, I left the world when I came to the mountains. I get a lot of bad press for arrogance because I don't participate in all the rigmarole I left the city to get away from. I didn't come to the mountains to do a lesser version of the same thing. As time has gone by, I've drifted further and further away from the world of pop culture, while being plugged in nonetheless. I like living outside the influence of tv commercials and 100 channels of inanity. I like a good story, so I read good writers who tell really good stories. I see artful films because they tell good stories very well. Sometimes I like to see a dvd of an Aerosmith concert, or Lucinda Williams or Lou Reed or Steve Earle in concert.

After living my entire adult life without television except at other people's houses, I still live under the influence of television. Television is the culture that I live in. I miss out on the subtleties of the culture I live in, sometimes making for awkward moments. Like after I'd been in the mountains a year and a half or so, I was visiting at Isle of Palms, off the coast of Charleston. I stopped at a convenience store to get something to eat. I saw a display of posters that were a picture of a foxy babe and had Farrah written across the bottom. I figured Farrah must be from television.

I asked the boy at the register, who looked like about 18, who was Farrah. He lit up and said, that's Farrah Majors, wife of Lee Majors on Charlie's Angels. All of it was from another world, another belief system to me. I'd not heard of any of those names. The kid looked at me the way people looked at Brother From Another Planet. The where-you-been look. It would have taken too long to explain, there was no reason to explain, and he wouldn't have got it anyway. I paid up and left, glad I didn't know any of those names.

Now I am happy to say I don't know the name of a single sports star, except for Tiger Woods. He's like Michael Jackson. Everybody's heard of him. I've indrawn into the people I know. The people I know are my world. That's it. What's going on in LA and NY and NO are of no interest except as landscapes for movies. I'm happy to let the people who want to be in those places have at it. Go the whole hog. Just leave me out of it. What's going on in WS is of no interest. Alleghany In Motion is the only way I can go to WS any more. City driving is something in the past.

I came to the mountains believing I was going for a degree of solitude. I found it was a little early. I wasn't ready. I needed to work to meet expenses. Gradually got involved in one thing and another, but after the store experience I feel like it's time to burrow in at home and draw inward in whatever form that takes. Starting up with a clean slate, more or less, after Jr. The house was asleep, need to bring TarBaby back, get the car restoration done and get some kind of groove going that includes painting. What? I don't know yet. When it happens I'll know. When is neither here nor there right now.

In a way, I feel something like when I discovered that God indeed is, like I can't go on as before. I don't mean like "in sin." Rather it was like everything changed and I needed some time and space to get acquainted with my new way of seeing that made everything outside myself so different, more beautiful. I moved into the Air Bellows schoolhouse. I felt like this is where I get my spiritual education. It continues. Tom Pruitt was the first teacher I was sent to. Jr the last.

Curiously, the barn across the road, which is now on my land, was built by Tom and the wood was sawmilled by Jr. Jr was working for Glen Richardson at the time. Tom paid Richardson to saw the boards and Jr worked the saw.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


air bellows tree

The Master gives himself up

to whatever the moment brings.

He knows that he is going to die,

and he has nothing left to hang on to:

no illusions in his mind,

no resistances in his body.

He doesn't think about his actions;

they flow from the core of his being.

He holds nothing back from life;

therefore he is ready for death,

as a man is ready for sleep

after a good day's work.

-Tao te ching #50

Flipping through a beautiful copy of the Tao te ching, one illustrated with Chinese paintings and translated by Stephen Mitchell, opening the book randomly to see which verse I happen upon, I saw, 'The Master gives himself up to whatever the moment brings.' Immediately Jr came to mind. This is what it was about Jr that helped him master everything he put his mind to. He was wholly present with whatever the moment brought.

No illusions in his mind, no resistances in his body, was Jr again. He knows he's going to die, and he has nothing left to hold on to. I stared at the white paper with these words printed on it, held by surprise to find Jr described in the Tao. Not when I think about it, but surprised because I didn't have time to think about it. There it was. He didn't think about his actions; they flowed from the core of his being. Precisely. Jr didn't perform premeditated action except at work. Making decisions, he followed his feelings foremost.

He held nothing back from life, therefore he was ready for death. He went face forward into every moment as it came along. His bearing was calm as pond water while he cut up and pulled pranks, told and laughed at jokes, bought and sold tractors and parts, operated a "bull-noser" with artful skill and picked bluegrass banjo. He understood water too. I've found not many people understand water, but Jr understood it very well. In a sense, he lived his life like water, like in the first line above, gave himself up to whatever the moment brought. It was how he made his music and how he lived his life.

Jr never asked that anything or anyone be anything other than what and who they are. At age 24-25 he was working with a construction company in Decatur, Georgia, working a gang of twenty-some black men. He liked them all and they liked him. When one of them killed another, Jr testified in court on his behalf that it was self-defense. He said that after working with those men, getting to know them as men, he came to respect them and appreciate them. He never was one to down black people after that experience. I don't expect he was before, either. The Browns of Browns restaurant Jr held up as high as anyone he knew in the department of respect and appreciation. Jr measured a man by his character, not superficial matters such as pigmentation, financial worth, how important he was. A man was just a man in Jr's way of seeing.

As a man is ready for sleep after a good day's work. Yes, Jr did put in a good day's work. He worked until he was 80, sawmilled into his late 70s, sawmilled the old-time dangerous way. He loved sawmilling. Jimmy Gibson told me he saw Jr almost fall onto the turning wheel, but caught himself in time. Jr told me of different sawmillers he's known who have fallen on the blade, got an arm or hand cut off, killed in one way or another. He told me about JC Kemp, a banjo picker from Buffalo township in Ashe County, who almost cut his arm off. They put his arm back together and he can continue to pick, just not as good as he could before.

That was Jr's issue too, not as good as he could before. The day he slapped the side of the spinning blade to get a measure of its temperature, it peeled the palm of his left hand off in a nanosecond. Skin-graft on the side of his left leg. Noting the banjo was excellent physical therapy to bring his fingers back. But he never was as good as he was before. This doesn't mean he wasn't any good. He could pick the fire out of the banjo. Don Reno was his favorite banjo picker, but he played more like Earl Scruggs. Bluegrass musicians will tell you audiences prefer the Scruggs style picking to the Reno style. Yet the musicians tend to prefer Reno.

I never would have imagined I'd find a description of the Master in the Tao te ching that could be titled, Wiley P. Maxwell, Jr. (1922-2009). I understand that it could easily be that a verse of the Tao could describe Jr. It's just that I'd never allowed myself the presumption to suppose it might be. This description of the Master tells why I came to regard Jr a Master I was guided to in a Grasshopper kind of way to learn something from this man about the Way.

I learned plenty and served him as I would an official Master. I only told a few people I know that I suspected this to be the case in my time of knowing Jr. This verse of the Tao confirms for me what I've been believing about him. I had the impression that other people saw me staying with Jr a detour from my own path. I saw my time there my path. It was nice to see that I was on my path. I'm so grateful for the entire experience of knowing Jr, I feel a need to honor him for who he was. He continues to be present tense in my mind. I won't argue with it. I'd just as soon it be that way anyway.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


cosmic chagall #6

Days turned into weeks as I stopped at Jr's on the way home from town. I saw Jr a man beat down in the ground. His primary issue it seemed to me was he was lonesome. He sat in the house by himself, didn't watch tv, didn't read, sat and looked out the window at the curve in Hwy 18 where Rifle Range Road enters the highway, waiting like a fisherman for a car or truck to turn up his driveway.

He watched the wind in the trees and the temperature. He watched the rabbits graze in his lawn, watched a spider in the window. He talked on the telephone and sat in neutral day after day. I came to see that his lonesomeness was a great contributor to his depression. I couldn't do anything about the depression, but I could stop by and be company for him; then he has at least one visitor a day. Telling me of his life, of his band, of people he has known throughout his life. I can listen to talk about life in the old ways in these mountains without end. I also found that Jr had been drinking himself to sleep night after night. When I had a couple drinks over a couple hours with him, that cured his loneliness for awhile. Consequently he drank less. His drinking had been on the verge of self-destructive. But Jr knows where that line is.

Everybody around him was getting in his face about his drinking. and I told him he drinks less than most lawyers, judges and doctors. Less. In the middle class drinking is not only acceptable, it's what people do. In the working class the Baptist church influence is everywhere. If you drink anything in the working class you're a drunk. One time his niece from below the mountain drove up the driveway. I put the bottle out of sight and my glass. He said he didn't care what she thought of him drinking. I said I don't either, I'm just not interested in hearing it. He put his glass out of sight before she came through the door.

Something else I noticed was this niece watched soap operas and made drama out of anything. Everything was down, couldn't get no worse, all the time. Moaning because it's all so awful. After she spent an hour or so with Jr, he was talking the same, nothin aint never right. Then Jean came into the picture and she was a practitioner of negative mind too. There came a time after seeing the affect it had on him that I set out to change the tone of the conversation at the table. As of one day I quit letting them get away with talking down, down, down, all the time.

The niece from below the mountain quit coming by, making it a lot easier for me. I wouldn't talk that way with Jean. No need to be groaning about everything that's wrong. It can carry you away. There really is so much that is wrong that it can occupy a lifetime figuring out everything that's wrong, and the magnitude of how wrong it is. There is also much that is right. Where I put my focus is where I go. The mind is so fluid, as fluid as air; it can flow with any kind of force coming in from outside oneself. Jean would be overtaken by negative mind rather easily, but it took less and less to bring her out of that downtrodden self-pity mind she would get into.

In the early weeks and months Jean came by more and more often. Sometimes she'd cook supper for all of us and I'd wash dishes.Jean had spent her adult life in and out of psychiatric institutions, psychoanalysis, powerful medications with deadly side effects. I was fascinated with Jean's knowledge of the workings of the mind. I learned later that she was curious about this guy that accepted who she is from the start, and didn't run when she said she was bi-polar. After a certain point, it was the 3 of us around the table every evening. Jean and I started coming by on Sunday mornings and Jean would make breakfast for all of us.

Stories from Jean's life came forward that were sometimes hair raising. I came to believe she went to mental institutions periodically to get a rest from her family. They were the crazy ones. Jean was of such a sensitive temperament and they were so boisterous and loud. Their whirlwind minds transferred to her easily as she was so sensitive, and there were times she couldn't take another moment. She'd "break down" and go away for months or years. She got the name for being crazy, called herself the crazy woman of Whitehead. Jean had a great deal of gratitude for Jr. He never abandoned her when everybody else did. His ear was always ready to hear whatever Jean had to say.

This went on for some years. Jean and I kept the lonesome blues out of Jr's house. He came creeping back, the Jr full of life, an open, friendly spirit. Sometimes on a weekend I'd show up at the house in the evening and he'd be wasted drunk. Been drinking all day. He was a happy drunk, and I am too, so there were never any harsh words or wise cracks or dramas. We laughed and told funny stories to laugh about. We decided on New Year's Eve to sit and talk and drink until midnight. We both got loose such that I was about to dissolve into a puddle of swamp water and Jr was lit up fairly good, too. We had hundreds of laughs. The more we drank the more we laughed. We cleared midnight like runners crossing the finish line. We were talking slow and laughing about all the time. When midnight finally struck, that was it. I went home and he went to bed.

Friday, November 20, 2009


twin oaks vet

Drove to Twin Oaks again today to see TarBaby, leave him the shirt I slept in last night and pick up the one he slept on last night. I take him a shirt every day that I slept in the night before, to sleep on if he wants , but primarily to leave with him the scent of home fresh every day. Put that with visiting him every day as my expression that I'm not abandoning him and I feel satisfied I'm helping TarBaby not be so lonesome. It's two weeks now that he's been living in a stainless steel cage.

He doesn't seem severely lonesome. Today, like all other days, he went back to the cage without protest after I held him and walked around talking to him as we do every day. I hold him to the window where he can see trucks go up and down the highway on Twin Oaks Mountain, a neighbor's dog standing in the yard, Norma walking a dog on what looks like a very practical leash made of cloth. It loops through the eyehole at the end around the dog's neck and extends to however many feet you want of leash. TarBaby likes to look up the driveway to the barn entrance where the really big ones go. He saw a horse a couple days ago.

He's getting shots about every day, blood drawn, is handled by the women working there daily, gets his cage changed daily. He's in the room where dogs and cats are on the way to and from the operating table, a room where it's quiet, co-ed. Yesterday and day before a Maine Coon like Caterpillar turned up who had been attacked by a dog. A little dog with big eyes came in today with extensive stitchery after a dog attack. It's the hospital room for intensive care. Most recent word on TarBaby is the test for hyper-thyroid turned out that's not it. The white cell count lowered considerably, but is still way high for good health. I've an idea he is feeling gradually better. His belly is beginning to fill out. They say he is eating well. They feed him well.

They talk to him and hold him, like they do all the ones that come through. The women working there, all of them are there because they love the animals and want to be doing what they can to help them. Nash is a good animal doctor. I've learned over 30 years to trust him absolutely with one of my friends. Nash, himself, is there because he loves the animal kingdom, gave his life unconditionally to caring for four-leggeds in distress and keeping up the health of a whole county's animal population. When it comes to that last day when you look back over your life and ask what you've done that's important, Nash Williams can say he went to work every day.

Every cage in there was occupied by a conscious being regarded as such by the doctors, nurses and aides. After all my experience with health care for humans, I have to say I'd rather be a dog. The devotion everyone working at Twin Oaks has for the patients stands out in relation to hospital or nursing home care. Our pets that go there get special, individual treatment. I have to add that nursing homes are filled way beyond capacity for what they can pay for staff, and a long list of problems they have a vet does not have. But still, I see the four-leggeds embraced lovingly by a nurturing feminine staff. They are overrun there and understaffed as well. The advantage they have is animals are easier to love. They're not fickle like us humans.

I like to carry TarBaby around to the other rooms where cats and dogs are kept, let him look at the others in the hospital. I saw a couple of kittens I'd love to take home. But the 3 big cats would make their lives a hell that would never end. Cat Hell. Bad place to be. I take TarBaby to see each one. He understands the limits of the cage, feels no tension looking at a dog so big it takes 2 cages. It's a peaceable place and everybody is safe. Only the cat that looked like Caterpillar made a growling sound. Maine Coons seem to have a chip on their shoulders where other cats are concerned. TarBaby paid it no mind, like he does Caterpillar.

I feel good about visiting TarBaby every day. I learned from Jr's periodic incarcerations for getting old that a visit in the hospital or the nursing home is tremendously calming for the inmate. I keep TarBaby knowing every day I've not abandoned him. It's less like solitary confinement with the confidence we'll have a contact visit every day. His life spirit was dim when I took him there, and the spirit was dim in his eyes. He was unwell. By now his spirit is back and his eyes are like before. His hair is glossy, he's filling out.

Tuning up TarBaby, tuning up the car. There's some tuning up for me too. Everything has changed. At lunch today with Donna I defined the change as everything is more beautiful. That's it in a few words. Driving Jr's car eases missing him. In my mind it will always be Jr's car. Holding TarBaby, walking him around to see the different sets of eyes looking at him, cat eyes, dog eyes, sometimes human eyes when somebody walked by, I felt comfortable with TarBaby under Nash Williams's umbrella. Everything is in motion toward its own completion.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


catfish grille

As of now, Jr's car has become mine. I was wanting to buy it, but everyone concerned agreed I was to take it for what I did for Jr, esp considering losing the truck not too long ago. I decided I'd take the money from insurance on the truck, which wasn't a great deal, but more than I could have got selling it, and use it to bring Jr's car up to speed. Made an appointment today with Chuck Billings for tuneup, tires, taillight. When that's done and its mpg goes up from 15 that it is now to in the 20s where ought to be, from there to get it painted. It has a couple of little dents and a spot of rust I'd like fixed. The paint on it is that clear-coat that was a disaster, made a lot of cars look really bad, like this one.

I've been thinking all day about Richard Woodie buying Jr's banjo. After he bought it, he raised its price considerably because it had been Jr Maxwell's banjo. Thought I'd do the car the same way. Value it because it was Jr Maxwell's car. Put my insurance money into bringing it up to where I'll have a nice car the rest of my life. Chuck told me these Century's of that era never die. They go on and on. The years of sitting looking out Jr's windows and off the porch at Hwy 18 I have seen so many of them from that period, the 90s, the roads are full of them. And they're not rusted. This one has 126k miles and doesn't burn oil. I'm looking forward to driving it after Chuck goes over it. I mentioned to Jr a couple years ago the car would benefit from a tuneup. It don't need no damn tuneup. That car runs good. You better believe it.

It does run good. It runs real good. And it can run better, much better. I feel its potential, which makes me want Chuck to work on it. I feel like it's performing at 2/3 of its potential. Then get some body work done on it. I want the hood ornament off, all words off. I want it trimmed down to the original design of the car, which is beautiful. And I esp like the one with the taillight all the way across the back, though it costs a couple of hundred to replace it after Jr backed into my truck's bumper. It disturbed him. He said it was the first time he'd ever done that, bumped into something backing up. He was also 86. That had a great deal to do with it.

I'm remembering the day I drove the van to Piney Creek to leave it at Alton Brooks's place to get some work done on the motor. Jr followed me and brought me back. Riding back with him from Piney Creek was an adventure. Just this side of Alton's is a series of 3 or so blind curves, one after the other. We went through each one of them all the way over in the other lane. It could have been bad. But the Lord was with us. Riding with him that day and other times is where I get my praying without ceasing done.

One day, possibly a couple years ago, he wanted to drive. He liked to ride around on back roads. We ended up on Bullhead Road on the dirt part under the Parkway. The edge of the road most often drops straight down in a very steep slope with a lot of trees. I'd look down at the trees and see the car bouncing from tree to tree like a pinball down the slope to the bottom. Neither one of us could have survived. Or both could have walked away. Anything could happen.

He cut the curves closer and closer to the outside edge, my side of the road, until in one curve he didn't turn. He was headed for the edge. I said, "Keep it in the road." He kept on going. I hollered, "Keep it in the road!" He jerked the steering wheel to the left and missed the edge by an inch. And went merrily on like angels were all around us keeping us in the road. Which they were. I got a tough-guy merit badge for riding down that road with Jr that day and saying nothing more than keep it in the road.

Another time we took off up Cheek Mountain Road, one of the beautiful unpaved roads that is left. He talked about work he did clearing a tremendous acreage, people who lived in the old abandoned house, people who owned the land. We went then down Doughton Mountain Road back to 18 down to Meadow Fork Road. He pointed to a place where a man whose name I forgot killed a man whose name I forgot. Another place where somebody killed a man with a knife. A place where a man's pickup slipped off the edge of the road, it started over on its side and a fencepost came in the window and killed him.

I enjoyed those rides, because he knew stories about every mile in every road. They were sometimes toe curling, always adventurous, and like I said, prayer without ceasing from beginning to end. He didn't drive fast enough for a wreck to be too damaging, unless he went off down a bank backwards. I didn't say anything about his driving. That one, keep it in the road, was it. He thought he was doing a great job. He kept it in the road. And I was glad he was thinking he was doing a great job. I didn't want to pop his bubble. Going out driving made him feel good that he was still able.

I've found the car's name. Catfish. It has that scoop for a mouth and a smooth grace in its overall design. The interior is like new. It's 16 years old with a new interior. The motor runs well. It's a well-made v-6 from the time Toyota and Honda were shaming American car makers into making engines that run a long time. I remember what Jr said to me about getting a new vehicle in a time when he could barely speak, "Take a fool's advice, don't be in a hurry."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


cutting the grass

Jr never could understand why I found his life so fascinating. To him, he was making do as needed doing, in motion toward the end of earning money for living expenses. Once he said, "I like to work like hell all week and get drunk on the weekend." Playing music on weekends he always had some liquor nearby. He drank up to the place where the liquor assists the artistry in the picking as good as it's going to, and held it there, this side of too much where the artistry gets stupid.

My life is too boring to talk about; reading, writing, painting, watching movies, listening to music, playing with the computer. When I was at the store, I could tell him in the evenings about different people who came in. Quite often I had good conversation with all kinds of people, which, for me, was more satisfying as a reason to have the store than anything else. The variety of people that came in there told me we have some very interesting people passing through Sparta or have moved here from someplace else. We also have some very interesting people from here.

The one-upmanship games some men play were pretty funny. When that game started, I bowed out. The most fun were the obvious PhDs who teach at some university, neatly bearded, professorial ego. I'm remembering one in particular started quizzing me in conversation, testing my knowledge of this or that to do with whatever. I gave an unsatisfactory answer right off, dropped a caint for can't and them for those, got summed up an idiot not worth talking to and he rejoined his wife browsing.

There was a city guy staying here temporarily with parents who came here from someplace else, talking about making a documentary film about mountain music, knowing nothing about it. Wanted me involved because I'm an "expert." I cautioned him, "I'm not an expert." "Yes you are." "No I'm not. I'm not an expert on anything, certainly not mountain music." It flabbergasted him. He just hadn't heard expert enough to be tired of it yet. I hear it on the news every day; so and so, the expert. I was testing him too, to see if he had what it took to get past that word. It was the end of it. There wasn't anything to it to start with. It made interesting conversation. City people like to talk and I like to listen.

When I met somebody exceptional that day I'd tell Jr about it. Like the man from Florida who was an old-time fiddler originally from the mountains outside Chatanooga, about 40 miles south of where my ancestors lived, and his dad was an old-time fiddler in the mountains there. He told of a time he went to Ireland and sat in with jams learning to play their style. When they played the old-time fiddle tune he knew as Red Wing, somebody sang the words. He didn't know Red Wing had words. He ran it by his dad later, and he never heard of Red Wing having words either. He took it from finding no one he talked to this side of the Atlantic knew it had words that the words to a song he only knew as a fiddle tune must not have crossed the ocean.

One thing I found about old people that younger people don't know is the old folks got soul. It's just that electric music isn't music to them. It's noise. Good old-time music can set old folks in motion their grandkids didn't know they had in em. Go to one of the dance places on a Fri or Sat night in Glendale Springs, Sparta, Cana, Floyd, Flat Ridge, Fries, and see old folks flatfootin the old-time way, floating a half inch off the floor, keeping perfect time.

Sometimes I'd tell Jr something interesting I heard or read about in the news. Like a few years ago I found a paragraph in the back of a Time magazine that told of a Russian mountain village buried in a tidal wave of mud from a melted glacier that ran 75mph. In what must have been a couple of minutes it buried the entire village and everybody in it. He wasn't interested in anything on the news, except something he can see in his mind. He can't see budget deficit in his mind. I told him other odd stories I found in the news from time to time.

His grandfather Joines was a blacksmith in Whitehead. His grandfather Maxwell was killed at the end of the Civil War by a sniper while watering his horse at Killon's branch, near where the bypass meets Hwy 21 at Blevins. Jr's dad was 3 months in the womb when his daddy died. His last 6 months in the womb his mother was in her grief. When he was born, what a treasure he must have been. He was given the same name. Jr was his from his dad's second marriage. His first wife died when their younguns were in their thirties. He married Loretta (Etta) Joines, sister to Pine Swamp fiddler Howard Joines, and Jr was born 5 years later. Old man Wiley lived until Jr was in his early thirties.

Jr's stories were all from mountain culture, which was fascinating to me, and nothing to him. Our conversations at the table brought me closer to the culture, gave me a front row seat to the music world from the inside. He never remembered places and dates, but always remembered the people around him. He liked everybody he knew. That's not an exaggeration and it wasn't forced in him. It came from who he was, all the way deep within. I knew for a long time that God had a special affection for Jr Maxwell. His life was simple as a monk's, and he'd been wrung through several wringers. The wild man in him survived all of it. When his wild man could no longer act out, he could think. His sense of humor was always turned on.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


red wheel

Several people have said God sent me to Jr to help him through his hard time. I add that God sent Jr to me for a teacher to expand the realm of my understanding. I heard from the source the story of a life I can only look at in awe. I learned a great deal about bluegrass and old-time musicians of this region, tales of various musicians Jr made music with over the years, like Cullen Galyean, a banjo picker from Low Gap Jr had the highest respect for as a picker and as a man. Jean and I drove to Cana, Virginia, one night to hear Cullen Galyean with Henry Mabe on the fiddle. They played some mighty good bluegrass I would have missed if I'd not known Jr.

In the time I was thinking about putting together a music store to be a source for the music of the central Blue Ridge, I wanted to talk with Jr to get his take on whether or not such an effort might work. I drove by the shop and he was sitting inside the big open doorway in a wooden chair beside the stove watching the vehicles go by. I'd hoped to find him at a time when he wasn't busy. I stepped into Jr's world walking through the big doorway, a world of tools, tractors and tractor parts, the black patina of grease everywhere, and on his hands. In a way, it felt like he was in a cave of dark gloom. Blue work pants, lighter blue work shirt, work boots, a blue and white billboard ballcap, the bill straight across. It said Maxwell in small letters below some logo, something to do with tractors.

I felt sorrow seeing Jr depressed as he was unto despair. Having company, he was animated and came to life. We talked for an hour or so and he asked me to the house for a drink before I go on. Sure. I was enjoying a conversation with Jr Maxwell after knowing him for 27 years, but not well enough to sit and talk at length. Like the way you know a lot of people, like Amos Wagoner at Farmer's Hardware. When you live in the same community, you are aware of each other and speak as though well acquainted when paths cross. Let's call them pleasant acquaintances, people who don't give us a difficult time.

I was a foolish tool to have lived in Whitehead during the last 14 years of the Green Mountain Boys, when they were at their best, and never saw them once. I have what I believe a false memory of dinner at High Meadows in my first year in the mountains and a band playing, people dancing. It was a local bluegrass band, though at the time I didn't know. I associated bluegrass with horse racing. Beverly Hillbillies theme with Earl Scruggs' banjo was an irritant. Lord have mercy, I feel retarded looking at myself then from now.

With my grandmother through the early 50s I heard on Grand Old Opry the Stanley Brothers, Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, and others I hold the highest now, but paid them no mind then. It was country, like saying aint. I got scolded at home and at school for saying aint. Don't use that word, it's country. My parents were the children of country kids that married and moved to the city for work and raised kids in the city. I had some country relatives and they were soooo country. Backward they seemed. But to them I was the one backward.

I was several years emerging from city mind. Then it turned out I was country all along and the city part was a detour. Jr told me of making music with fiddlers Tiny Pruitt, Jim Shumate, Otis Burris, Art Wooten, Vaughn Brown (from Charlotte), Johnny Miller and several others. He took me inside the music world of his experience, fiddlers conventions in the parking lot. Home Sweet Home was his winning fiddlers convention tune. He pulled on the strings in a way to make the waving note like Earl Scruggs did with special pegs. The disappearance of his fiddlers convention ribbons and trophies is a mystery he never solved. One of two women has them and both swear they don't. I have my suspicions, but it's irrelevant now. Jr didn't care enough to worry over it.

When I left he'd ask me to come back the next evening, which I did, and we sat at the table sipping 2 glasses apiece of nice smooth liquor over 2 hours. I asked him once if there was ever any goal he wanted for himself. He said, "I wanted to be like my daddy." Phew, I thought, how many men can say that? He told of the time his daddy was elected to county commission without running, then refused to accept it. I began to see Jr's depression was lonesomeness. He had the lonesome blues. His heart was broken and trampled in the mud a few years before. Since then, in his words, he wasn't worth shootin.

He kept himself out of the depths of despair working, staying in the present, letting the past go, dwelling in the present and future. He told stories from the past for me, seeing that was what I wanted to hear, such that it turned into telling his entire life, which I did too, though not at much length as I've lived my life in my head. Jr was more interesting to me than I was to him. Mostly he told me accounts of moments along the way, from childhood on up, a host of names I never heard of, never a hint of judgment of anyone he brought up. After half a dozen years of hearing his life, I saw it bear out what he told me early on, that he looked up to everyone.

There came a day in the time just before Hospice came along that Jr was wanting to pay me something for staying with him so much. I told him he paid in advance, 5 years of sharing the best liquor on this earth with me and telling me his life. I said, this is payback time for you. You wouldn't let me help you pay for any of the liquor we drank, so you don't pay for anything I'm doing now. What I learned sitting there listening to Jr Maxwell is more than I could tell. The way I can honor Jr's time and attention is to live what I learned from him, which is so considerable I wouldn't know how to track it all down to tell it.

Monday, November 16, 2009


the green chair

This morning I woke to a slight noise and started to get out of bed to check on Jr to see that he was all right. I was in my own home and Caterpillar was looking at me from the floor. Went back to sleep and another small sound woke me. I started out of the bed to see about Jr again. It's been over a couple of weeks and this has not happened before. I'm wondering if it's more nostalgia than conditioning. By now memory of Jr is fading from my mind, such that I suspect this appeal to conditioning could be my subconscious mind wanting to keep Jr in the foreground of my thoughts as he slips to the background.

This is the part of grief that is hard to deal with, seeing the other start to fade from the front of the mind to the back with all other experiences that are forgotten until reminded, or totally gone. I'm thinking the start this morning was my mind's way of bringing Jr to the foreground again as he begins to recede from the front of the mind. It's like a best-seller list and a pop music chart. When something that's been at #1 for awhile and you like seeing it at #1, starts sliding down the chart, replaced by new number ones, twos and threes, and gradually fades into forgotten, one feels a minor sorrow seeing it go away. In mid 1950s Bill Doggett's Honky Tonk was #1 for about a year. It was a record I never tired of hearing. I felt sorrow when it faded from the charts, though not major by any means. I never think about it now, haven't for many a year, but when I hear it by chance somewhere, it's new all over again.

I'd forgotten that last night I told myself I wanted to be up at 8 this morning and get the day going. After the 2nd time I woke to a sound that made me jump up to see about Jr, the digital clock said 8:02. Remembering that I'd asked to wake up at 8, now I see what a clever trick my mind played on itself. Or rather one part of the mind, perhaps the witness part, the witness who sees our dreams and understands what we're thinking, tricked the part of the mind that was dreaming with an association it knew would work. Automatically, I started to see if Jr had fallen out of bed or anything else of a long list of possibilities. It turns out I miss that degree of alert preparedness.

Two weeks back in my own space, that ever-ready mind has relaxed. In a way, it's like they say about someone with a limb cut off, that it continues to feel like it's there, like a ghost arm. Habits of thinking, habits in the details of everyday life are slow to change. For Jr it was a slow process from being able to take care of himself to unable, and a gradual process for me to adjust to changes as they came up, like from cane to walker to wheelchair. Tuning waves down to ripples and ripples down to calm was part of what I did too. Now and then somebody came in whose mind was a whirlwind of anxieties and they'd pass their mental fizz to him. When they were gone I'd sit with him and we'd talk awhile, I'd see to calming his mind, getting it back on his track just by talking about anything.

I'd been with him all the way from when his mind was good to when it went blank. Toward the end when his mind was a tiny fraction of its former self, I was able to communicate with him because I continued to see it was Jr Maxwell inside, just severely challenged when it came to expression. One of the most serious problems I had with nursing homes was their absence of interest in who he was or anything to do with his life and his habits. He was a number in a file; don't bother us, we're busy. They have guidelines: lie or you lose your job. A conscious being regarded the same as lumber. The beds equal shelves. I won't even mention the so-called food, because he didn't eat it anyway.

What a time it's been, helping a friend ease into dying, keeping his self-respect intact as he loses control of his self and dwells in the embarrassment of helplessness. In his helpless time I wanted Jr to be able to have someone with him he could trust absolutely. I never lied to him one time and never mislead him in any way. That's how I am with my friends. My friends are people I trust absolutely. That's the kind of friend I am. Being a friend / having a friend is the most important relationship in one's life. Somebody you can tell anything to and not be judged, knowing it won't be told around, is the highest value.

Tom Pruitt told me people told him things they didn't tell anybody else. He never understood why. It's because he didn't tell it around and he didn't judge them. We need people in our lives we can open up with; hence, be relaxed with, at home with, comfortable with. One of the primary reasons I disliked the condition of marriage was not being allowed to have friends anymore. Why can't I have friends for the rest of my life? Why don't you want friends? Some have told me what I did for Jr is not done very much in this time. That's part of why I did it.

There is much that is good and beautiful in this time. Barbara Kingsolver writes a beautiful novel. Bob Dylan is making music better than ever, writing volumes of really good songs. Philip Glass shifted the direction of what's called classical music. New ideas opening up at the dizzying rate of species extinctions around the globe. In some ways we're opening and expanding horizons every day. In other ways we're treading the path to collective self-destruction. Like the REM song, It's the end of the world as we know it. It just takes a couple of centuries for the old ways to fade out and the new ways to fade in. A computer is wild enough for me. Blackberry? iPod? Twitter? I do know what a blog is. So maybe I'm still kinda cool, maybe a little bit, a little tiny bit. Another self-delusion bites the dirt.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


moment in whitehead

Beautiful day outside, 70 degrees, and I didn't step out the door one time. Didn't want to do anything. Didn't want to read or listen to music or hear the radio. It's Sunday. It doesn't seem right having the door open and TarBaby not going in and out. He goes from door to catfood table in kitchen like a black streak. I've not seen that in several days. The others, Caterpillar and Tapo, are quiet, as is usual for them. All day I've felt a longing to visit TarBaby, the one thing that could have got me going today.

Thoughts about Jr have swum in my head. Jr and TarBaby. I was seeing Jr sit up on the side of the bed to drink an ensure, remembering our conversations as I'd sit in the wheelchair beside the bed. A few times I tried having one with him when he was not wanting them any more. It only worked twice. Third time he just took a sip. All the way through his slow decline I would think of Jr in the time when his mind and his body worked, knowing he never wanted it to be like this, lying in bed in pain, unable to stand, no strength, refusing to eat because it made him sick, didn't like water because it made him pee in the night. Nothing rational about any of it in a fading mind.

Seeing now that the slow fade was his karmic way out, I'm all the more glad to have kept him out of the nursing homes where he would have went out months sooner knotted up in despair. If his first suicide attempt failed, he'd be on suicide watch from then on, the same as strapped down.
A problem in the facility. The Jr I knew was not one who would take his own life. Yet toward the end when his mind stopped functioning, I had to take the magazine out of the pistol he kept in a drawer by the bed, and see there's no shell in the chamber.

One day he asked me for the pistol. I handed it to him. He sat up on the bed admiring it. I could see he had no idea how to use it, what the trigger did, or anything. The only danger if it were loaded would be going off by surprise. It was an especially gripping moment for me as a measure of how far his mind had slipped, seeing him handling it like a baby would. After he fell asleep I put it back in the drawer. This was the last time he saw it.

Moments like this come back in memory causing me to feel what I felt then. In this case, as in all of them, I felt tremendous sorrow to see the measure of how far away he'd gone. And I felt joy that I was allowing Jr to be able to function at least a little bit in his helpless phase. I wanted to be the one taking care of him, because I wanted to be there every minute to see that he was getting real care. The only way I could see that his care was up to my standard was to do it myself. It was the only way I could know with certainty he was not being robbed of his personal autonomy, or just plain robbed. It was important to me for him at least to believe he could write a check if he needed to, or drive his car.

Looking back, I tend to remember the Jr within I communicated with, the Jr I knew, the Jr behind the mind that fell away, Jr the individual soul. I didn't know the details of his soul's salvation, but when somebody asked about his soul, I said his soul is all right. Jr was another the song A Man Of Constant Sorrow was for, a man who knew its meaning. His life had a heap of major sorrows, but he didn't dwell on them. He went on daily into the future.

Every one of Jr's sorrows was one to knock him face down in the dirt. In the manner of Jr Maxwell, he got up, wiped his face with his sleeve and went back to working. He accepted them, one at a time, as something God gave him to get through. Like he once said to me, "I been through it and come out the other end." He like to didn't make it through the last one, Spider Woman abandoning him out of the blue as arrogantly as she did. Complicate it with severe loneliness and unable to work the sawmill or pull a wrench on a rusted bolt, and you end up with a man unable to do anything but watch cars, trucks and motorcycles go by on the highway, learning the flow patterns as a measure of the economy, like the way he watched the string hanging from a bell on his porch for the direction and speed of the wind.

A few years ago I went into Radio Shack and found an indoor thermometer that tells the temperature outdoors. Jr's body for 80 years of his life lived outdoors. He knew how the various temperatures felt, and if it was 20 outside and 80 inside, he'd be cold. The mercury thermometer was over by the door. The thermometer from Radio Shack looks like an ipod sized television. The screen tells the temperature outside in big letters easy to read from 6 or so feet away. There was a long period of time Jr watched it all day long like a television, watching the numbers change. He flowed with the temperature changes outside, while sitting indoors 75 degrees. I brought it home for my memory of Jr.

I'm glad he didn't watch television because I would have missed the experience of knowing Jr. I couldn't spend much time in a house with a tv going. And people who don't watch television think differently from people who do watch it. Not better or worse, just different. Our minds work better together in the same mental ballpark. We'd turn the news on at 5:15 to see the weather and half a dozen commercials, then turn it off.
At the table, he faced the front window that looked at the highway, and I faced the back window with the empty birdfeeder. I wanted to put seeds in it, but he didn't want it. There came a time I did put seeds in it and he didn't mind.