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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.

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