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Thursday, November 12, 2009


composition in gray #14

Good conversations today, all through the day. I slept into the morning in no hurry to get up. Up around 10, tea and emails. At 11:30 I met Jim Winfield for lunch at the Circle L. He's on his way out again for 3 winter months in Southeast Asia. Every year he goes someplace in the winter months. Last year he went to Southeast Asia, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand. This time it will be Thailand, Laos and southern VietNam and Malaysia. The winter before that he went to India. He doesn't go to tourist hotels. His adult life he was in the Peace Corps in Ecuador living among rural Indians, Haiti and then Zambia in Africa. He knows how to go solo on the back roads.

From the Circle L I went to Kermit's barber shop. Only man in there was in the chair. Good timing. Kermit is a bass player by night. Tuesday and at least one Saturday night a month he plays at the Jubilee with the Rise & Shine Band, a bluegrass dance band. He's been playing bluegrass bass for many years. He and Jr have been friends all the way along and they made a lot of music together, both respecting each other's musianship. We talked about Jr the whole time Kermit was cutting my hair. Mostly we talked about how much everyone who knew him loved him. It wasn't just liking an awful lot, but love the people who knew Jr felt for him, a love that is real for someone so unselfconsciously real.

I consider the woman who knew him all of both their lives said his was a life of compassion. Add that to what I'm finding that so many people love Jr with a wide open heart and it starts adding up to what I've been seeing for a few years now, that this is one remarkable human being, one to pay attention to. His cousin Richard, who made a lot of music with Jr and they worked bulldozers together for years, called Jr gifted. He had a brilliant mind that in a rural setting turns to learning a musical instrument, sawmilling and figuring things out. Sawmilling takes an unwavering focus of attention, same as bulldozer operating, welding and everything else he did. Every person he talked with he gave unwavering attention.

He told me once he thought himself the lowest of everybody. Everybody he held higher than himself. I saw over the next years what he meant. Just what he said. That is the measure of his humility. I don't know if I've known anyone as naturally humble a man as Jr. His humility was automatic, required no thought. He actually did look up to everyone. He never passed judgment on anyone during our conversations and taught me by example judgment's worthlessness. Other people's business was never of interest to Jr. He respected everyone's privacy the same as he expected his own privacy to be respected. He wouldn't rat on anybody for anything for any reason.

Some years ago Southwest Virginia lawyer Lorne Campbell told me the man he respects is a man who will not rat under any circumstances. He said that's a rare individual. Campbell himself was such a man and had he known Jr, he would have respected Jr as I do. Jr's lawyer Jimmy Reeves always wanted to sit and talk with him whenever Jr went to his office. Telling me about it, he asked me why an educated man like that who's been through college and lawschool wants to talk with somebody uneducated like him. I told him it's respect. I took it to mean he saw in Jr what I saw in Jr, a remarkably intelligent man. He didn't buy it.

A few weeks before his last breath he said out of the blue, 'I've never done anything I'm ashamed of.' It told me this is one of the subjects he studied while drifting in that place between awake and asleep. He said it with satisfaction like it was important to him, as we'd automatically assume, but it's not necessarily a guiding light for everyone. I thought it a good thing to find about oneself in a time in life when there's nothing to do but lie in bed and think.

From Kermit's I went on to Twin Oaks to see TarBaby. This time his cubicle was on the floor level. Before, he was on the second floor. I sat on the floor and opened the door inviting him to let me hold him. He stepped into my arms, walked up my right upper arm onto my shoulders where he walked back and forth a couple of times, sat down awhile, then walked down my left arm to be held. I held him with his forelegs draped over my left arm, held him and talked to him, assured him I'm not abandoning him. He knows that. I saw confidence yesterday too, that I'm still with him. I'm grateful to Jr for insight into the importance of visitation in confinement. TarBaby looked much improved today over yesterday. He was relaxed like he'd been expecting a visit.

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