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Thursday, December 24, 2009


white christmas

It's the night before Christmas when all kinds of things happen. We cheer about the pretty, and keep down the ugly, and everybody has their own feelings about it. I've never had any associations with Christmas that made me think of it as anything other than a good time. I'm glad of that too, because terrible things have happened to some people I know on Christmas or Christmas Eve that makes it a sorrow every time it comes around. Jr had the very worst blow of his life on Christmas Eve, 1945. He never recovered, but he picked himself up and kept on a-keepin on.
Jr had been married 5 years when his older half brother came to the house on Christmas eve wanting Jr to drive him to his in-laws house to see his second wife who was mad at (and afraid of) him and staying with her parents. He played fiddle, Jr played banjo, Jr's wife played guitar and sang. The three of them made a lot of music together, were close, knew each other well. Jr looked up to half brother like a shrub looking up at an oak. Jr's wife said, he's drunk, there will be trouble; if you go, I'm leaving you. I take that to mean voices were raised and an argument averted by Jr deciding to stay.

Half brother got another ride, went in the house, shot and killed wife, shot father-in-law 3 times, who survived, and cut up mother-in-law, who also survived. And the 4 month old baby survived. He went out to the front yard and shot himself in the head. Merry Christmas. That was the end of Jr's marriage. He was struck so deep in the heart by that blow, he left out of here and went to Wytheville first and drove a cab for awhile. From there he went to Toccoa, Georgia, for a construction job he'd heard about. From there to Decatur to work for AK Adams Construction Co. He started out pushing a wheelbarrow and was promoted to working a gang of 20-some black men. It was his first experience being around that many black people, and Jr came to like them. They liked him. He treated them right, like he always treated everybody right. He was never been one to be down on black people ever since. From there the company moved him to Decatur, Alabama.

In Alabama, he worked a crane that went 150 feet in the air, used for lifting materials to upper levels of high rises of the day. He liked the work, had a good future with the company, liked the people in Alabama, was thinking about staying there. He had a girlfriend who was a teller at the bank, whose last name was Maxwell. Dad started getting older and unable to carry on the farm work without Jr's help. Mom and dad needed him at home, and he came back. He'd never been certain after coming back that it was the right thing to do. But it was done, and Jr was a son with genuine filial piety. He never regretted returning, but often wondered about his life had he stayed in Alabama. There's no way Jr Maxwell could say no to his mother and dad's appeal. Also, he knew how his daddy was knocked down by the incident at least as much as Jr was. I suppose their shared grief bonded them with a permanent weld, which they already had.

Jr returned home broadened by his experience in the flatland and jumped into doing what he had to do to get by here in the late 1940s, when just working a farm wasn't enough anymore. When he was ready, he got in touch with Lois Lowe, who was working at a sewing factory, Hanes maybe. He'd known Lois before. They fit like hand and glove. Lois worked side by side with Jr all the way through their life together. He said she could work as good as a man. In my early years here, I worked with Jr and Lois putting up hay. She amazed me how she worked. When I was driving the tractor with the wagon behind loaded with hay, looking at the hill I had to drive the tractor down with a curve in the path and a gate to get through at the bottom of the hill. I assessed there's a fair chance I could make it, but there's also a fair chance I couldn't. I talked with Lois saying I don't have enough tractor experience to say I'm 100% certain I can do this without tipping the hay. She said she'd do it. She stepped onto the tractor and drove it down the hill while I watched in awe.

Through the years of sitting with Jr over our drams at his table, talking freely, openly about our lives, memories, what we believe and don't believe, talk, Christmas was never an issue. It's just another day, a day without much traffic on the highway. Everything shut down. We didn't do presents or cards. We were aware it was Christmas, because we couldn't turn the radio on for several weeks for all the Christmas music about shopping. Every Christmas he relived that night in his mind without wanting to. Myself, I don't have anything against Christmas, only that the gross commercialism of it is too much. In this time, there's no alternative but to let it go by and let other people max their credit cards and shop til they drop and watch football all day. My boycott of one again. At the table, we acknowledged Christmas with the first drink, glasses held up and we both said, Merry Christmas.

When I look at Jr now, remember much that I appreciate about him, and automatically think, I wish I'd paid more attention while he was living. But I can't say that, because I did pay attention. I'm grateful in myself that I had what it took to see the Jr Maxwell I only know of 2 other men who knew the Jr I knew. That's his lawyer, Jimmy Reeves, and his friend, Paul Reeves. I have appreciation for them because they see the same Jr I see. Jr had asked me more than once why each of them have to do with him. Of each of them my answer was, he respects you. That's when I get the look that says, you tell me the craziest damn shit I ever heard. I had a feeling that deep inside out of sight he saw it. He didn't understand it, but accepted it.

When Jean was with us, she would bring in little Christmassy things from Dollar General and put them around. She'd put up a little tree 2 feet high on the counter with lights on it and say to Jr, isn't that pretty. He'd agree. She would sometimes try to pep him up for Christmas, and he didn't have any of what it took to get excited about Christmas. He didn't have a problem with Christmas, itself, he couldn't get excited about it. It's just a day. We already know the story of Jesus and the manger well enough.

Jr was somebody who didn't need to be told something more than once. He asked me to drive him around to his mother and dad's graves in his last days of being able to get in the car and to walk about a little bit. At Liberty cemetery, we entered the gate and he went to his dad's grave, saw it, turned around and left. At this mother's grave in the Whitehead/Joines cemetery he saw the stone, her name, turned around and left.

I was thinking that's like a cat. We humans tend to believe we have to look at something for a long time to see it, to gaze at it, stare at it, stand over a grave. A cat sees something once and that's it. The cat knows it's there. When I saw Jr do that, I was thinking how real that is. When I visit a grave, I see it, then I stand there and keep on seeing it wondering why I'm doing this. I saw it. It's still there. Jr was that way with everything. When something is done it's done, time to get on with what's next. Dwelling on the unnecessary was never his way. That's one thing I saw in Jr I like to adopt in my own way of seeing. It's there with my favorite, stay away from important people.

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