photo by Chris Elliott Davis
Stayed in bed sleeping all of yesterday and most of today, TarBaby waking me periodically for catfood. Read several pages of Ralph Stanley's story and precisely at 5 o'clock, the phone rang. It was Jr's first wife calling from Maryland. I'd called for her a few hours before and left a message I'd called. This was in response to her asking me to call her the day of funeral when we talked. I've thought of it every day since, but have to confess I had to pay attention to my own feelings in the matter. Most of the time I didn't feel quite right about it. Hesitation. Today, I said, this is it. Left a message and she called back.
I'd been reading in Ralph's story the period of time when Jr and his first wife were together, Ralph telling of the times, how people in the mountains lived in those days, Carter Family and Grand Ole Opry on battery-operated radios, getting about on horses and mules, model-As. I'm sure when cars turned up, Jr was about the first to have one. He was the first in the county to have a round baler and the first for Charlet cattle. That's the white ones that look like they came from India.
Talking with Maggie wasn't difficult at all. I know one of her cousins, who talks very much like Maggie talks, so I felt a bit familiar, plus all Jr has told me about her. She cried several times. One time she told me something so lightly I couldn't understand what she was saying, then she said, "I've never told that to anybody." I thought: you still haven't. It wasn't the sort of thing I could say, Could you say that again? I missed it. The only thing that's important is that she was able to say it. It was something I didn't want to hear anyway, which made it all the easier to let go by. She believes now she acted like a child in those years. I was hearing all the years of her thinking over what happened then, the same as Jr had,
looking for some sense to be made of the sequence of events, unable to find any.
It turned out to be more difficult for me than I'd considered. It wasn't unbearable by any means. It brought Jr back to the front of my mind and reminded me how much I love talking about him. In memories of him, I'm always alert not to disrespect him in any way. Nothing gets said that I wouldn't say in front of him. I don't ever imagine what he might say or think in a given circumstance, because I don't know. I learned while he was living that it doesn't do to anticipate his response to anything. I actually felt honored to be the one of all the people Jr knew to be able to tell her that he has loved her every day of his life.
She said she would like to have seen him before he was so far gone. I had to tell her the reason he never called was he didn't want her to hear him pitiful as he sounded and see him so helpless. I'd mentioned calling her a few times, but he wouldn't have it. He sounds too bad and his mind was gone. He was ashamed. I likened it for her to the time the Hospice nurse was bathing him in his wheelchair and he said, "I'm ashamed." She felt it for him. I hoped she'd understand his meaning of the word. He was ashamed for her to hear him talk with his mind gone, and certainly didn't want her to see him helpless in bed wearing diapers.
We talked until exactly 6 o'clock. I'd meant to listen to the 5 o'clock news, missed it and turned on the 6 o'clock news. 5 minutes was enough of that. So nice it was to talk with Maggie. She has a place in my heart. I happen to know about the love of her life, the worst moment of her life, the regret of her life, and we've never met. She has a beautiful voice. Jr never liked that old-time song Little Maggie, because his Maggie wasn't like that with the men and the liquor. I can't say he idealized his Maggie, because he did not. He continued to love her as long as he had breath. I was happy to be able to tell her that.