cosmic chagall #8
girl on a swing
I turned the computer on intending to write you. While it was gathering steam. The news was on the radio. Then it turned to Prairie Home Companion. I pushed button #3 for Blue Ridge Country WBRF. A little bit of network news. Judith the dj came on. She's playing bluegrass until. I thought, what good fortune. I like Judith. When she's the dj, it's like she's playing to my ear. She plays old-time a good bit mixed with the bluegrass. I remember her from listening to Galax with Jr at the table with our drams, later on the couch when his decline reached a certain place. Further in the decline he lost interest in music. Bluegrass turned into a racket like everything else on the radio, noise.
In my time of getting back into my life at home, living at home for the first time in a long time, I've not listened to Galax except on Friday nights when a band was playing at the Rex since Jr quit listening to music. The impulse to listen to evening bluegrass at 98.1 tonight paid off. A lot of the time it's a race or a basketball or football game. The news was a good sign there was no game. They don't do the news during games. Then Judith's voice and I hit the jackpot. Haven't heard her in quite awhile. She plays a fair amount of old-time. I feel like this is a step in the process of living at home. Started painting a couple days ago, another step. Settling in.
When I heard Judith introduce herself it took me back to Jr's in an instant. It brought back the good feeling of sitting talking with him, sipping good liquor, watching the critters live their lives the other side of the windows, hear him tell experiences making music with different musicians he respected, Art Wooten, Otis Burris, Johnny Miller, Ernest Johnson, Vick Daniel, Bob Caudill, Tiny Pruitt, and a seemingly endless list of others. At fiddlers conventions he was in the parking lot making music the whole weekend with other bluegrass pickers. He told of banjo picker Larry Pennington of Ashe County, who was then playing with Big Country Bluegrass, "when Larry Pennington showed up at a fiddler's convention carrying his banjo, the other banjo pickers put their banjos in their cases and went home. That's not literal. It's what it felt like. Much of Jr's exaggerations were not meant to be taken for literal, but for the feeling.
Yesterday driving to town on the gravel part of the road down the mountain to Whitehead, memory came to me of driving the road on the way to Jr's as I did every day for some time, the feeling of being on my way to his place, looking forward to it. Jr was not one to fuss, so there was never any commotion or arguments or getting offended. All my years in school I was taught and learned that knowledge comes largely from second-hand sources; books written from journals, other books, interviews, whatever. Knowledge is a head full of information. Of course, I lived in a world of people who appreciated knowledge and I did too. Knowledge was held highest.
I came to the mountains and found myself among people for whom information that isn't needed to get something done is the same as nothing. Talking with people here from other places, we were mutually dismayed that the native people weren't impressed by knowing a lot of information. So what if you know Charles Dickens's birth and death dates? It doesn't get anything done, just more junk in the head of no value. I wanted to understand the mountain people, mainly because I was living in their culture, by my choice not theirs. They allowed me to share the mountains with them as long as I was respectful. Had no reason to be disrespectful, so we get along very well.
Jr was telling me about a woman he's known since she was a kid, knew her daddy and uncles and the whole bunch. He said, "Buddy, she'll fight you." I was amused he characterized her like that. He reacted to my amusement with, "I mean it. You watch out. She'll kick your ass." I laughed a little more from the belly. He got worked up like a fire was lit under him, wanted me to understand if she came in the house while I was here I'd better watch it, she'll work me over." I couldn't help but laugh again. He was a little more agitated and getting flustered. I thought I'd better explain. I said, "If I don't provoke her she's not going to kick my ass. I won't provoke her and I won't get my ass kicked. She's not going to jump up and kick my ass because she took a notion, like a cat." He got my meaning, but he didn't like it. He knew what he was talking about and I was throwing it off with a laugh. I know that feeling, like a puddle of gas inside spontaneously combusted. I convinced him I understood she probably could kick my ass if she set out to. I'm ok with that. But she's not going to do it if I don't provoke her, and I don't go around provoking people, so we'll get along fine. That was enough of that and we went on to what's next.
In the mountains, all I held high was nothing to anybody around me. Stranded. Knowing Tom Pruitt and his brother Millard for as many years as I did, and for as many hours as I spent listening to them tell me their lives over a period of years, I learned a very great deal. Not just things they told me, but they turned out to be people from the time before electricity and they thought very differently from the world that has had electricity several generations. The first half of their lives was without it. They would have been good lives to make notes after each conversation at home and write about them at length, but I couldn't do it. Our conversations were too spontaneous. Like taping a conversation would be a farce, because it would not be a naturally flowing conversation. And the tape would not be the conversation itself. I could never put a cassette recorder at the pulpit to record the preaching. It would have been ok. Many did. It was too intimate for me to objectify. I wanted to learn from everyone I knew about the culture here, about them, their lives.
I didn't quite understand how knowledge and wisdom were different. I assumed knowledge was a part of wisdom. Wisdom was something possibly based in knowledge. Then I learned it wasn't. They don't have anything to do with each other. Wisdom is from first hand experience only. For some time I suspected Jr of wisdom fairly strongly. I watched and listened for a matter of years, realizing that Jr actually is wise. I'm imagining his at least 5 sledge hammer experiences under the hand of God, none of it anything Jr initiated, like the time the old farmhouse was struck by lightning and burned down, like his brother wrecking the lives of the entire family, losing the palm of his left hand, his wife's cancer. His last wife turned out to be about the same as ice sculpture with a calculating mind wanting everything for nothing. She didn't even like him. He had property equals money. This was the blow that convinced him he was a fool. I'm of the mind it was the blow that made him wise. Jr was the same as Job on his pile of ashes, the same humility.
It snowed on and off all day and all night. I'd guess about 8" without measuring it. I've already opened a lane for the car to get out if I need to go in a hurry. The road crews were out in dumptrucks spreading salt as soon as the snow started and again a little later, this morning and a couple more times with scoops today. It's a sensible method they've adopted. They don't let it accumulate now. They can keep the roads clear throughout the snowfall. All we need to do is be able to get out the driveway. Some people have long driveways.