A drive to Wilkes to the Fairplanes School for a BROC annual Board of Directors meeting. A big spread of food cafeteria style, country cookin brought by the women. It's like Thanksgiving. Everybody ate more than they intended. Our Alleghany group sat a a table; Ernest Joines, Agnes Joines, Eula Rae Sparks Cook, Linda Joines, Jack Joines, me. We have good conversation together around the table. Agnes is, of course, the life of the table. She's the life of wherever she is. I see a great deal of light in her. Jack is as bad as I am about growing a belly and doing nothing about it. He's just like me about it. I suppose that means not very bright, because he doesn't take any better care of himself than I take of myself. What is it? Resignation? Not being so excited by this world to want to continue in it. Refusal to believe it? No. I think in my case it's resignation. Along that line. We all have a good time when we get together. We talk about our hearts, how they're functioning and malfunctioning.
It's strange entering the age range of the people with varieties of afflictions that go with growing old. Everybody has their own individual afflictions. I have very few, I gratefully and humbly acknowledge. By this time along the way, one knows there is no knowing what the next day may bring, or the next moment. Like today I'm sitting on the bench in front of the Jubilee waiting for Ernest and Agnes when this guy walked by I knew when I had the store. He stopped and told me Jim Upchurch had died earlier today. Then he wanted to figure out why--he didn't take good care of himself. So what, I thought, dead is dead. It doesn't matter if he could have held it off by one method or another a year or 2 or 3, or how he got there. He's there. He thought Upchurch had problems, but I didn't. He was the one with problems, somebody who projects himself onto everybody. Upchurch was eccentric and had odd habits like filling up his car with newspapers and magazines to the roof, every space inside except for driver's seat. He filled the trunk such that the car began to drag ground in the back. So he parked it and bought a van. He was at the library every day downloading 40s big band music, 50s tv shows, endlessly downloading and researching websites about little known historical events on the coast of NC way back there in the beginning. He could talk about nearly any subject intelligently and with real knowledge, often first hand experience.
I have always enjoyed Jim Upchurch, enjoyed talking with him whenever I see him. I see him in a way something of a St Francis in that a grown mountain lion took up at his house in the Jefferson Natl Forest in Grayson County one winter when ice was a couple inches thick on the ground for several weeks. Jim gave it a bowl of warm chocolate milk. The lion came back for more. Gradually, it took up at his house and became his friend. Jim reacted vehemently to calling the cat a pet. It was not a pet. He wouldn't think of touching the cat's back, a signal of dominance. The cat would kill him for the suggestion that he was challenging dominance. He was not. Jim has worked with rattlesnakes and poisonous snakes about all his life. He can walk up to a rattlesnake and pick it up. He worked in the Baltimore zoo among the poisonous and threatening big snakes. They were fun for him. He understands their behavior, their thinking, and works in accordance with their natures. I'm not yet used to speaking of him in past tense. I don't even know that he's dead. But this guy that told me hangs out at the library every day too, and he knew Upchurch. Jim will be missed by the library staff. He was in there every day, just about, but was never a bother. In fact, he could help them out with computer knowledge from time to time. He often taught people who came into the library to use a computer how to work one when they were new at it. I would not say he was an idiot savant, because he was no idiot. But he had such a sponge of a mind and fast as lightning, he was nerdy. He'd have been the school nerd, the guy with a slide rule hanging from his belt in high school.
He had a brilliant mind and he was not impractical with it. He was very sensible and sensitive to others. He lived in his own world and that was how he liked it. You can be sure, having a mountain lion on your porch kinda keeps visitors away. He said the cat, Kitty, would meet him at the car when he came home and would zig zag in front of him the way cats do, the way Caterpillar walks in front of me. Crossways this way, crossways that way, back and forth. He stopped at Subway in Independence on the way home to buy 3 chocolate chip cookies for Kitty. Jim would sit on the edge of the porch and the cat walked up behind and put its chin on Jim's right shoulder. Jim would hold up the cookie and the cat would take it. He said he took a bite once and the cat growled, next to his ear. He never did that again.
He said one time he was in the house at the computer when Kitty opened the screen door and walked into the house. Jim thought this was it. The cat came to eat him. Kitty walked all around the room, looking at everything, getting a sense of the space and went back out the door. The only time the cat did that. Kitty would roll onto his back and ask Jim to scratch his chest. The cat would drag a deer he'd caught to the house and Jim would cut it open with a knife and take out the liver, put it in a bowl for him. He cut the deer for the cat, because deer hair is hollow like bamboo and splinters on the cat's tongue. It hurts. Jim saves the cat having to hurt its tongue. A friendly gesture, like offering the liver in a bowl. The only thing odd to me about Jim was that he was a unique individual in the old way of being individual. He wasn't socialized well in school because he was the nerd and had bad teeth, so he was shut out of the conformity game, allowing him to develop individually on his own. He became inward and found the life of his mind much more interesting than social games.
When I met Jim I thought I knew cat behavior pretty well, but when he started telling me about cat nature, big cat nature, which was similar to small cat nature, I found I didn't know anything about cats. This man knew cats. He took several pictures of Kitty over the years. His computer probably has thousands in it. Last time I talked with him, he said Kitty was getting old and he was wondering how much longer he would live. Now Jim went first. My thought when I heard of him dying was, what will the cat do? At the end of Cocteau's film Beauty & The Beast, the Beast says to Beauty, "I am a beast. The only way a beast can show his love is to die of grief." Those are not the exact words, but it catches the meaning. Jim would know exactly what Kitty would do upon Jim's permanent absence. My guess is that Kitty would go to a place he knows, a private place to lie down and die. Jim and the cat have had a close connection for something like 15 years.
I'm of the belief that when a dog or cat comes to me, it's meant to be. A mountain lion went to Jim Upchurch and became his friend for a lot of years. I can't find that it can be said something was wrong with Jim and it carry any meaning. Somebody a mountain lion takes up with and develops a cross-species friendship with on its own, for 15 years, in my way of seeing that man has it together. He was that man Jesus found so rare, a man without guile. In my way of putting it, a true human being. He's evidence to me that if we humans could get over the compulsion to kill everything that's living, we can indeed live in peace with all the critters that haul ass the first moment they catch a glimpse, sound or smell of a human. Jim was a true man of peace, who lived his peace. He wasn't one to tell others to live in peace. He just did it himself. In peace was how he lived his life, every day. Peace is the nature of his soul. Another friend to live in my memory.