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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

MOUNTAIN PHILOSOPHERS

black, red, white



I saw Lois Landreth for a few minutes today, widow of Basil Landreth, Sparta's barber before Kermit Pruitt. Basil was the first barber I went to here, and where I came from we performed loyalty to some degree, and I always went back to Basil until his mind went away and Basil went away. Every time I went to the barber shop, he'd bring up Tom Pruitt, who Basil knew was my neighbor and that I worked with Tom, thought a great deal of Tom. Every time, he told me he'd seen Tom come out of the liquor store carrying a bottle. I'd say, "Wild Turkey." He wasn't telling on Tom for sin, Basil drank too, about like Tom, when he felt like having a sip, rather he saw Tom and mentioned it. Something to talk about with somebody he didn't know very well. The barber shop was across the street from the liquor store and he saw everybody that went in and out. Basil played guitar and sometimes jams occurred in the barber shop, but I was still way too much in flatland mind and thought nothing of it.



Basil was one of the first people I knew in the county and/or Sparta. Mildred Torney was another of the first ones I became acquainted with, back in the first year when I only knew the Pruitt boys and old man Tom Pruitt. I became acquainted with a few people the Pruitt boys knew, whose names I'll save the embarrassment of appearing here, people who were not even on the first rung of the social ladder. People with their feet still on the ground. I took to them, liked them, enjoyed partying with them, except their limits were way out there beyond mine. Along about the time they were getting ready to start, I'm thinking I've done partied. I'd been working with Bill a week in early spring when he and Van showed up in Van's car. Bill handed me a bottle of Four Roses. I'd been borderline alcoholic when I moved to the mountains, intent on putting the drinking behind me, not as an absolute, but to cut way back. I saw this was the test, can city-boy drink? Hail yeah, I could drink. Sorry it was Four Roses instead of something that tasted a little less nasty, I bottomed-up, look out stomach, here it comes.



Bill handed me a bottle of 7up for chaser, but I'd never done anything like that, and declined. I always liked my liquor straight, whatever it was, unless it was gin. The Four Roses didn't leave a very good taste in my mouth, but the 7up would have made it worse. I passed this leg of the test. I could take it. They stepped out of the car and we sat in what might be called my front yard and consumed the bottle, talking like crazy. By the time the bottle was done, I was on my back, leaned my head to the side and puked, done. For them, it was time to head to town and get some more. Asked if I wanted to go along. I said I'd stick around and be here when they get back. I wasn't able to take anything from the second bottle. I'd had all I cared anything about. An empty, sensitive stomach that had rejected what I'd put into it didn't want any more Four Roses or anything with alcohol in it, not even beer. We went into the house when it turned dark. Don turned up and we jabbered while they drank the second bottle. Van drove Don home and Bill staggered up to Tom's house. I don't know how or when he made it, but he did. I failed the second leg of the test. That didn't change anything. It told them I was a puss, which they already knew.



The Pruitt boys, Tom and Basil were the people I knew the first year at Air Bellows. One thing I found ran through all of them, they were philosophers in the same way my grandmother Worthington was a philosopher, who passed her philosophical way of thinking to me. This was the first familiarity I found in the mountains, they thought like I thought, the way I picked up from my grandmother. In about the middle of the first year, I realized the reason behind so much being familiar in mountain culture was that I'd learned it from my grandmother. It was comfortable, it was home. She'd been dead about 7 or 8 years, and I wanted to tell her I live among people she would like. It wasn't until 30 years later I learned her mother and dad had moved to Jefferson County, Kansas, from eastern Kentucky, Pulaski County, a month or so before the end of the Civil War.



When I say they were philosophers, I don't mean they had PhDs in philosophy, read Kant and Wittgenstein for fun, or even heard of Plato. They knew about Jesus, the philosoph of philosophs. I mean they thought philosophically, and that doesn't mean denying you feel bad, like being philosophical about making a big mistake that set them back. They think about things, not necessarily "intelligent" things, but values, integrity, morality. In Basil's barber chair, I was getting a haircut by a philosopher in my way of seeing. All the evenings I listened to Tom talk, days working with Tom, I was listening to a philosopher. I met Tom's preacher brother, Millard, and he was a philosopher who dove all the way into the Bible as his philosophical text. He would say it was primarily spiritual, and it is, but it is also philosophical. Jesus quoted Socrates from a few hundred years before, when he said, Know thyself. I believe he meant it for its meaning first. His second meaning was to validate Socrates to his own followers as a philosoph worth paying attention to.



This way of thinking I call philosophical was refreshing to discover, especially as actually the foundation of the mountain way of thinking. I'd not known many people since my grandmother I had to leave at age 15 who thought that way. Didn't know it, but I was lonesome for it. When I found it all around me in the people of the mountains I fell in to home. I didn't have much in common with any of the mountain people where experience was concerned. I knew nothing about their culture and they knew nothing of the culture I came from, flatland culture, except for tv. I found at the start that I could connect with everyone I came to know in the philosopher aspect of their minds, their way of thinking that was also mine. This has always been the aspect of a mountain personality and mine where we connect. I have it to this day. I don't talk much about motors, guns and beer. When I'm with people who only talk on these subjects, we connect in that philosophical part of our minds and have a good time. They find somebody they can talk with about some of the things they think about. And I do too.



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