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Saturday, February 12, 2011


the mountain with a punk haircut

The weather forecast for this coming week is in the 50s every day. It already feels good to think of temperatures in the near future that rise above freezing. Three months below freezing by day and even more freezing by night. One thing to be said for this relentless winter is it put some water back into the water table that needs it so desperately.

Yesterday I stopped to see my friend Mildred Torney, who is 92 and doesn't get out of the house much. She was the librarian when I arrived in the county in 1976. My first trip to Sparta was to the gas station, then the library. Mildred Torney was there and we had quite a long conversation. She knew Tom Pruitt I was working with and the land I was working on. She told me some of her family history and growing up in Piney Creek where she went all the way through high school. Since that day she's been one of my favorite people. Her husband eventually turned ill and she had to leave the library to take care of him. She has worked at Hardees, in the chamber of commerce office, and other low paying jobs to keep herself going and with something to do. She didn't see taking a job at Hardees scraping bottom. She saw it a chance to see people she knows and people she doesn't know all day long. Now she takes on projects like several big plastic bags of single socks for the thrift store. She goes through them finding their mates. She loves it. It's something to do. Mildred can't sit around idle with nothing to do.

For the last year and few months I've been wanting to volunteer with Hospice to visit with people a few hours a week to give their caregivers a chance to go to grocery store or anything. I believed that a worthwhile way to give back to Hospice for all the help they gave me while taking care of Jr, who lived less than a half mile from Mildred in Whitehead. I got my first assignment and when the time came to do something, I couldn't take the first step. It troubled me for a week until I got with the grief counselor and she told me this happens to almost everyone. I told her I'd like to hold off awhile. I wasn't ready. The biggest realization that I was not ready told me that sitting with people waiting to die is not a particularly healthy practice for me, since I have a bad case of waiting to die, which I'd not addressed within. I told myself I need to spend time among the living, the ones worried about tomorrow, instead of dwelling so much on my heavenly home and curiosity about what it's like over yonder.

I told myself I have among the people I know quite a few who need visiting that I don't do. Every time I drive by Mildred's house, I think about wanting to stop and see her, but I'm on a schedule of my own making. Next time. Yesterday, passing her house on the way to town, I said, This time, and scheduled it in my head to stop on the way back. This was the first step. Next step, see Mildred next week. Mildred is so full of life, she's a good spirit for an old curmudgeon turd like me to spend some time with, to adjust my attitude toward life to something a little more realistic, or illusionistic, however you want to see it. It lifts my spirit to be around Mildred. I've asked myself so many times in the last week that I'm about to get it, why do I want to see people I don't know in the name of an organization, when I can visit people I know as myself? The latter feels the more authentic of the two, and the more sincere. I see both authentic and sincere, but one a bit more to my liking in that direction.

It's not about points toward a Mary K pink Cadillac in heaven or a little bit bigger mansion. Not at all. It's only about acting on something I've come to see among the more beneficial acts I can perform. Don't have to qualify or pass piss tests or have anything to do with medicare paperwork. That's the world I want to bypass. It's because we don't look after one another that we have for profit or nonprofit organizations. All my life I've looked to bypass organizational thinking. This is not a complaint. It was the opportunity to volunteer with Hospice that brought me to my own belief system and what I already know. I have appreciation for the old-time ways that sees much of them as wise. Many were not, of course, but many were immensely wise, sitting cross-legged in a mountain cave wise. All the old people I've known who lived in the time before electricity say, "In them days people thought somethin of one another." It's this spirit of the old-time ways I want to incorporate into myself as understandings worth living.

This county is known throughout the state as the place where people want to take care of their own before they'll turn them over to a nursing home. A lot of it is inability to afford it, but that's the case in every rural county. An anthropologist from California, here studying Alleghany County for a book about it, which he never finished, crossed Main St at the light with me on his last day in the county. I already knew you couldn't talk more than 2 or 3 brief sentences with him. He kept a tight schedule. I asked in a sentence or less what he's found here. He said, "Generosity." That blew my mind. I already knew it among the people I knew, but didn't know it was so widespread. I'm wanting to put into motion some of what I've learned living in this county in the Blue Ridge where we take care of our own.

With Hospice was a good plan along that line. Just exactly it. But as myself with the ones already dear to me is even more satisfying. Though not excluding Hospice as an option, because I may see a time I want to do that too. Not looking to rule out, but to find what answers best my questions for what I want to do. I see the one great thing that needs help in wanting to leave the world a better place is to address all the misery. I can't do anything about political prisoners in Myanmar, but I have friends nearby in my world sitting at home in loneliness unable to get out. I like the focus closer to home. The less organized the better. Person to person. The old-time way.


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