Friday, April 29, 2011
SOUTHERN BY THE GRACE OF GOD
This morning I heard on the Diane Rehm Show a man talk about loyalty. He'd just researched and wrote in depth about a subject that was dear to him by the time he'd finished the project. Loyalty is one of the most valued human attributes, like humility, those ways of being that have to come from within or they don't work, are too obviously fake. Loyalty has been important to me throughout my adult life. For the first time, I felt like calling in to the radio show, but thought better of it. I had an experience in the department of loyalty that was so complex that to this day I'm not sure if my reading of it has validity.
A friend of 15 years lied me into making him a deed of a plot of his mother's land, land she had that was increasing in value, waiting for her need in her old age. She wanted it to be divided at her death among her 4 boys. My friend convinced me she wanted to make the deed to her land over to him. I took the deed by the house for her signature. She held the pen over the paper and couldn't touch the paper. It was like there was a force that radiated about an inch from the paper that her pen could not penetrate. She started shaking and was on the verge of breaking into tears when he barked into her ear, "Remember what we talked about last night." The invisible protective shield vanished and she signed quick as lightning. I grieved within. I had assisted fraud. At the moment, there was nothing I could do but notarize it. She signed it. The window for saying I wouldn't do it lasted just a few seconds, and my mind wasn't able to work fast enough to figure everything out in 2 seconds.
The window passed and there I was with the paper in my hand to record that I knew was fraud, but couldn't prove it. A prosecutor could make what he said into something sweet and helpful with an old woman who couldn't think right. There was nothing sweet about the tone of voice. I regretted it so much every day that it became a wedge in our friendship. I lost respect and my loyalty went with my respect. He'll hate me forever for not being loyal to our friendship. But, by the time I had the opportunity to help mama get her land back in court when she contested his fraud and I was the witness, he was not my friend and hadn't been for some time. A friend does not commit a friend to fraud with lies to rip off his own mother. A part he didn't understand, his mother was my friend too. He eliminates himself as my friend, his mother remains my friend. My loyalty went to her.
That was a difficult decision for me to make. He calls me a back-stabber, and he's right. Everything he says about my loyalty as a friend is correct. He put me to the extreme test, requiring of me a criminal mind, which I don't have, and that in itself is enough to put the end to a friendship once it surfaces. In my first year in the mountains, running with the Pruitt boys for a year, running the roads and drinking on weekends, friends. When they decided I was ok, they invited me to come along to a breaking and entering. I said they can drop me off at the house on the way. And they had no more to do with me, which was ok on my part, because if breaking into somebody's house and taking whatever I want is initiation into a friendship, forget it. Same as a friend lying me into committing fraud against his mother, forget it. I am not able to allow myself to hurt people with the feeling of being raped for my own minuscule gain; a bottle of liquor, a gun, a portable tv.
I'm not that desperate for a friend. And I don't want somebody who would expect that of me for a friend. That's prison mind. I'm not interested in tempting prison, because I don't want it by any means. Certainly not American prison, nor any prison any place in the world. In December of 1971 I was on a stool at the bar in a London pub. A jackass a couple seats down picked up on my Southern accent and started loud talk about You Americans, You Southerners, I've been to the South, I know about what you Southerners do to those poor black people. I'm sitting there seeing him dead. All I had to do was swing my left fist around in a quick motion straightening out my arm, hit his chin or anywhere on the face, he falls over backward on the stool, the back of his head hits the floor, he dies instantly, I'm the American in an English prison the rest of my life. I got up and left. On my way out, somebody spoke to me and said pay him no mind, he's just an asshole. I said, Very nearly a dead asshole. By then I was already sick of You Americans, and You Southerners pushed me over the edge. If my fuse had been about a half inch shorter, I'd have been in a heap of trouble.
Don't you be talkin bout no South! I mean that thang. The South is dear to Southerners in ways nobody outside the South is able to fathom. The South is not just Larry the Cable Guy. It's also William Faulkner and Lucinda Williams. It's the Skillet Lickers and Grandpa Jones. It's a form of loyalty in the South. A form of loyalty I ascribe to. I don't have a great deal of respect for Jefferson Davis, knowing before the war started the South didn't have a chance. But at the same time, that's not all there was to it. I'd rather shake Jeffferson Davis's hand than any of the Presidents. At his birthplace, Fairview, Kentucky, evidently the State of Kentucky erected a spire on the order of the Washington monument in DC, though not as tall. It stands high above the grove of oaks around its base and the sea of cornfields all around it as far as the horizon in all directions. In a sea of green this spire points skyward in memory of Jefferson Davis. I've never read a biography, so it's not like he has virtues I admire or anything like that. His name is synonymous with the South, therefore I honor it with the same affection I feel for the South. The other side of the Mason-Dixon line really is a foreign country. They even talk different.