Sunday, June 26, 2011
THE IMPORTANCE OF MEETING ERNEST
Here is Agnes working the counter at Alleghany Cares Saturday, raising money for Alleghany Planning Committee's projects. After my spell of dread, it turned out to be a memorable and enjoyable day. We started it at the Pines for big buffet breakfast, the kind of breakfast we like around here; scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, grits, biscuit, coffee, butter, jelly, all the good stuff. I think there were 10 of us around three tables put together to make one long table. An hour and a half together at the table we talked with animation, conversationally even, the ones not talking actually paying attention to the one talking, whoever it was, whatever was said. This is something I didn't know I liked so much about our team until just now when the sentence wrote itself. We actually talk with each other. What we are doing is our agenda, so we don't have to talk about our agendas, freeing us to talk about whatever surfaces. At the table was where I learned about Eldon Edwards going over yonder, where we learned how Helen's husband, George R, was getting along.
We talk about politics, no one with an agenda, in mutual agreement that whether or not you like Obama, all that Washington DC mess isn't worth anything but complaining about, so we take care of our little corner of the world where what we do matters. We talk about what's going on in our lives, what's important to us in the realm of our hearts. We can't do anything to make that up there in DC any way we want it, but we can do something in the world we really do live in, at home, to make our world a bit more to our liking. What we do operates on a person to person level, instead of a bureaucracy you can't reach by phone waiting on hold all day long. Washington DC is Kafka world, a maze of bureaucracies. We don't do that. We work with that in a small town way, but we don't do that, nor do we embrace it. It's a 'small is beautiful' way of thinking without self-consciously calling it that. Much laughter runs around the table as we enjoy being together. Sometimes a decision we need to make as a group comes up conversationally and gets settled conversationally. Agnes will ask anyone to make a motion. Somebody does and she says, "A second?" Somebody says, "Second," we go on talking.
All of them are among my favorite people. They're people I feel at home with, people I don't have to smile a lot with. They're not people of the uncertain smile, the smile as self-advertisement. What you see on somebody's face is what they're feeling at the moment, not like they're gazing into an invisible mirror. Like I felt among the people at Millard Pruitt's Regular Baptist Church in Glade Valley, I feel among the people of Alleghany Planning Committee, honored they'll have me among them. Honored is the word. No matter how the word itself is interpreted, it carries my meaning. Every one of them is someone I look up to and enjoy being around. Every one of them would wonder why. It would be like, If he thinks I'm somebody special, then I know he's crazy. Maybe that's why I find them special in this time late in a life of experience with a tremendous variety of people, every race, a lot of nationalities, mean people, happy people, people that love cats, people that think a cat a target, people with fast, brilliant minds, people with slow, dull minds, most of us the rainbow in between the two poles. I like the rainbow.
Breakfast done, the last coffee downed, we filed out the door to the parking lot where we went to our separate cars and entered the flow of traffic on the way to Alleghany Cares. We were given a tour of the place by Jonnie Whitlow, getting us acquainted with the sorting rooms in one building, then to the sales floor in the adjoining building where you walk into a gallery of an infinite variety of stuff. In my childhood, my mother was bookkeeper for a TG&Y dimestore. Daddy and kids would get in the car and go pick up Mommy when she got off work. I got to know the inventory of toys very well, was allowed to pick up and play with toys understanding they're not to be broken or stolen. Even now when I walk through a variety store like that, I have a tactile need to pick things up and look at them. It's largely not allowed, so I go like in a museum, look but don't touch. They have a tremendous variety of knick-knacky little figurine dolls, just a couple inches high, of plastic and porcelain, everything. I'd never seen so many little toys. One that caught my eye was an especially lifelike leopard sitting like a housecat, maybe 3 inches high. Both my grandmothers liked little figures like that.
I went through the tour in amazement at what I was seeing. It was a museum of things. If you need a thousand coffee cups, they have them at Alleghany Cares. Time to start, Agnes sent all the men to the loading dock in back. She put Ted out front to open the door for everybody coming and going. I went to the back with Ernest and Jack. Two guys were working what little there was to do. We offered to help several times and were told there's nothing for us to do. We sat together in some chairs and spent the time talking. We also went around looking at all the items back there. Every kind of thing. Again, if you need a thousand golf clubs, Alleghany Cares is the place. Ernest found a ski without the clamps for boots. He asked what it was. A ski. It didn't compute. Somebody passing through suggested he could use it as a kind scythe to cut weeds with. We agreed that could be it's only possible function.
Jack left at 12 with Linda, who was recovering from serious illness and didn't have the strength to last the whole day. Somebody brought in a small roll-top desk, Ernest bought it. We carried it to the house in his pickup. Took a smaller desk out and carried it back to the loading dock. Ernest wanted some water and I did too. We went to the kitchen/break room where they had bottled water in the refrigerator for free. Everybody there is volunteer, so a bottle of water isn't much to begrudge. Johnnie and Barbara were in there talking. They both knew who Ernest was, but neither of them had ever had a sit down shoot the breeze conversation with him. Ernest, a mountain man, is shy of people he doesn't know. I was thinking it best to go on, because they were involved in conversation and I didn't want to break it up. Ernest sat down and opened up like with anybody he knows. He told them some jokes that had them bending over in their chairs. Right away I settled in, thinking, This is a good thing. They were having a moment of discovering the real Ernest Joines behind the blank face people he doesn't know see, the only face they ever see, because he doesn't know them. It was like when Ernest walked in the door a light spirit came into the room and lit everybody up.
It turned out to be a good day for all concerned. Agnes reported that we did very well. It hadn't been figured yet, but we'll know soon. I know she had a ball at the counter. She probably knew at least 100 people that went through there. And probably half the ones she didn't know, she knew by the time they went out the door. Somebody Agnes doesn't know is someone she doesn't know yet. Ernest is fine watching the Beverly Hillbillies or picking a tune on a guitar, mandolin or banjo. He was on a Gary Moore tv show in 1961, one of those every night shows before or after supper, wherever in the country you lived, playing his one man band. He was in early 20s. It was What's my Line or I've Got a Secret. I have a fair certainty I saw it, because at our house we never missed Gary Moore. I recall seeing on b&w tv a one man band played. It may be false memory, but it was from that time that I ever knew there was such a thing, and what it was. Never saw or heard of another one until my parachute landed me in Alleghany County. Ernest has it on video at home. The sound recording of it is on the 4-cd set of Alleghany County music Ernest put together a few years ago. When I say somebody is a true human being, Ernest and Agnes are both illustrations of my meaning.