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Friday, November 11, 2011


     hanging on

In the last weeks I've been reviewing why I left the city and came to the country with no money, no knowledge of where I was except Blue Ridge Mountains. Hillbillies, moonshine, shotguns and poverty was all I thought I knew. I wanted to work. In the city, after college graduation, there was nothing I wanted to do in the work world but work in a bookstore and bookstores were over. I wanted to go to the tech college and take a carpentry course and work outdoors. I wanted labor and solitude. In the time of wondering how I could do that and work too, I was lured consciously by God to a place and time where I came to understand that God indeed is. There's no going back on that. Reading various scriptures I came to see that I had undone from my mind and belief system the externals of religion, but had not, as I thought I had, abandoned the core teachings, the red letter passages, what I learned later was the Jefferson Bible. He trimmed it down to the words of the Master only. That was when I saw I really did believe, had myself fooled, really had myself fooled.

My inner world took a 180 degree turn. What was ahead before, became behind, and vice versa. The path I was taking before came to nothing. I wanted to rethink everything. I needed to get away from my habits, make a fresh start at the bottom. I found an opportunity to work the summer farm of people I knew in Charleston. It had 250 acres and 23 head of cattle. A Christmas tree patch too. I was to work with an old farmer, Tom Pruitt, who was 72. He took care of the farm and asked them to get somebody to live here and work the farm year round. I jumped in. The house I'd be living in took me back in deja vu to a moment l3-14 years before, itself a deja vu that I learned maybe five years ago was the house my greatgrandmother lived in when I was a little child. The house had a golden glow about it the first time I saw it. The glow said this is your home. A handful of months later I was moving into the old Air Bellows schoolhouse between Christmas and New Years. No kitchen. No bathroom. No running water. An outhouse. A creek. 5 rooms. What a winter it was.

That's what I left the city for. But why did I feel I needed to leave the city? I felt like everything around me was false, all of it a whirlwind around nothing. Money and position never attracted me. My head was swimming from a world of things I didn't want to do. I saw it that we're the workers in a Death Star; everything that pays well is associated with supporting the Death Star. I couldn't participate in that system. I didn't like supporting napalm from the sky on primitive villages with grass huts, farming people, their kids, their lives, their homes, their prayers, their ancestors. Upon completion of 2 years active duty in the Navy, involuntary servitude in the time of the draft, I was done with the Death Star. I wanted to do work that would contribute to the well being of humanity, not to killing Asian children without reason that had anything to do with them. Working on the farm I'd contribute by providing food, albeit fast food burgers. I called the bull Big Mac.  I felt this was good work for the conscience. I couldn't see any direct way that I was adding my services, my power to the Death Star working on the farm, putting up hay for the cattle, feeding it to them in the winter, keeping them healthy for the big M.

I wanted to learn farming the old time way from old man Tom Pruitt. I learned by working with him, giving him a hand, watching him, the old time way. Automatically, I'd expected him to teach me by telling me how to do this and that, give me instruction. It was all experience for Tom. You learn by doing. He taught me how to put a fence post in the ground so it will never wiggle. He taught me how to stretch barbed wire so it will be tight for years to come. He taught me about clearing brush and burning brush piles. I listened closely to everything he said. I was in graduate school learning how to use post hole diggers, a chainsaw, a sledgehammer, an axe, a bushaxe, a shovel, hammer, a scythe. Tom taught me how to drop a tree exactly where I want it, whichever way it was leaning, without using a rope. Tom was good at cutting down and cutting up a tree. He'd cut firewood every year all his life. In the early years it was a long saw blade with a handle at each end for two men to work the rhythm together like making music. Then the chainsaw where a man put the tree down by himself. Tom was an expert with an axe. He could lay it down on a pencil line every time. His accuracy with an axe was known all over Whitehead.

Tom would sit in his wooden rocking chair that didn't rock in front of his wood stove. The pipe from the stove went up the chimney shaft, the stove standing out in front of the fireplace that hadn't been used in a very long time. He spit into the open fireplace, the wall inside covered in dried brown snuff, a terra cotta color. He also spit onto the door of the woodstove. Mostly he spit into a Maxwell House instant coffee jar that stood beside his chair. He'd lean over the chair arm and let a brown string fall right down the center of the 3 inch opening, every time. Three calendars on the walls, all on different months and years, none current. In the winter, he sat by the stove, faced the wall like a monk for months, his style of hibernation. It was his meditation time. He thought about the gospel, the teachings, interpreting the teachings, remembering the good preaching, remembering the time and the place at Landmark (then) Regular Baptist Church in Whitehead. Tom was tapped into the spirit as well as anyone I've known. Tom lived literally in the presence of the Lord. He was honestly a righteous man. I've seen him glow talking about his Lord. And he didn't go to church, hadn't for a number of years.

Tom put me in touch with his brother Millard's Regular Baptist Church after I'd been here a year. He took me one Saturday night when a West Virginia coal miner preacher was to be preaching, Walter Green, a preacher with as solid a reputation as there was when it came to preaching in the spirit. He wanted to offer me the experience of what old-time preaching was like. The preacher didn't show up, but Tom's brother Millard, standing to dismiss everyone after 4 preachers had run their mouths but none in the spirit, the spirit hit Millard and he took off. The charge went up my spine like Tom had told me it would. Again like he told me, I looked around and everybody was feeling it. Everything Tom had told me about it was there, how I felt, everything. Until I experienced it, what he said had little more meaning for me than a definition of a word I'd never heard of. The experience brought it to life. That was my first peep into the soul of these mountains. These were people who lived the first 40 or so years of their lives without electricity in the way of life that had always been without it. Electricity changed everything. Both Tom and Millard told me hours and hours of memories of the old ways in the time they looked back to as the golden age when people thought something of one another.

1 comment:

  1. enjoyed this alot...wish i had got to spend time with Tom and Millard as an adult, but still thankful for the time I got to spend with them as a kid. As I read the FoxFire books I always think.....Uncle Tom could have wrote this!