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Monday, February 27, 2012

THE TOUCH OF THE MASTER'S HAND

     scott freeman by tj worthington


Waited much of the day yesterday for the rain to stop at Daytona, and then they called it off. It's been transferred to tonight at 7. Later, back at home, I was at emails, the radio was on WBRF playing bluegrass. The talk song THE TOUCH OF THE MASTER'S HAND played. I'd only heard it a couple times. It's one of those multidimensional old country tear jerkers. It's the story of an old dusty fiddle up for auction. Auctioneer couldn't get more than a couple dollars bid. An old feller walks up from the seated crowd, picks up the fiddle, tunes it, and sets to playing an old-time waltz. The fiddle itself, without the story, is a tear jerker for the beauty in it. The bidding started again after the fiddler played it, and the value went up to three thousand. Asked what's the difference, it's the touch of the Master's hand. From there it goes on to the spiritual dimension. When you're dusty and out of tune, the touch of the Master's hand can dust you off, tighten your strings, bring you to balance, in tune. The touch of the Master's hand can bring out the beauty within and make you a beautiful song. I was glad to hear it again.



It brought to mind a print Jr Maxwell had on the wall in a frame. It was a rendering of a fiddle and the verse to THE TOUCH OF THE MASTER'S HAND. He told me several times over the years he intended to give it to fiddler Jim Shumate of Wilkes County. Once I asked him if he'd like to go for a drive and take it to him. No, not now. It stayed in his mind, but he never would make the gesture to hand it over. I offered once to take it to Shumate, who was getting old unto frailty, too. No, not now. Eventually, Jr died. I've thought about talking to Ross about letting me take that picture to Shumate. But that comes under taking care of other people's interests. Interference doesn't work so well with the flow. I don't like to interfere in other people's business. I'm telling myself if Jr didn't get it to him while he was living, intending it, but never doing it, maybe it wasn't to be. Then again, maybe it was to be, and it's now my time to make the next step, because I'm the only one who knows he meant it to go to Jim Shumate. It's one of those decisions it's hard for me to make. In past experience, it's been the right thing sometimes to interfere and complete something unfinished, and sometimes it's not been the right thing to do. I tend to be of the mind to "let it happen." If Jr didn't see to getting it to Shumate before he died, when he had plenty of warning his span of time yet to go was shrinking to almost none, maybe he really did not want to get it to Shumate. I don't know. So I do nothing.



I never allowed myself to believe I knew Jr's will enough to make decisions for him. While he was living, up to the last day, I let him make his own decisions, never forced him to follow my decisions. I understood his thinking well enough that I could toss him a key word to pull him back onto his track when he was talking to somebody and forgot what he was saying. It embarrassed him to forget in front of people he knew. I could toss him one word that brought him right back without a gap of silence. We made a good team in that way. I never attempted to talk for him, never explained for him, always allowed him his own power to say what he intended, not what I assumed he intended. I learned quite a lot about the nature of the mind watching his mind fade away. Without mind, "he" was still there. His subconscious mind was in full operation. Without the front of his mind, he was functioning on the same or similar mind as the pre-verbal animals. Over years I've learned to communicate in silence with my dogs and cats, and I found ways to communicate with Jr when his mind was not working. In his helpless condition, he was like a baby, innocent, dependent. He knew he was dependent. In the time his mind was gone, he recognized me as the one he couldn't make it without. His eyes lit up and twinkled when he saw me. Not because he knew who I was. I was the one he couldn't make it without. I fed him, kept him and the bed clean, helped him in and out of the wheelchair. I didn't mind that my ego had been forgotten. It wasn't about my ego. Once he entered the tunnel of light, he'd forget even his own name.



His mind gone, he looked at people who came to visit him like trying to focus his eyes to see if it was somebody he'd ever seen before. They'd talk to him. He'd talk with them. They'd leave and he'd ask me who that was. I'd explain briefly in terms he could understand. He'd say, "Is that who that was? I wish I'd known." Then it's gone. The day before his spirit left the body, I called his cousin Richard Joines, asking him to come see Jr today if he'd like to see him one more time. Richard just about flew over the top of the hill. He walked into the bedroom. This day Jr was on the left side of the bed. The door was by the right side. Richard walked in the door and around the foot of the bed. Jr watched him all the way wondering who that was walking around in his bedroom. That kind of bewilderment in his eyes. Richard stood over him, they were face to face, and I saw two columns of light go from Jr's eyes to Richard's, like Jr's eyes were headlights. Jr put his arms up, hands open inviting a hug, saying, "Richard." Jr conscious was not a hugger. I left the room saying to myself, this is all theirs, not mine. I was having to tell him who people were by then, but not Richard. First cousins, neighbors, bluegrass musicians, friends all their lives.



I have to add how privileged I felt among Jr and his relatives and friends. They are the kinds of people you only find in the country. A few who sold out and moved to a city in Florida, like Ocala, or in NC, such as Statesville. Jr was so devoid of judging others that a wide variety of people became his friends. He didn't care what you did, had done, how much money you had access to, who you knew. He valued people by their ability to work. He respected hard work and skillful work. Talk didn't impress him. He also respected a bluegrass musician almost as a brother. Unfortunately, by the nature of the situation, musicians of old-time and bluegrass are abandoned by their musician friends when they stop making music, for whatever the reason; arthritis, a hand cut off at the sawmill, any reason. Active musicians are only where the music is playing. When a banjo goes out of the jam group or band, a new one replaces it. They don't visit each other much in retirement. It's lonesome for the old musicians. Jr's fiddler friend, Johnny Williams, visited periodically, up to the very last days. Harold Hayes, bass player of Jr's band The Green Mountain Boys, continued as a regular visitor. I saw how many people I'd come to know through Jr when I wanted to do something to tell them I appreciate them, too. I found some very rare recordings of Jr in three times in his life. Had Bobby Patterson make a hundred copies for me to give to each one of them. In a week I had given every one out individually, directly from my hand to whoever it went to, and came away calling it the best week of my life.



Knowing Jr Maxwell, just to know him to talk with from time to time over the years, has been one of the great privileges of my life. All the way along, from childhood, I have looked for someone I could see was wise. Before Jr, I had known two women, one still living, I would call wise. Jr is the only man I've known I'd call wise. I've known many I'd call incredibly intelligent, brilliant minds, big accomplishments, good people. When I found a man of wisdom, he was a hillbilly tractor mechanic, farmer, sawmiller, drank good mountain liquor every day, had made plenty of it in the past, a man who made his living however it could be done, buying and selling cattle, tractors, trucks. As I heard his life, it turned out he'd had 5, at least, major blows from out of the blue, none of them caused by him. They were like lightning bolts. One, in fact, was a lightning bolt that hit his homeplace when a small lightning storm passed through while he and his wife Lois were making music at a dance. All of them were devastating blows. I saw his soul taking the path of suffering this lifetime, the fast track on the spiritual path. I discouraged having a preacher come to the house before Jr left the body. Jr, for certain would not want one. I knew with the same certainty that Jr's soul would do like a helium-filled balloon. Some of the people needed to know if he was saved. His baptism record was found. You don't get baptised without getting saved first. All rejoiced to know Jr's soul was all right. He never went to church. He was as humble a man as I've ever known, humble as a dove. It wasn't righteous piety. It was true humility. Patience, he said, was everything.



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