big country bluegrass, by tj worthington
At this moment is a near-perfect stillness outside. No breeze. Time of day the gloaming, after sunset when the light comes from the sky itself. Indirect lighting. It has an evenness about it, no distinct shadows. I hear what might be a katydid or tree frog, don't know which. Might be inside my head. That's where those critters sound like they're coming from. It has a certain shrillness that defies direction finding; sounds like it is coming from all directions at once. Smoke detectors are like that. I despise it when they go off. It's always in somebody else's house, because I won't have one. The shrill noise is an ice pick into my ears and I never can find them by following the sound. One day my friend Jean called, she had a shrill beeping noise in the house and she couldn't find what was making it. I went to help look. It seemed like it was coming from the bathtub area, but when I'd put my ears there, it sounded like it was coming from under the house. Under the house it sounded like it was in the house. That relentless shrill beeping sound makes me crazy. I've known water pipes to make sounds, but not like this one. It became a mystery because we could not find a source.
After awhile, I thought I'd run the bathtub water and see if that might stop the sound. A little plastic crate with grandchildren's plastic toys in it was sitting in the tub. I picked it up to have it out of the tub when I ran the water. The beeping noise went with the toy crate. I took the crate to Jean. She dumped it out. The noise was from a child's pretend cell phone with a beeper in it. Jean took the battery out and threw it in the trash. I love it that it's moments like this, hearing the night sounds of the forest, I remember moments with Jean. Many moments in the course of a day turn my mind to Jean. She was one of the people God gave to me to appreciate. In the last week or so a couple different people have posted on facebook a humorous saying such as this paraphrase: Before you jump off a bridge believing you're crazy, look around. Maybe it's the people around you that are crazy. I saw that right away after becoming acquainted with Jean. Her family, everybody around her had her believing she was crazy. What I saw as I came to know them, she was sane and they were the ones that were nuts.
Our relationship started when when she was experiencing an oppressive browbeating from her preacher daughter. We were at the table at Jr's house, the three of us sipping and talking. Jr and I drinking white liquor and Jean drinking coffee. She was telling what she was going through and I passed a note to her over the table, like in school, that said, Just say no. She said, I can't. I said, You can. It's the first word you learned, one syllable, easy to say. She did, and it worked. It worked the next time and the next time. Suddenly, she started finding her life. Of course, the ones around her that were controlling her, manipulating her, stealing from her, browbeating her, using her unmercifully, hated TJ. Grandma's differnt--it's that damn TJ. Jean stopped receiving their abuse. I let her know she didn't have to take it anymore, she had me to back her up.
They rebelled for a few weeks, getting mean and nasty. The kids don't like you any more. They don't want to see you again. Then Jean goes weeping to TJ she won't get see her babies any more. TJ says, don't worry about it. I said she's just pushing you by giving you a vacation from her, thinking you can't stand having your own life for a day---in this time she's finding how much she needs you to take care of the kids that she's taken totally for granted unto elder abuse. She'll call when she needs you. And sure enough, she called, with a whole new attitude of grudging respect. At least there was that little bit. What I was objecting to in the way the people around her treated Jean was the absence of respect, even from the grandkids. She was the hen at the bottom of the pecking order with no feathers on top of her head; the other hens kept her pecked bald. She gave me credit for her liberation from being beaten down by family around her. All I did was write on a slip of paper, Just Say No. When she took it, I said, by the authority of Nancy Reagan.
When she said she could not say no, I felt the enormity of the problem for her. She'd been trained for a lifetime that she doesn't say no to any of them, ever, for any reason. In the past, the pattern had been that when she said no, she was sent off to Dorothea Dix or one of the other mental institutions. The visits were her punishments for saying no. She came to regard them vacations, getting away from the crazy people in her life, a chance to draw a breath without being told that's not how you do it. At least, the people in the institutions were being treated for their mental illnesses. One evening at Jr's table she started a sentence, Next time they send me off.... I said, You're not going to be sent off any more. She believed me. She took it I had a knowing, when what I meant was I'll lay down in front of the bulldozer. That's a kind of knowing. They will have to get past me to get to you. Jean came into a time of her life where she was relaxed with who she was. The more she opened up to who she truly was within, the more interesting she became, and I found her already interesting. Then she was diagnosed with breast cancer past operable. Choice: die in 6 months or go through chemo treatments. She chose to die. I supported her in it. We'd already talked at length about neither of us wanting to go through a year of agony on less than a 50/50 chance of making it, and then no certainty if you do make it. Heaven can't be that bad.
A month before her spirit rose from the body I wanted to take her to an all day bluegrass show at the Mountain Music Jamboree in Glendale Springs, a few miles down the Parkway south. She was so loopy on pain killers she was floating about a foot above the floor. It was Big Country Bluegrass, The Wildwood Valley Boys, Micheal Cleveland fiddler was with them, The Blue Ridge Travelers from MtAiry, another band I can't recall the name now. The show ended with Whitetop Mountain Band. Both Jean and I expected Whitetop to fade into nonexistence after 4 hours of staright-ahead bluegrass, but they ruled. Whitetop Mountain Band put all that went before in their dust. They tore it up. Jean's condition was delicate as a two-week old kitten. On the road there, I told her at any moment, from this moment on, you feel like you need to get back to the house, we're gone the moment you say it and I will feel no regrets. I'd seen all the bands before but the Wildwood Valley Boys. I wanted to give her the assurance that the music was not more important than the last month of her life. It's meant to enhance that last month, not be a burden. I asked her to pick the place she'd be comfortable sitting.
On the way in, we passed Jeff Michael and Ramona standing outside, Jeff smoking. I spoke with them a moment and Jean, in her psychedelic condition kept drifting on. She drifted through the doors and on to the auditorium. I said to Jeff I'd better go see where she's going; I don't want to lose her. And I really did not want to lose her. I wanted her to stay on at least through my lifetime. I figured she'd have several years after me. I cherished our time together that night. It was our last time together and it couldn't have been better. The evening of the morning her spirit left the body, driving down the mountain to Jr's, I swung around the curve below Jean's house and the full moon was sitting perfectly on the peak of the roof. Already, I had seen Jean's smiling face in brilliant white light, happy as a cat curled beside a fire, radiant, letting me know she was doing all right. It's in the gloaming that I feel Jean's peace.