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Thursday, July 4, 2013

RUNNING THE MOUNTAIN ROADS WITH THE PRUITT BOYS

christo


It's Fourthajuly again. Lotsa parties at the river in the rain. The people who like to party on the river in this part of the mountains will be there, whatever the weather. They're people who understand that the weather is not constant blue sky. It rains. It even storms. This is the earth we live on. The people partying at the river go there because they understand this is the earth we live on and it's time to party hearty. Guitars, banjos, beer, white liquor, what-have-you, all kinds of motorcycles; whole lotta party goin on. The South's gonna do it again! It's all good people taking a break, time off from work, get together with a bunch of friends and holler, Hail Yeah! Confederate flag on tshirts, bandanas, hats, pickups. To an insider, it's mostly people you know, many of them you have memories with, the people of your life. Also, to an insider, each has the backup of the whole if threatened by an outsider, or maybe life threatened by an insider too drunk to know what he's doing, or something. An outsider would only see rednecks to fear, the unpredictable unknown. It's a legitimate concern after a certain level of drinking, but only if the outsider is a provoking personality. Fights happen. Everybody there knows fights happen. Get a bunch of roosters together in a chicken pen and fights happen. It's no big deal. It's what men do. We're raised to be warriors, but allowed no outlet in our everyday lives except sublimation by watching tv. Boys grow up fighting. In the working class, men continue to fight. They know it's therapeutic release, much like the primal thrill that runs through a man's entire nervous system hunting. The women hunt and fight, too. They know the thrill as well.

christo


Every year there is less and less river front to party on due to subdivisions. It aint what it used to be. Everything changes we tell ourselves. Acceptance is the only recourse we have, and it's so relaxing when we get there. A bend in the New River at the Nile had a rather large cleared place beside the road at the state line with Virginia. It's all covered up in ironweed now. A lot of stories came out of that party place. Like the boy that shot a girl in the leg, drunk, stoned, the whole deal, and his lawyer got him out of the charges by finding this spot on maps is different from survey to survey. It could not be determined for certain which state he was in, NC or Virginia. It didn't go to court. I spent quite a bit of time there with the Pruitt Boys in my first year in the mountains, talking with other people that go there to drink beer at a place by the river where it's quiet. They were my tour guides, friends and body guards the summer of 1977. We shot .22 rifles there. I was surprised at how good a shot I was at the start, attributed it to years of using a camera, holding it steady, squeezing the trigger gently. We'd throw a beer can out into the river and shoot at it until it sank, if that could be done before the current carried it out of range. Mostly, we didn't hit it, and even more mostly we didn't care. A chance to hear a gun go boom. Drink some beer, get a little high, stop at the liquor store, four of us in Van's old Dodge. He called it the Goat. It would go anywhere with a good posi-trac rear end. A few years later he drove it through a power pole 12 feet above the ground, went off a bank in a curve shit-faced drunk. I think of Van whenever I see the replacement pole out in the field from the road. He woke up on the hood of the car with his twelve year old nephew beside him on the hood. Neither one was hurt. Van lost his drivers license forever.

christo


They taught me an awful lot just by taking me around to drop in on different people they knew, go to the pool room and have a beer, play some pool, shoot the breeze with the others in there. I'm recalling a time in the pool room, a guy in his thirties whose name I don't remember, a drunk who drank himself to oblivion every time he started. This night in the pool room he was on the edge of the big O. Don Pruitt was a little bit anxious about the jukebox. One of them told me that if somebody played Amazing Grace on the jukebox, this drunk guy would start preaching. I was told that if somebody plays it, we're leaving. Don didn't like it. A drunk man preaching ran all over him. It was humiliating seeing the guy so out of control manipulated for a quarter and a laugh. Don wasn't one for church, nor church people, but he was a believer in his heart. It was too much disrespect all the way around for him to tolerate seeing. With two uncles and a great grandfather preachers, he got his church upbringing. He just rejected the people of the church because they wouldn't accept him. He didn't care about the people in the church and relatives talking about him living in sin drinking beer. One thing he knew, he wasn't a hypocrite. And he grew up knowing all of them. Eventually, somebody played Amazing Grace on the jukebox. The guy started getting wound up and Don said, We're leaving. We all went out the door in a hurry to keep up with him so he wouldn't drive off without us.

christo


A moment stays in my mind of a Sunday morning in the spring of my first year, been here about six or seven months through the winter. I wanted to experience a mountain church meeting. I picked one in Whitehead, won't say which, because it doesn't matter. Before the meeting I was standing outside talking with a couple of up in years men and another came up, How ye a-doin fellers? One of the men said, What was that shootin goin on up by your place yesterday, brother? Aw, it was them Pruitt boys. He looked at me, turned and walked away. My thought that moment, Anybody too good for a Pruitt is too good for me. I have lived by that all the years I've been in these mountains. I mean it, too. It has served me well. It keeps pretentious people out of my life. The Pruitts were not exactly high up on the social ladder. My maxim meant to me a vow I would never seek a height where I could look down on these people. The day before, we had been at a place on the back part of Waterfall Road, the Robert Frost path untaken. A flat place in the road they called "the flat" was a place trash was thrown down the bank above the 3rd waterfall. Years of household trash thrown down there. We found an old 45, circle in the center, label for a ring and black record itself for a ring. Woods all around as far as you could imagine. We fixed it to the front of a white Styrofoam plate somehow and used it for a target. All of us hit the center every time. It was too close to miss. We'd just been by the house of a friend of theirs who gave us a J wrapped in pink paper. We called it the pink rocket. It took us there, too. Hanging at the dump looking through trash, picking up something to shoot at, our empty beer cans targets too. Car doors open, radio playing Moe Bandy, Sammi Smith. Then it was off to the next whatever might happen.

christo
 


For me, they were people to be looked up to. I'd just come out of a lifetime of school into a car with three hard working, hard fighting, hard drinking, hard driving brothers who weren't particularly liked by everybody, but weren't afraid of anybody either. The whole county knew you take one on, you've got all three. They always had guns. We had good times and good laughs, laughing like kids, my dog Sadie on the back seat between me and Van or Bill, whoever was not driving, beer cans tossed out the windows when they ran dry. I couldn't do it. I put mine in a paper bag kept under the seat. They thought that was the dumbest thing they ever seen. I couldn't help it. The mountain scenery they were driving me through all over the county was awe inspiring to me. I couldn't trash it consciously, to be one of the guys. It was home to them. I had no issue with them doing whatever they did. I was the visitor. I felt like God landed my parachute among them to learn from them, them in particular. I was not here to tell them how they oughta be. I was here to learn. Like their uncle Tom Pruitt, they were my teachers without teaching. Any highway in the county, Bill would point at a rock sticking out from a stone bank and say, That's where I broke my collar bone and right arm. Another place a tree, That's where I broke my left leg, left arm and ribs. He was a terrible driver when he was drunk. Just before I arrived here, he'd bought a new Ford and totaled it before he made it home. Insurance took care of it. He seldom reached his destination til next day when he took off driving drunk. In a fight, it took knocking him out to stop him.


christo


I never wanted to be thought of as better than any one of the Pruitt boys. I may not drive cars through power poles and get beer bottles broken over my head, but it doesn't make me better than them. We drifted apart after awhile. Don moved into town. Van lived in Cherry Lane. Bill, who had been staying with Tom was off to North Dakota with Margie Walls. I'd see them every once in awhile over the years, not as much as I wanted to, not near as much as I wanted to. Our lives took us in different directions. A year of weekend school with three hillbillies of my generation, working with Bill and Don on the farm in the spring, summer and fall, I got my feet planted on the ground in my new mountain home. I had the beginnings of knowing where I am. They made good references later. When I'd meet new people I'd mention I knew the Pruitts and old man Tom. Everybody knew them. I didn't care what they thought of the Pruitt boys. I knew what they thought from different things I'd heard, but none of it made me ashamed of them. One time years later I was painting at the Nile and a man I didn't know came up to see what I was doing. He was a little suspicious of me and I was a little suspicious of him. We talked a bit. Turned out he knew everybody I knew, he was Harlan Andrews's first cousin, and by the time we'd finished talking we were friends.  


christo
 
 
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