liberty baptist, whitehead nc
Early afternoon today I stopped by the welding shop seeing the pickups of some of my friends parked out front among a few dead pickups, tractor parts, scrap metal, Mountain Dew cans in various degrees of being crushed underfoot. It was five of us standing and sitting close around the wood stove. One pulled up and parked right behind me, one whose name I won't mention and whose picture I don't take, even though I had camera and wanted a picture of his face. I won't even ask permission; I don't want to compromise him, knowing he would never rest wondering what I was doing with the photograph of him. He's an incredibly suspicious man. I would be lying to say he doesn't intimidate me. He knows it and gets a kick out of it. I know I can trust him never to do a man any unprovoked harm. And he's not somebody I'm going to provoke, so I'm safe. The fact is that if I were to fall into some kind of tight spot, he'd be the first one at my side, armed, and would have gathered a gang on the telephone that would show up one at a time. He's four years older than me and the roughest human being I know. He's spent a lot of years in prison, hard core prison. He told me once that no matter how good you think you can fight, first thing you learn in prison is you don't know how to fight. All the bones in both hands have been broken such that the outer three knuckles are about a half inch farther back than original. His face is like a minor Picasso face, twisted and misshapen by hard fists of powerful men. He's in the big league of tough guys. He's also the best story teller I've ever known. He keeps me and everybody around bent over in laughter. One of them was talking about issues he was having with an ex girlfriend and said to him, I'll call him Floyd, "D'you ever know a woman you could please?" Floyd said in big man braggadocio and his beautiful southwestern Virginia accent, "I pleased ever woman I ever fucked!" I'll call him Bill, who asked the question. Bill bent over laughing, turned around and walked a few steps away shaking his head, saying, "I knew that's what you were gonna say! I knew you were gonna say that!" Everybody was laughing because it was such a Floyd thing to say. It's the humor of outrageous. It goes all the way back in mountain humor.
front end loader
The whole crowd was a rough bunch. Except me. One who works there as welder and mechanic has a degree in Philosophy from Chapel Hill. I'll call him Rick. He's easy going, doesn't attract attention to himself, has his black and white dog with him, Rambo. I once said to him he's the only one I've ever known to have a dog named after a French poet. He got it. He shakes his head and laughs when Floyd talks because it's funny even when it isn't. Bill used to be a fighter, but he'd rather use a gun. Keeps one on him all the time, legally, because, in his words, at least twenty people are looking to kill him and four of them mean it. He's not talking the humor of exaggeration, either. He's constantly alert that somebody might pull up out front and start shooting. He's only a provoking personality when he's severely pissed off. They're all good people. Another who had dropped by was a welder whose daughter died a few years ago from some bad meth going around that killed twelve in the county that year. I'd stopped by his place for some welding when she was six. He had to go upstairs about something and the two kids, girl and boy, were outside playing. She brought me a pale red feather she'd found and told me where there were more. I went with the kids to the back yard fence where several pale red feathers were on the ground. A hawk had stood on the fence rail to devour its catch. I used to know what the bird is called, some kind of bunting, a sparrow-sized bird. Fifteen or so years later when Justin was in his first summer after high school, he came in the door one afternoon and she was with him. She said, "You probably don't remember me, but we met when I was little." I said, "You showed me a bird feather you'd found." She said, "You REMEMBERED!" and we hugged like friends who hadn't seen each other in a long time. Unfortunately, she didn't make it through her wild-thang time. She rode the edge and, by surprise, it gave.
These are friends I trust one hundred percent. I've got awful bad where trust is concerned since living in these hills. Here, you don't give trust lightly. It takes years and experience, enough that behavior bears out dependable. I gained the friendship of especially Bill and Floyd in the time I took care of their friend Jr Maxwell, who was also my friend, in his last year of slow fade, mind going away, unto his dying at age 87. It was important to him that he die at home in his own bed, not in a nursing home, the lumberyard for the dying. He was terrified of a nursing home. Everybody around him was busy with their lives and couldn't commit to the full-time care it would take. I was getting enough Social Security to get by on, so I took the role of his caregiver. Social Services and two bitch-from-hell half-great-nieces kept me a nervous wreck with threats, lies, surprise inspections, refusing to believe I could handle it. Finally, somebody mentioned Hospice and I called. The woman I talked with told me he has to be diagnosed six-months terminal or less. I said, "I'm looking at six days." She got off the phone and was walking in the door five minutes after I put down the phone, the exact amount of time it takes to drive to the house from town. She told me what Hospice was going to provide, they'd get SS off my back. I had become determined in my fight against a nursing home aggressively after him, behind-closed-doors looking, on the phone with the company lawyer, to get me out of the way. They didn't know who they were up against. I figured they're corporate, there are limits to how far they can go. I'm on my own. I have no limits. Where they end, I begin. I had to do that, too. The end of it was they never wanted to hear my name or his the rest of their lives. When I have to appeal to my inner redneck, look out. I was under much suspicion by Jr's friends. They'd never heard of anybody helping somebody out for nothing. I didn't want money, refused the offer a few times. I'd say this is between me and Jr; if I take your money it's between me and you. I bought my own groceries and his.
the road down the mountain
The day Jr's spirit left the body, one of Bill's cousins said to me, "You get into any kind of trouble, ALL of Whitehead will back you up." I was told it again, same words, by another of Jr's friends same day. When it was over, everybody saw I had not manipulated my way into his will, wasn't taking his guns, didn't want anything but to go home. That day everybody who had been watching me with suspicion embraced me. I felt very powerfully that day the love the community of Whitehead had for him shift its focus to me. It was like the beam of a bright light. I had no idea he was so loved by everybody in the community. I said to one of his friends, "I used to think it was between me and Jr. Now I see it was between me and Whitehead." He said, "That's right." Every one of Jr's friends is now my friend, except the half-great nieces from hell I alienated permanently. These friends of Jr's are people I appreciate deeply for who they are. I feel honored in the heart to have the friendship and trust. They see that I cared about Jr in appreciation just like they did. We respect that in each other. It is even a feeling of Jr's presence when we're together laughing like little boys talking dirty. He loved to listen to Floyd tell his stories. The three of us would sit at the table over a dram apiece, Floyd telling his outrageous stories from experiences in his exceptionally straight-ahead rugged life. Jr spent much of the time bent over in the chair laughing out of control. When Floyd talks, the GD word, the F word, the MF word, the N word and all the others in the alphabet of forbidden words are used multiple times per sentence, as many as he can get in there. He's one of the last of the remaining mountain people whose rhythm of talking has iambic emphases and makes music. I learned appreciation for Floyd from Jr, as well as from knowing him. Floyd even asked me today why I haven't been by to see him. I didn't see that coming. I'll make it a point to do that. When I'm around him I feel like an eleven year old boy with a fifteen year old friend/bodyguard who keeps the bullies away. I look up to him in the same way as the kid. He's a good man. Among the best. Every day I am grateful these people are in my world.