I've found the notebook from my first months on Waterfall Road, the winter of 1976-1977. Conscious mind has forgotten most of it, but these reminders from page to page bring back the people, the places, the moments. Thought I'd share some of it with you. Tom is Tom Pruitt, later known as old man Tom. I am remembering these first experiences knowing him. Then, he was new, someone like I'd never experienced, somebody who, himself, was the old-timey way. He would be my teacher and friend for the next fourteen years. I helped carry his coffin from funeral home to grave site. I saw him last a few minutes before spirit left the body, or may have been while spirit was in transit. I came to know his life over the period of time I had the good fortune to know Tom. In the time I knew him, his culture was waning fast. He was left surrounded by exurbanites he was an oddity to. Farm land he'd spent his life working had become suburban lots with new houses. The exurbanites around him thought it was funny, like mystical, he always knew what the weather was going to be. "Is it gonna rain, Tom?" Tom's answer, "Always has." They thought he had the old farmer way of knowing by signs what weather was around the corner. He watched tv news from Winston-Salem and heard the mountain weather report every evening. No one ever questioned the source of his knowledge, assuming he was the wise old farmer who could read the signs. Characteristic of Tom's personality was his direct way of seeing and speaking. He said it came from his mother's side; she was direct. Tom never skirted around anything except when he was consciously misleading. I about got shot by him once. After I'd been here maybe four years, he was mad at me and told a great big lie on me to three different people. All three told me and all three told the same story separately. I went to his house and spoke to him about it. He swore he didn't say it. It came to, "You calling me a liar?" In the mountains, when somebody says that, it's the same as a death threat. It means WATCH. YOUR. BACK. I knew he was lying, he knew he was lying, he knew I knew he was lying. I answered his question as directly as he spoke, "Reckon I am." His eyes became shotgun barrels. There was no more for either of us to say after that, and I left. Walking from the door to my truck I anticipated falling down dead any split second. Tom would not miss. We were both irritated for awhile, then it passed. This journal entry is Thursday, February 3, 1977. Temperature outside was between zero and ten F, snow.
tom's house today
2-3: This afternoon at four I went to visit Tom. We sat before the stove and he told me some good tales. He talked about Christ and salvation. Christ and John the Baptist, according to Tom, are the only two perfect men that walked the earth. I about mentioned India, but held back. I asked him if he knew the reverend George Farmer, who preaches on local AM radio. Tom said, "Money preacher. He preaches for money. He don't preach from the spirit." Tom said a real preacher is a man chosen by God who has the spirit in him and lives by the spirit. He told of a preacher he knew who was a money preacher. The preacher had a vision once of himself and another preacher fishing. He came back with two fish over rough, dry, rocky ground. The other preacher came back with a load of golden fish over a green meadow. As a result of the vision, the preacher with two fish became determined to match the other preacher's abundance. He never amounted to anything and lived a carnal life for a preacher. "He didn't have sense enough to know them two fish was his churches." He was working two churches trying to make money. He told of another preacher at a wedding Tom went to, who passed the offering plate twice.
He talked about the divinity of Christ and quoted scripture. He said he could talk scripture all day, but he wasn't a preacher. He didn't have the spirit. He could get up and talk scripture in church, but it would be speakin, not preachin.
He told of the time he broke his wrist jumping out of a hay loft and had Don, his nephew, pull it back into place. Later, the next day, after sitting in the chair all day, after sitting in the chair all day the day before, pulling on the hand with the broken wrist to keep it in place, he knocked it out of place again. He went to the doctor to have a cast put on it. When the doctor pressed it with his thumb to snap it back, Tom said, "I like to jumped a foot from top to bottom."
Every time I'm around Tom, he tells me stories and tales I love to hear. I sit all ears, trying to be a memory box, and lose most of it due to there being so much. I look hard at his face and his clothes and his hands and his feet propped up on a chair in stockings. I don't think he ever washes anything. He carried a pot of stew from the wood-stove to the kitchen, using a cloth for a hot pad so filthy a woman would scream seeing it.
1-27: This morning I took a walk down to the waterfalls. Walked through snow over the ankles with Sadie, whose four legs could not go as slow as my two. She ran off ahead of me sniffing the snow for rabbits. She would turn and come back to say hello, and be off again. Often she would walk ahead of me and I would follow her through the thick trees as she always finds the easiest ground to walk on and the best ways through the most dense places. Followed the stream that runs by this house, under the road and through Tom's property. Many small streams flow from springs in the hills on either side, down to the stream that grows as it moves along. Small falls about a foot high, all the way down, then the big one, at least fifty feet high and just as wide. Most of it was covered with ice, huge forms of ice that cover the rock shaped like a big thick white quilt. There was a huge open space about ten to twenty feet wide where the water flowed at its constant rate, changing so fast a high-speed setting on a camera might not be able to catch it. I climbed down close to it and watched the water shapes that reminded me of white flames flowing down rather than up. Heavy flames.
Yesterday I cut down two more maple trees for firewood beside the road. They both fell perfectly between the fence and the road. The first one gave me a jolt when the butt of the trunk came down on my left arm, which was holding the chainsaw, and it running. Fortunately, the tree's major weight was held by the growth of laurel, and the saw was hung up in the laurel branches. I could not let go of the running saw and could not turn it off--my thumb could not find the switch. I stood there a few seconds trying to figure out what to do with the weight of that trunk on my wrist and the saw in my hand. I forget how I got out of it, but it was easy. I must have taken the saw with right hand, which had been occupied holding me in place on the steep bank wedged between laurel branches. Dealing with that saw is like having a loaded gun. You have to be conscious every second of what could happen if you slip, or if it jumps out of your hand. That, I suppose, adds to its excitement.
Sadie was funny today when a rabbit ran across the top of the snow in front of us. She took off in great excitement leaping through the snow. Every time she jumped, she broke the crust and sank in the snow to her shoulders. But she was not discouraged by this impediment to her grace and speed. She kept on hopping the same way she hops through tall grass, in great deer bounds.
photos by tj worthington