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Sunday, May 25, 2014

FIRST TEACHING FROM OLD MAN TOM

air bellows outdoor art museum

I found my first notebook/journal from the time of arrival in the mountains. It's a spiral bound school notebook that covers the time of transition from city to mountains, 3-12-76 to 3-30-77. I've looked around in it, read a few pages. It covers the first complete winter. I was reading forgotten experiences. The dreams in that time were horrendous nightmares. Much old going away, much new coming in. I want to see my thoughts about the people I was becoming acquainted with. Old man Tom was the same age I am now. I knew him fourteen years, he died almost twenty-five years ago. In the time of knowing Tom, he was the most interesting person in my life. I was a pallbearer for Tom and swore off it, would never do it again. My arm still feels his weight and the grief. I didn't think it would hit me so hard when Tom died at 86. I went to the funeral home the day before the funeral. Sat and wept for half an hour, was so bad somebody came from the back and handed me a box of Kleenex. At funeral next day I thought I had my tears all cried out. Harold, the funeral director, placed me on a bench behind some people I went to church with, Tom's brother's church. First thing, the two rows in front of me stood up and started singing. They sang three songs, Amazing Grace the last one, songs by Tom's request. I leaned forward and let the tears flow. They made a puddle on the floor between my feet. I was chosen as one of six to carry the casket to the car and later from car to grave. Standing next to Tom's grave and casket was about more than I could take any way but in silence. A niece of his began jabbering some gossip questions and I had to control myself, make myself not say, Show some respect. I've been to his grave a few times, but don't like it. I see a nasty old skeleton in rags and can't get the image out of my mind. This always happens when I go to visit somebody's grave. I wonder, What the hell am I doing here? There's nothing here. I have memory; that's where he lives.
 
air bellows outdoor art museum
 
Found an entry in the notebook from a week before the permanent move to mountains. I was here for a weekend, brought a pickup load, wanted to see and feel the place that stayed in the front of my mind, the mystery of the unknown. The day of the final drive to the mountains was October 30, 1976. I found this entry from a week before the move, after a conversation with old man Tom. I call him old man Tom, because that's what everybody called him. It's how he was known, and it was how I thought of him. The scene is him in his pale ivory colored Chevy pickup that looked like it had been through a demolition derby, had never been washed. His elbow sticking out as he rests his arm on the truck's door at the open window. Khaki work clothes and dark brown hat with brim all the way around. Tom was thin and walked like a stork. The corners of his mouth had a permanent brown stain from "backer." His eyes were the pale blue of a winter sky. They were a bit unsettling, they looked so cold. My entry for October 24: Advice from Tom Pruitt: The proper way to wear insulated boots is to warm your feet and put the boots on. This is to warm the inside of the boots. You take them off and warm your feet again, then put the boots back on. Your feet will be warm all day. Tom said, "After I thought about that awhile, I could see the reason in it." Tom talking about the cows: He said you have to talk to them softly. When they are sold and bought they travel in trucks to strange places, get shuffled around at auctions with people all around them. By the time they get to the farm, they've been shuffled around so much they're afraid of people. He said if you give them sweet grain they begin to trust and like you. They will come to you when you walk through the pasture rather than run from you or attack. He said be gentle with them. He said he can drive his truck right into the herd and they won't run away.
 
 
air bellows outdoor art museum
 
Earlier this evening hearing the NPR news at about ten minutes to six, the news guy was talking about some reprehensible white male behavior by two yoyos in some Yankee city and called them hillbillies. My back went up. I thought, Hillbillies? You mean city-slickers, city boys like you. Don't be comparing ignorant city behavior to mountain people you know nothing about. I was thinking, what else can he say? Every other derogatory term is off limits by way of political correctness. White man hillbillies are ok to use for demeaning examples. It's white man the non-prejudiced people are prejudiced against. At first, it grated my nerves. But I remembered: it keeps them away. The more ignorant the flatlanders think the hill people are, all the better if it keeps them away. Wrong Turn North Carolina is even worse than Wrong Turn West Virginia. They say the way you know the toothbrush was invented in West Virginia is anyplace else it would have been called a teethbrush. One thing I and other hillbillies like about this Depression we've been in since year 2000, it put an end to tourism. The local Chamber and a women's club of white middle-class women from Florida and the suburbs of North Carolina cities, who gather in a club to get to know people, think up cosmetic ways to make Sparta attractive. They are a whole chapter unto themselves, the busy dwarves that never do anything. They get their pictures in the paper and pat each other on the back, getting credit. Now the flatlanders can't afford the gas for a drive to the mountains to tell them ignernt hillbillies they don't know nothin. We've got more brilliant flatlanders now than we can stand. The mountain people don't mind people from the suburbs moving here to be in the exurbs, if they could show a little respect. Unfortunately, the people coming in here from outside have spent their lives watching television and know nothing of respect. They look down on the toothless illiterate they see in everybody. They're so high up the mountain people don't even see them.
   
air bellows outdoor art museum 
 
Can't say I knew much about respect, myself, in the first years. I learned gradually the importance of respect in mountain culture. Diplomacy I learned in the mountains. It is a world of diplomatic decorum in conversation between mountain people. I took to it happily, liked living among people who regarded one another diplomatically. It is the first thing I see when I get in a city. Many times in a city I am tempted to say, If you lived where I live, you'd have quit talking like that in first grade. You'd have had your ass kicked until you shut your damn mouth. In the mountains, a lot of people have short tempers, and you don't always know who it is, though you mostly do. You don't provoke anybody. You don't disrespect anybody, ever, unless you're ready for a fight that could turn into a gunfight really fast. You don't get away with calling a man a son of a bitch; that's slandering his mama, and she aint got nothin to do with whatever the problem at hand may be. Much of this tradition in the culture, being respectful of others and diplomatic, comes from history, the old days, the old ways, not very far back in time when every man carried a gun for hunting and protection. These mountains were wild for a long time in the old days. About all the men drank. Many of them had short tempers. You walk softly among drunk short-tempered men quicker with their guns drunk than sober. The diplomacy that became a way of life stays with the culture now that the men are not drinking so much anymore or carrying guns. They have access to one right away, but most often are not carrying. I like the diplomacy in the culture. Thought I'd look through the notebooks I kept in the early years. Different notations trigger memories. Old man Tom always carried a .32 revolver in his belt in front when he walked into a pasture with a bull. He told me about bulls and I observed what he said to be true. You might think one is calm and tame, think nothing of it. One day you're unsuspecting and you better look out. Bulls are not predictable. Looking back to the days of slinging a scythe through briar patches, briars raking across my face. It's the best way to get rid of them without using chemicals. Cut them back a couple years in a row and they don't return. There was a time Tom seemed so timeless, so outside time, it was not conceivable there would be a time without Tom. He stayed in place all his life and the world changed around him.    
 
air bellows outdoor art museum
 
 
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1 comment:

  1. Here in Florida we have the snow birds who come here for the winter then come to see you in the summer...then we have the ones who move here for reasons known only to themselves but as soon as they do they try to make it like "back home" ...My thought is if "home" was so good then go back there...and as a snowbird, here or there, you are a guest so act like one...The ones from the northeast, Jersey etc... and Canada, French part, are the very worst...

    I am like you when it comes to attending funerals...Can't do it...I could be a good person to hire for a 'crier' at a funeral...even months after I can burst into tears just thinking about it...same with my pets...when our dog Kobe was put down because of cancer I could not talk about him for over a year without breaking down...I have ni emotional control at all...Tom was a wise person...glad you had him for a friend when you first moved...made the transition that much better...Love the "outdoor" gallery photos in Air Bellows...

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