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Saturday, July 12, 2014

AN HONORABLE ROGUE

 
van gogh

A reminder came today that I do not always function by reason. I'm glad of it. The only person I know who lives as much by reason as possible talks like a robot. Always, everything he says is right, a matter of fact. The bland, non-emphatic voice that is always right. My reaction: Lord have mercy, may I go on flexing my emotional self, getting mad when it's the irrational thing to do, finding my joy feeding carrots to donkeys, doing nothing and feeling no guilt. In this time of the life I feel uncomfortable around men so clean shaven they look diseased and women so perfectly attired and coiffured they look like politicians' wives on tv. They strike me as people who bought the television package. On days the local arts group has their "gallery crawls" where people drive from one studio to another around the county to see the latest in crafty items, have wine and talk, the cars going down my road on their way to Allan and Gary's stained glass studio are all new cars. Every one that goes by, I think, Not anybody coming to see me. My friends all drive used cars and pickups. The only time used cars go by anymore is when a house is being built up the road, having renovations done or additions put on. A new car stops and parks beside the road. They're going to the waterfalls. A used car or pickup stops and parks by the road, it's somebody I know. My friend of years gone by walked into my mind, Lorne Campbell, lawyer. He was generally disliked by the town people and just as generally loved by the country people. A reflection of his attitudes toward town people and country people. Nobody from Whitetop Mountain, Virginia, ever paid in his office. They were the people he loved as his own.

vincent van gogh
 
Lorne is one of the people who has gone to the other side whose memory is always welcome. Since the moment I first met Tom Pruitt, my hillbilly sensei, teacher, I have studied mountain culture as closely as I now study donkey nature. I let people of the culture be my teachers by paying attention when they talked, thereby encouraging them. Over a period of five years, Lorne told me his life. It was the same as reading a biography, a sitting at a time, his memories told in more or less random order, like leaves falling from a tree, one at a time from different parts of the tree, every leaf an experience told. Not long after he left the body someone I know, who had taken Campbell on in a money deal and lost, spent over an hour telling me the sins and crimes of Lorne Campbell. He figured I only know Lorne's "good" side, like Campbell would only tell his past to me in self-serving ways. I laughed all the time, more within than without, because I knew every story he told. The best was that I could have told him some really bad shit that makes what he told like nothing, but I cannot disrespect my friend even when he's not here anymore. I did not even allude to knowing implicating stories about Campbell as a rogue. He liked having the name rogue. It gave him freedom. When he played poker, he played to win. He played golf to win, gambling on the golf course like at the poker table. When he did money wheeling-dealings, he played to win. He regarded life a game and played to win. Saying he played to win does not mean he was passionate about winning. It's the nature of gaming. A game is a competition. Somebody wins and that's what you play toward. He said court was the only place he was passionate about winning. Winning in court was what he did.

vincent van gogh

There was a time I entertained thought to write something about his life, but I don't want to disrespect his memory. I feel like what he told me, he told me. He didn't tell it on television. I was the one he chose at the end of his life to tell his life to. He was totally honest about himself. And what I told him of my life, in turn, was equally honest. I know he did not tell me "everything," but I didn't want to know everything. I have a rule of thumb for myself that I don't want to know anything about somebody that whoever it is doesn't tell me him or her self. Of course, I hear tales on people I know from time to time, but don't pay it any mind and don't want to hear it. It may not matter at all to me, but I'd still prefer to have heard it from the subject. I feel like people open to me when they trust me, trust me not to tell it around, not even to anybody. I feel it my responsibility to honor the trust. Trust is important in these hills. I made it a conscious point never to tell any of his dark side stories to anyone but my friend, Carole, whose trust is absolute. Two days before his spirit left the body, he said to me, "I've been looking at my life. It's been half good and half bad. I've forgiven everybody everything." My immediate thought was, he found his balance and signed off. Sayonara. Since the day he learned about Elvis dying sitting on the toilet, that was where he wanted to die. He got his wish. The nurse said, "That bowel movement was very important to him." I had to force a straight face and a funereal nod. I wanted to tell him so bad I got with him in spirit and told him. I don't mean anything psychic. I mean I focused my mind on his spirit and told him what happened. It either reached him or not. Doesn't matter. It was more for me than for him. He was more involved in the light he was rocketing into than the launch pad he left.

vincent van gogh

I met him in a time I was doing whatever-came-up, handy man jobs. A call from friend Lizabeth who sold mountain laurel with roots in dirt. Somebody had bought four and needed somebody to plant them. Much of the time I was digging the holes and putting the laurel in place, he sat on the deck reading. After awhile he called to me to take a break, sit in the shade, have some iced tea. He was reading Knut Hamsun's Hunger. Blew my mind. Somebody in Alleghany County reading Knut Hamsun? He was a Hamsun enthusiast without making literature of it. Just a writer he liked to read. Right away we identified each other readers. He read mostly presidential and political biographies, accounts of jail-breaks, stories of rogues. He turned me on to The Falcon and the Snowman. He knew by experience politicians were rogues. I asked him toward his later weeks if he had a guiding purpose along the way. He said he took up the practice of law to keep mountain boys out of prison. Mountain boys don't belong in prison. He said, "Our prison system is cruel and unusual punishment; therefore, unconstitutional. I can't change the system, but I can keep mountain boys out of prison." Everything else was little more to him than what you do to keep the office open. He was known all over Southwest Virginia as the lawyer who will hold your hand all the way to the prison door, meaning he will exhaust every possibility to keep you out, up to the very last second the door slams shut. I remember two guys he told me about in the prison at Bland, Virginia, wanting him to appeal their case. They got forty years for rape that was not rape. He said they went to him first and he quoted a price he'd do it for. They thought it too much and went to a lawyer who charged less. He could have got them a not-guilty; they got forty years. My head has so many good stories of people from Southwest Virginia, all different kinds of people. He taught me another level of understanding mountain people, a deeper appreciation.    

vincent van gogh himself
 
 
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