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Tuesday, September 15, 2015


Just now in the door from seeing Melvin off in his white Nissan pickup with the ladder-carrying rack. He dropped by and we flapped our jaws for an hour or so. He knew Caterpillar, making it possible for me to talk about Caterpillar enough to get the only thing in my mind out of the way before we talked about Dustin Hoffman movies and tracing human ancestry by way of DNA back to South Africa. Melvin is the kind of friend you call when you need help, any kind of help, any time, day or night. His niece Tina has been one of my closest friends for many a year, aka Batwoman. His wife's family is good Whitehead people, the kind that make me glad I'm in Whitehead community. Ellen works at a daycare in town and their two girls are in high school. The night of the day I realized Caterpillar was not coming back, one of the bluest days of my life, I went and watched a football game on tv with Melvin. It mattered. I needed distraction and the company of friendly people. These are people who live by the heart. Dogs and cats, and one of the girls keeps a guinea pig. Melvin paints houses to make his way. He is somebody you have to know before you can see his value.
Before I knew Melvin, I hardly noticed him. Since I know him fairly well now, I see an extraordinarily interesting human being with his own collection of experiences and assessments. Every move Melvin makes, every word he speaks, comes from who he is. In Melvin is total absence of pretense. He's straight up. And this is just a part of what I appreciate about Melvin. He's a jolly kind of character, light-hearted and spirited. In four years of high school, in the southwestern extremity of NC, he was the school mascot at football and basketball games, the Bulldog. He dressed up like a bulldog as part of the cheerleading squad. His name all the way through was Bulldog. Everybody called him Bulldog, even the teachers. He's shaped like a bulldog too. The family lived next to a dirt track that Melvin's dad maintained, Melvin worked with him. After a race they smoothed out the ruts and put the track in shape for next race. He wears redneck pride tshirts and heavy metal band tshirts. In Melvin, you will not find somebody to apologize for being a redneck or having an affection for the confederate flag. He doesn't buy the racism of the ill-informed yankee accusations, they have nothing to do with him.

For Melvin, like everybody else I know who identifies with the flag, it is about Southern identity. It is the flag of redneck pride. White middle-class can look down on it all they want, and call it whatever they want. They don't figure, at all, to the white working class. They're so aloof that from the working class perspective they're arrogant. Even if they weren't so stuck up they exclude themselves from the working class, nobody wants to be around them. They can't talk to you without telling you what to do and talking down to you. It's not that they're actually smarter. They just think they are. After knowing Melvin as many years as I have, I see somebody I'm glad to have in my life. He affirms a part of myself that is important to me. Melvin doesn't advertise himself in any way. Melvin's heart is where his value lies. He makes me grateful I am able to appreciate somebody's heart, that it is the heart that is important to me. Some people wonder what Ellen saw in him to marry him. I don't wonder. Knowing Melvin better helps me see Ellen in a new way. She married his heart. Her sisters married men for their hearts.

I credit Melvin with teaching me a preference for taking back roads instead of the highways. The back roads have almost no other cars. You only see the cars of the people that live along whatever the road. He knows the back roads around the county as his main roads. When everybody else takes the highways, you've got the back roads to yourself. The scenery is better and the pace is slower. After seeing Melvin to his truck and watching it drive on, I returned to the house, noting while walking through the jewelweed patch in what's left of their flowers, I had a smile on my face and felt light in the spirit. I walked the rock walkway thinking, this is Caterpillar's world, and felt good about remembering her, instead of sad. I walked into the house, the blues behind me, a little more accepting the irreversible, happy to be in Caterpillar's world, seeing now that my home is Caterpillar's world. This morning I had to run to town for a prescription, did not want to go anywhere else, no grocery store, nothing, turn around and come home. A woman working there had three kittens in a cage out front for give away. I looked at the babies, my heart wanting them all. One was colored like Caterpillar with shorter hair, and the same color eyes. I wanted to take it home to be my Caterpillar replacement. I was not ready. One of those times I let mind overrule heart, looking to be practical, which, more often than not, makes good sense.

photos by tj worthington


  1. We should all be blessed with a friend like Melvin. I know the lightness of heart that a fews hours with a good hearted friend can bring.

  2. This started my day with a smile, almost a tear. Thank you TJ for being a friend to my Melvin and seeing all that good you wrote about. You are welcome at our home anytime. I'm sharing this so others see my husband as you do and they too will know why I married him, almost 15 years ago.