Saturday, February 05, 2005

2nd James

James’ neighborhood is an enclave of African Americans in a county that introduces itself with a confederate flag easily seen from the West bound lane of an interstate near here. The homes are a modern brick ranch style with basements (I think) and was, at one time, a very pretty neighborhood. It still is pretty if you squint your eyes to filter out the creeping shabbiness. It’s not the sort of shabbiness from neglect just from hard use and thin checkbooks. I like it because it’s occupied by working class folk who remind me of my own kind. Not that my family would put up with the level of wear found in this community much but that they certainly wouldn’t feel out of place here; nor do I.

My maternal grandmother never could see that the rolled felt siding ordered 50 years before from a Sears & Roebuck Catalog was threadbare and worn out. “Shabby” would be a fitting word for it as perched there near the top of a mountain in the Pennsylvania Appalachians. Her vision of that house was about the man that unrolled that stuff and tacked it up to make her home warm and beautiful a third of the way through the last century. After my grandfather died, the house became a memorial to him until she died some time later. I like to believe that the homes I see in James’ neighborhood have the same loving patina.

When I drove up Friday, there was a school bus pulling away and kids were scattering across yards toward various homes dragging book bags with their coats in odd positions – over their heads, hanging off backs, fronts and all the other odd ways kids drape fabric these days. I started to offer James’ grandkids a ride but realized that they didn’t know me well enough yet and I drove on to the house. I also knew that the house would be rumbling with their energy in a very short time and I wanted to get situated with James before it did.

I couldn’t wait to get back there with him because I’d already made three visits within a week so that I could get used to his toothless, stroked-out speech. I understood much more Monday and I was right cocky about how well trained my ear was by today. “G’on back,” Marcy said and when I pushed the door to his bedroom open, I saw James propped up in the hospital bed. I pulled the kitchen chair from its parking spot in front of the closet door, spun it around on one leg and straddled it so I could rest my chin on the back to listen to James. He had a space heater cranked up to blast furnace temps and I eyeballed the thing knowing it’d cook me before this visit was up. God, I hate the stuffy heat of old people’s sick rooms. I actually passed out visiting with one elderly man in a nursing home one time. I was with a chaplain on a ride-along right after I started with hospice during orientation. She’s a Holiness Pentecostal by denomination and I accused her of praying the Spirit into me but we both knew I’d passed out from the heat in the room. We still laugh about it.

I leaned forward with my arms folded across the back of the chair and said a sentence or two to prime James’ stream of talk smugly thinking that I now had his speech down and was really going to hear some good stuff this time. James started talking, “Ah waa goa from taaa mma muu-m ann.” He pointed to one of the pictures on the wall. “My wife died,” I interpreted from a few sounds I recognized. “Ma nabooo gana sic annn nied abouu yara anooo.” I leaned forward and turned my concentration up until I was practically split from all reality but James’s moving lips and his one clear eye. James went on – and on and on and my eyes got heavier and heavier and I caught my mind wandering like a drifting phonograph arm with a worn needle.
Soon, I noticed that my eyes kept trying to roll up as the lids slid down. I pulled them down with sheer determination, raising my eyebrows to lift the lids. I was hot and could feel the cuffs on my shirt beginning to irritate my wrists, the blood right under the skin was slowing to a consistency of roofing tar and I realized that I did not understand anything of James story. I rubbed my eyes, refocused myself and shifted in the chair casting a hateful glance at the fiery little space heater. Dammit! I thought I understood this man. I was getting frustrated and losing focus on James and thinking too much about myself. I had to refocus over and over but it didn’t help. His speech was so slurred that I just couldn’t catch much of anything. Finally I noticed beads of sweat on his forehead and I interrupted with, “Are you hot? I noticed you’re sweating a little (Thank you Jesus)”. Yeah, ah goa a ann oou feer yuss lugg e euu. I found the fan, Unplugged the damm heater and just knew that things could only get better But they only got cooler. I never could understand what James was saying. I left the room sad and pretty well discouraged. Marcy said that his speech does get worse with exhaustion. He’d had quite a few visitors before me that day.


At Thursday, 10 February, 2005 , Blogger Larry said...

Many years ago, when I was a Probation Officer in Forsyth, I visited the mother of one of my "bad boys".
She tried to tell me something about him, but she had that kind of affliction that interrupted her speech often with a sharp intake. She tried and tried to tell me something, and I tried and tried to understand her.

Finally I left; going out to the car I was so frustrated and angry with God that I mentally shook my fist at him. At that moment some strange sounds came from inside me, something I could only associate with what the charismatics (pentecostals) call the gift of tongues.

We often don't know what happening, but God knows, and he sent us there for a purpose.

Bless you.


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