Isolation Report #14
Memorial Day Weekend
Everyone is sleeping. I have moved my base of operations into the forward second deck Captain’s Quarters. If this was a steamboat that is how I would describe where I am at. When I first came down here almost two months ago from being laid off from the Belle of Louisville, I was sleeping in the basement. In the bed that a friend of one of my Fathers used to sleep in. He died, but that will always be “his” place. Like on the Belle, we have the names of some of the previous engineers stenciled on the equipment. My Fathers friend “Ducky,” his spirit still lives here and that bed is his.
So, It got too spooky to sleep there. It was in the basement and sleeping in a basement is kinda already sort of depressing so I needed a change. When I first came down to the Rough River the weather permitted indoor fires. The wood-burning stove is in the basement and I love wood burning stoves so I was sleeping down there in the hull, to stay close to it. My father’s bed is also in the basement, you certainly won’t catch me sleeping there. After deciding to leave the darkness of the hull, I moved to a bed in the Aft of the second deck. In the great room with the French doors that lead out to the hurricane deck. And, well, it’s too bright and open there. Awesome views, big windows that allows for wide views of the tulip poplars that are blooming, however, I needed some darker more confined space. So, I moved to the room that eventually, I guess will be where I am supposed to sleep.
That room, the Captain’s Quarters is where my sister makes her base of operations when she comes down. Right next to the other Captain’s Quarters. I guess my next step should be to move up to the pilot house in the loft. That is where the kids are supposed to sleep, but my cousins sort of make that their place. And can you tell yet? What the hell is John Paul talking about? What are these names he is using, pilot house, captain’s quarters, Aft, Forward, Hurricane Deck? WTH eck.
Folks, I am missing the Steamer Belle of Louisville pretty bad. I got a serious case of the Steamboat Whistle Blues. That’s a John Hartford song, BTW. All those terms are Steam-boating marine language. I was doing a pretty good job hiding away as a midnight watchman on the Ohio River, mile post 604! I have been on a three year mission to sort of disappear from this day and age. This Corona Virus, all this Isolation and Social Distancing is making me want to take the final push. A push into the lost journey, the final stages of the Hero’s Journey, a somewhat Social Suicide into the hearts of darkness so to say. I am ready to just get the hell out of this world and become a metaphor. I chase them, work with them, live in them, I can’t seem to beat the metaphorical baseball team of life. If you can’t beat em’ – Join em! I digress, often, to say the least.
My deep isolation was broken this weekend. Both my Dad’s sisters came down and with them were my Uncle Bubba and two grandkids. It has been great to have company. I got a chance to wear my Uncle John hat all weekend. Part of my job on this boat of a sorts has been to give my grownup crew members a break. These folks have already raised half my family and now these grand kids wear them out pretty fast. My two nieces are a hoot. I was more than happy to get the kids out of their hair., We drove around, went fishing, hung around on the balcony. I took the two sisters down to the lake and watched them swim. And that brings back fond memories of when I used to swim in that cove with my brothers and sisters. We spent many a summer in that water. Sometimes so much time that our toe nails would turn orange from being painted by the sandstone muddy bottom. My family is huge and these fine folks represent the other side of the family that has been here every since my Father and his Sister decided that we all needed this place and bought the three acres back in 1979.
This Memorial Day weekend some of the social restrictions were lifted on what has been an interesting several months of confusing mixed messages from way too many sources. What had been a near total lock down of the State of Kentucky, has now turned into a basic free for all of opinion and re-opening of the economy. Restaurants and businesses are allowed to re-open as long as strict guidelines are adhered to. Folks are supposed to be wearing masks, staying six feet away from each other and washing their hands while maintaining the six foot rule. I guess the slogan should be stay six feet away or we will all be six feet in the ground. Folks in town are basically following the rules set by the dot Gov. Folks are growing weary of all this, though. I really do not see folks being able to handle this for very much longer. It is quite absurd, most of the time.
I think folks are growing tired of all the too many Indians part. Meaning, now that this country basically has been pushed into two very far corners, one side has made the other almost The Enemy. And in this so called southern state, pushing folks to one side or the other is a pretty easy thing to do. Kentucky never really took sides in the Great Civil War, so why would it take sides now? Apparently we are leading the country in compliance and recovery, so? Stick that in your pipe and smoke it. Too bad Covid 19 isn’t Duke University cause then we would always remember this time when something whooped our asses. This is U of K country and in some places at certain times, basketball is the religion. So, to Kentucky fans, Covid 19 will now be labeled the Duke19, Chinese, came from those people who eat bats disease. They will hate it and never forget it. Never.
All weekend this place has turned into a destination liken an Easter Sunday packed church. Everybody and their grandma is down at the lake. All weekend echoing through the air has been gasoline engines; boats, ATVs, pontoons, gun shots, automatic gun a rootin’ and a tootin’, speed boats, houseboats, chain saws, cars, trucks, really big trucks pulling boats that cost as much as a small house in the town. Pontoon’s pass by on the river loaded down like a sunset cruise, blasting really cheesy country music. Boat loads of folks, having a good time, with a total disregard to anything with a peace and quiet agenda, have flocked to this Corps of Engineers marvel of a man made lake. To the natives of this place, I guess what we are witnessing is an American Dream colonial weekend occupation reenactment. People from foreign lands have arrived! They bring a lot of money, mind you, but their footprint is something to see. These folks could be bringing with them the dreaded “RONA!” Hmm, can anybody say blankets with smallpox? The blankets they are giving out this weekend are good ol’ American dollars and debit cards. The General is happy. The Dollar General that is.
The interesting part of all that is, how much the Mennonites out on the road have what is being sold in the lyrics of that country music propaganda that is blasting the seams out of the mountains of peace and quiet that normally is what can be found here.. They have the “good ol’ days” narrative thing down pat. What they don’t have, and could care less about, is the narrative of who may or may not be stealing a certain “way of life” away from them. Hell, they took John Prine’s Spanish Pipedream thing seriously a long time ago! The Mennonites that is. Of course, minus the topless lady with something up her sleeve part, mind you. Mennonite strippers, now that’s a thought! Blow up your T.V. Throw away your paper! Move to the country and build you a home! Plant a massive farm and run the thing with a windmill. They live the lyrics of that good ol’ John’s song for sure.
John Prine … bless his heart!
I was called into service this weekend and I gladly came out of hiding for that call, let me tell you. My friend Ron Whitehead called the other day and asked if I would come over to Hartford, KY to sing at his Mother’s 88th birthday party. Hell Yes! I told him. I am a folk musician, griot, storyteller and all that jazz. When I am called into service, I have to go! Responding to the call found me saddling up the painted pony and heading out further west basically walking right into John Prine’s Paradise song. “Daddy won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County, down by the green river.” That place.
Ron’s father was that Daddy. One of many, but seriously, his father worked the drag-line coal machines at Mr. Peabody’s Coal Company. The highlight, well, I can say that there were many highlights at the party! The whole experience of that special day was a highlight, shit! From the second I left Ft. Wright here in Breckenridge County, I was in service of something that is as authentic as any folk musician could ever want to experience. I left and traveled some of the most beautiful back country roads in this part of the State! The name of the road from Leitchfield over to Hartford is called, “The Blue Moon of Kentucky Highway!” My journey to the party took me past Bill Monroe’s ol’ Home place, up and around Jerusalem Ridge, and then all about the fondest parts of Big Mon’s memories. You know the place where he used to sit and listen to the fox hounds, with his Dad in those ol’ Kentucky hills. I am on my way back to the old home, the road winds on up the hill, and there’s no light in the window. You know, that place.
There were certainly lights in Mrs. Whitehead’s eyes as we sat and she shared family pictures of her late husband working Peabody Coal. That was one of the highlights. The strawberry pie and BBQ she sent me home with was another. Hearing her sing my song was another. Watching my buddy Ron out of the corner of my eye was another. I think he is the oldest brother, he certainly had that vibe. I have know Ron Whitehead, “The Outlaw Kentucky Poet” for a long time, we go way back, however, what I was seeing at the party was not at all the Outlaw Poet, I was seeing Ronnie. Ron the older brother with that look in his eye of happiness, joy, and somewhat sadness at who or what was not at that party. Us older boys get that way. A tear in the eye and a lump to swallow. I guess I am an honorary Whitehead now? Fuckin’ A right! You bet your ass I am! You know it?
Listen, seriously. I was for an afternoon, in that Paradise song. I was there! And I knew where I was going when I l got out of the boat and saddled my raging black stallion and headed west in folk music service. I was in a hot garage singing Bluegrass music with a family that lived that song to the fullest and were celebrating the birthday of the Queen, I was in heaven! Singing with the Angel Band. I was again, like when I was on the Joe Hill Tour, not just singing some folk music, I was part of the story. Part of how this heritage is passed on, passed down. Griot work. When Ron called and asked me to drive over he assured me I would get fed out of the deal. Ha! The fucking BBQ came from a food truck from over in Rosine, KY. Rosine, Kentucky, the home-place of Bill “Big Mon” Monroe! Amen.
Well, the kids are waking up. I hear the bang bang bang of my little barefoot nieces running all about the house. Soon my Aunts and Uncle will be leaving and total isolation will return. I will take off my Uncle John hat and go back to John Paul the guy who is kinda like Harland Hubbard, mixed with a little bit of Wendell Berry, add a ½ cup of Fela Kuti and ¼ cup of John Hartford. Mix the wet and dry ingredients and bake at 400 degrees turning until golden brown. Serve with a side of Hummus and African Djembe.
This isolation life is wild! Too thin to navigate and too thick to plow! I am steam-boating again, but, my God I am having a time! Oh, I forgot. Add ½ cup of Anne and Carl Braden a pinch of Woody Guthrie to taste and serve in a big Dust Bowl. Feeds many. Leftovers never spoil. One man gathers what another man spills. I digress, Often. I got the U.S. Blues! I am Catfish John signing off! You have been listening to, clear channel 650 WSM brought to you by the L&N don’t stop here anymore! Happy Memorial Day, Fellow Workers!
John Paul Wright