The other day I found a package of letters I had written to my maternal grandmother. She saved my letters for years it turns out. I read a few of them at random. I think I was 13 years old the first time I wrote to her about learning to play guitar. My father was teaching me, as he had taught my mother. I assume that my mother was a better student than I was since she learned in a few months, while I have taken over twenty-six years so far, and still haven't learned more than one scale. On the other hand, my mother could already play piano when she started guitar. When my father would start "modeling" too much (not providing enough "independent practice," to use educational jargon), she was surely capable of taking the guitar back so she could practice.
But now, I practice guitar at Britthaven. I have learned to pluck out a few chords in the keys of D,G, and C. When I go on a Britthaven-visiting binge, such as the one I recently went on, I bring the guitar with me, and I use the opportunity to practice. I can't play worth a damn yet. I mess up the rhythm. I play a few bad notes. My chord changes are muddied up with slurred notes and buzzing strings. Yet, I still benefit by being "the musician." I get to meet everyone. I get to talk to everyone. People tell me how music plays a role in their lives. Music is a universal language.
One day when I was visiting dad, I met a boy named JR. JR is Nurse Sandy's son, an active young man with whom my puppy has fallen in love. During my marathon morning visits, I learned that JR is talented in visiting with residents of the facility. When he looks at my father, his brown eyes are wide open and serious. Looking into dad's eyes for information, he says, "Hey, Tommy." JR understands how important it is to dad to be treated like an adult man. JR reminds me how Bland Simpson once said to me, "Your father would rather spend a lot of time looking for something than be helped." JR knows what dignity is.
When I was on the patio with dad practicing guitar, JR ventured that he was in a musical school play called “How the West Was Really Won.” I asked him a little about it, learned that he would be singing several songs and had to run across the front of the stage at two points in the play announcing gold and silver rushes. I soon found out that JR attends a school where Bland Simpson's wife, author and photographer Ann Cary Simpson, is president of the PTA. I then learned that the Red Clay Ramblers had played for JR's school. Best of all, JR had introduced himself to them and had carried their greeting back to dad--JR, a messenger, an angel.
There have always been times when I tended to talk too much and not listen enough. As I grow older I learn to be quieter. I observe with great respect that mysterious thing called male bonding, a language in which less is more. The RCRs speak this language to each other. Bill Hicks uses this language in his stories. My brother uses this language. One of the things my father seems to enjoy most about visits from his male friends and family is the affirmation he gets through this mysterious almost non-verbal communication. "Hey, man," he declares to his visitor. The meaning encompassed by those two words spoken by my father is infinitely deeper than words. Young JR also speaks this language.
I was able to take dad to see JR's play at school. After the play was over, JR came up to dad saying, "Hey, Tommy." Dad looked at JR with a great smile. He said, "Hey, man." and gave JR the thumbs up sign. The interaction took less than a second. I am still thinking about it days later.
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Tommy's section of the site, the following pages
are also related to Jesse and Tommy:
Blurred Time "The Sleeper": the aftermath of Jesse and Bobbie's car accident
Mike Craver's "Visiting Tommy"
Roots of the Red Clay Ramblers:
Fuzzy Mountain String Band: Jesse's mom, Bobbie, recorded with Rambler Bill Hicks and others
Hollow Rock String Band: Tommy and Bobbie Thompson named this band for their community
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July 1, 2000