Aside from my kind and loving husband David Eustice (without whom I couldn't have done anything like what I've been able to do for my father) I have a lot of other people (plus the Original and the current Red Clay Ramblers) to thank for the caring they have shown to my father and my family since my father was diagnosed with a dementia resembling Alzheimer's in 1994. There's no way I can fully repay all the people who organized benefits for him, have written him letters and stayed in touch; sent him donations, called him, given time, energy and talent to help him perform a few more times, and also been supportive of me. However, I hope that this little update will serve in some way to let people know what your kindness has meant.
Dad now lives at Britthaven, a nursing home with an Alzheimer's unit, in Chapel Hill, NC. He is safe and happy (as he can be) there. Though they are often understaffed (as are many nursing homes these days), he has gotten to know the regulars, and he has made friends of them all. He sings with many of them, with the other residents, and with me. He can still harmonize on many songs, and given a few days to work on a new one, he'll come up with a harmony for it on his own. I believe Music IS his soul.
It became clear to me that it was time for him to go into full time care during the fall of 1998, when he needed more supervision and assistance than I could provide. At first, it was horrible for him and for me. For the first interminable month he suffered in a small room with a kleptomaniac for a roommate. (Thanks to the goodness of his friends, two things helped with this transition. He was granted a generous scholarship, allowing him to transition slowly out of his favorite Adult Day Respite Program at the Charles house. The other was that his blessed friend Jacques faithfully took him out to dinner every Thursday during this adjustment period.)
Gradually things improved for him at Britthaven. He was moved down to a private room in the Alzheimer's Unit. We put up posters, photographs, and Red Clay Rambler memorabilia, which helped him to feel at home. Britthaven responded rapidly to any concern I had about his care, and he got to know the professionals there. Michelle, the Activities Aide, and Ella, one of the Floor Nurses, have made a special impression on my father with their lovely singing voices and their kind, loving spirits. They have shaved off his beard so that they can give him the best of skin care, and revealed a face that still Wins Friends and Influences People. One of the Housekeeping Staff, Maurice is from West Virginia. His father died in a coal mine blast. He has a special bond with my Father, and jokes with "Tommy," who he says is "good."
Dad is okay now. His friends write to him, send him cards, and visit when they are in town. My brother Tom Ashley (who resembles Dad, only looks bigger and stronger than Dad did at 30) and I take him on outings, whatever he can handle. Dad cries tears of love for his own father and the memories his songs bring back, at the drop of a hat. He is immensely proud of his son (who is strong as an ox after two years in the army) and he likes to try to "wrassle" him when he sees him (Impossible!).
Now when I go to visit him, which I try to do three days a week, he is glad to see me, but sometimes wanders away. This does my heart good. He feels safe and at home there, and does not cling to me. He has his own life again.
As I sort through the belongings I hastily packed for him when he moved, I learn more and more about what mattered to him, what he knew, what he did. I learn more about why certain images, historical events, economic developments have always held importance for me. I get to see things he probably did not even know himself. The powerful images from his childhood of a coal powered train, a factory town, or tall red chimneystack. His friends write to me and tell me things I never knew. What a fighter and a joker he was when he had played football and majored in philosophy at Kenyon College. The feeling of safety or power, to be standing next to him at a fiddler's convention when some person was being obnoxious. The energy he put into creating this event, or that folk festival.
My Father was trying to write a show about Charlie Poole when he was diagnosed with this horrible illness. I think he identified with Charlie Poole. In 1997, he said of himself to me: "In the seventies when I went to be in Diamond Studs, that was the end of school forever and ever. The only school after that was the school of Hard Knocks...Your mother called me a slob, and she was right....I was filled with so much hubris. I really thought I could do anything." This breaks my heart. I only hope that my brother and I can figure out how to appreciate how we have been blessed by the prospect of carrying on "Tommy's" unique and precious gifts.
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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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January 18, 2001