April 7, 2001
...Of Shoes and Ships and Sealing Wax and Cabbages and Kings...
an update on Tommy by Jesse Thompson Eustice

It is a sunny, weirdly out-of-sync spring day.  The camellias are blooming along side daffodils and azaleas. The grass is an unreal shade of green, and even old-run-down buildings take on the appearance of a movie set. I have driven two hours out of the hilly Piedmont into the flat lowlands.  This lowland must be where North Carolina's second-class planters brought their field hands in the long southern growing season to grow rice, indigo, or tobacco three centuries ago.  The farm houses are long, low, look like two shacks joined together in the middle by a hall. When I stop for gas, I feel out of place, fancy, citified. But I am hopeful.  I am off to see dad and attend his care-plan meeting, two hours away in his new placement in a state-run skilled nursing care unit.  This is where dad will stay for the rest of his life, barring a huge surprise.  He just moved here two or three weeks ago.  I am bringing him a 25" TV with a built-in VCR, and an ultra-mod personal listening system with a radio and a cd player.  I know dad will not be able to operate these things himself, but I am encouraged that the staff will do it for him.  One of the staff has already called me to ask if I could provide him with some of his own music on tape to help liven him up.

When I arrive, the director personally offers to help me get the TV up to dad's fifth floor room. He is a man of great charisma himself. This is not just the director of the skilled nursing care unit, but of the whole institute--with all its many different treatment functions.  He puts the huge TV on a cart and wheels it onto the elevator.  We get it up to dad's room, and I feel both ashamed and proud of our mysterious importance as some staff members look on.

Dad smiles a big Thompson-family smile.  His eyes sparkle. He seems to understand, although I am not sure he could form the complete thought, that the lioness has returned to look out for him.  We attend his care plan meeting together.  Dad in his chair, a chair in which his butt can be lowered lower than his feet on the footrest.  This is what I have wanted to see.  This will keep dad from sliding down his chair into a horribly uncomfortable position.

In the meeting, I am given a report from all of the professionals working with dad.  There is an activities professional, a speech therapist, physical therapists, occupational therapists, dieticians, nursing staff,  a concerned doctor, and a social worker. There is also a state Advocate, and she gives me her card. During the meeting I am able to look into dad's eyes, and he gives me his sign of approval.  He has been wanting to be included in his care-plan for a long time, and, at last, he is.

Everyone is very polite.  I wonder if there might be some resentment of dad's super-duper audiovisual system.  I wonder if the personal listening system will be in his room when I come back in a week or so, but I am reassured by the cccupational therapist, who says people are just amazed to see someone so involved in the care of their relative.  She assures me that this will be good for my dad and good for the facility.

Dad and I listen to a tape of the music for my show, A Tune for Tommy.  He smiles--and even hums a little.  I play "Hot Buttered Rum" for him, "Black Smoke Train," and "The One Rose."  He sheds tears.  He sometimes looks as if he is concentrating very hard--like a person who is trying to remember something. We listen to Mother Maybelle sing "Keep on the Sunny Side," and I have the feeling that things are once again in order.

Next Sunday is Palm Sunday.  Lent is over, and at church we are preparing for the most significant day in all of Christianity.  Last Palm Sunday marked the beginning of the year of my dad's greatest suffering with his illness.  He seems to be restored today.  I have been told that his combativeness has subsided to some degree.  One social worker described the peaceful way he spreads his arms out wide to allow nursing staff to feed him through his feeding tube.  I think of Christ's submission to the Romans who nailed his limbs to the cross.

Before I leave, Dad gives me another of those wonderful smiles. That says everything I need to hear.  The sun shines brightly into his room on the fifth floor.

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Besides 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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April 7, 2001