December 19, 1999
"Real Art"

Today I went to see Bah Humbug, a modern adaptation of Dickens' Christmas Carol by Jack Herrick.  Allison Lee, one of Dad's friends, brought Dad.

The theater in Swain Hall has black walls. School chairs are set out in rows on a terraced platform. The set is the facade of a bank with pillars constructed in front.  At one end of the bank there is a sign which reads "Marley and Scrooge Bank."   At the other end there is something that looks like an automatic teller machine with a sign on it reading "Scrooge's ATM."  To save money on machines, Scrooge has assigned Bob Cratchet the job of squatting hunched up inside a box, being the "automatic teller."  Of course, Scrooge does not want Bob Cratchet to have a day off on Christmas.

Although Jack, Lynn, and Mike might not know we are in the audience, when my father laughs his distinctive laugh, there is no doubt that he is there.  Throughout the play, Dad laughs at all the funny parts, laughs even at Scrooge's wrathful ranting, and then discovers some funny parts that no one else yet knew about.  He laughs as he struggles to remove his coat. Allison tries to help him. She cannot get the last sleeve off his hand. He is pulling on it in the opposite direction.  There is a tense moment while I wonder what to do, and finally Allison gives me a smile and shrugs, indicating that we will let this one go.  In two minutes Dad has freed his hand and has turned his attention back to the play.  I notice that between musical numbers, Dad's face looks stressed and confused. At moments he appears to be getting ready to stand up. Allison and I are both alert in case we have to move fast to prevent him from getting up and disrupting the show.  Just in time, another musical number starts up, and dad's focus returns.  He is smiling and watching the band, squeezing his hands together tightly in front of his chest. At the end of the show his eyes are sparkling. Real cast members, among them Jack Herrick, Lynn Davis, and Mike Craver, approach him to say hello. He turns to me, an audience member, to compliment me on my performance.

After the show Allison helps dad exit the theater.  Dad is terrified of steps.  He is afraid he will fall.  Mike and Allison help Dad navigate the steps in front of Swain Hall.

Mike and I have a conversation.  "I didn't go to the School of the Arts after high school because I didn't want my whole life to be based on vanity," I say to Mike. "But now I realize most of my life was based on vanity anyway, and I wish I had become a performer."

"I almost went there too," says Mike. "But I didn't and I'm glad, because I am who I am now. You are you because of your life," he says.

I complain a little about my childhood and lament my mother's death, and Mike says, "your father was always proud of you.  At some point you have to let go of the blame and get on with your own life."

Thinking about this conversation with Mike, I decide to stop by Britthaven before I drive home.  When I arrive, my father is walking around with a very stressed expression on his face.  He has food on his chin. He starts to tell me something, and I can tell from his tone that this one is going to be a problem I have to solve. "Listen..." he manages to say  "There is this really nice place....but there's a guy...He's really smart....but he doesn't do anything....because he is afraid that he won't....."  I know that to say something this articulate takes a huge amount of effort and planning on Dad's part.  The last few times I have visited with Dad he has been trying to tell me about this.  It has something to do with people just being "stuck somewhere."  Dad is saying, "I went to the....and when I came back....all the locks....but I saw this....real art..." he is pointing to a card from Robin and Linda Williams which is on his door. Dad has trouble finding specific nouns to finish his sentences. I get the gist: he went to Bah Humbug, then he came back to the locked unit at Britthaven. He was depressed about returning.  Then he saw the card, on it a picture of a beautiful romantic painting. "Real art" as he put it. It gave him an idea. We go into his room. Inside his own space he looks at me, his brown eyes intense, and says, "there is a loss..."

I think I get it and I say "Dad, there is a program called Artists in the Schools.  Do you mean something like that, but Artists here?"

"Yes! That's it!" he says.

We talk about his idea a little. I want to make it better for Dad. I want to promise him but I can't. I know I will do something, but I don't know what or how yet. I have been talking to my friends from Charles House (adult daycare) and the Alzheimer's Association about this for some time.  Many of dad's friends, artists of one kind or another have volunteered time and talent to do things in an effort provide the kind of artistic stimulation dad needs.  The problem is alleviated by activities, but it is not solved.  It is such a wonderful gift, but he wants a solution.

Dad is not the only elderly or sick person in a nursing home who hungers for a sense of self worth.  The problem my father has identified was written about in 1994 by William H. Thomas in a book called The Eden Alternative. The problem is that long-term-care facilities are largely funded by Medicaid and Medicare. They are funded for medical treatment, not for holistic care, not for nurturing health or for providing a spiritually enriching environment.  While regulations have improved the quality of treatment provided at these facilities and required activities programs, the fact remains that nursing homes provide what they are paid to provide--medical treatment. It is a systemic problem.

I have been charged with a duty. I do not know how I will do it yet, but I do know that I must.  My father, even with his debilitating disease, has identified an essential weakness in the care of dementia patients. Like he said to me once, he can't concentrate the way he could before, but he still shares the same human emotions we all share.

Tommy Thompson is a smart guy, and he is not ready to fade away. He will leave at least one more creative gift behind him, and I will help him find a way to do it.

back to the top

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

Site maintained by
February 17, 2000