July 27, 2001
In A Tune for Tommy, Marcia Edmundson plays the part of The Daughter. Through her work on the show, she must have come to understand my relationship with my father in a uniquely empathetic way. She grew concerned when she heard Dad had moved to Wilson, NC. She understood that it would be difficult to drive two hours there, visit Dad, and then drive two hours back. Having become so intimately involved with the script, I think she understood (better than I did) not only the strain on my part, but also the loss it would be to Dad if I didn't visit.
 She invited me to come and stay overnight in her family home in Pikeville so that I could visit Dad for a good while on July 20th and 21st. Marcia's parents, Roscoe and Clara, are a retired tobacco farming couple with a beautiful big farm. Next door to their house lives Marcia's aunt. Across the road from their house is the building that was Marcia's father's General Store. It hosts two old fashioned gas pumps with metal bell shaped lamps up top. Next to that is the white frame house that was where Marcia's grandfather lived.

Marcia's dad has become an expert on all the birds that visit his bird feeders and take advantage of his bird houses. He visits them daily and watches them from a den window with his binoculars. A family of bluebirds raises four broods a year in the bluebird house he has provided. The local hummingbirds have the luxury of perching, not flying in place, while they feed from his deluxe humming bird feeders. Marcia's mother, Clara, an alto, demonstrated her gracious hospitality to me, laughing at even my stupid jokes, and making sure I had all the towels, blankets, toothpaste, and comforts of home I could possibly need. All around their house are pictures of their grandchildren.

In the evening, after television and before bed, we somehow got into singing. Clara got out the hymn books she could find. (It turned out that some favorites were missing because Marcia had taken them home with her.) Roscoe and Clara knew "Where The Soul Never Dies" and the two parts on the chorus. They also surprised Marcia by knowing "Farther Along." We sang those and many others in four part harmony with the warm underpinning of Roscoe's bass voice, and Marcia playing piano.

Because I had a place to stay overnight, I was able to stay with Dad for an hour and a half on Friday afternoon and two hours on Saturday morning. On Friday, I replaced a picture on Dad's wall with the computer image of his face in a full moon made for him by his friend Colleen. I hung the hat Colleen sent him on his wall where he could see it. Later I watched him looking at those things with what I took to be recognition and pleasant surprise. I showed him a picture of himself in his high-school yearbook, throwing the shot-put. I played around on the guitar and sang. I played a recording of Meeting in the Air and one from a night at the Cats Cradle in 1974. He laughed and smiled and shook his hands as if he were playing banjo. He listened to Jim Watson and Bill Hicks and Mike Craver and himself sing. He cried sometime between "Anchored in Love" and "Lula Walls." He laughed at "Stern Old Bachelor." He listened to me improvising a high harmony on "The Schoolhouse on the Hill" and every song that came after that one. He showed interest in my homework on sight-reading music. I commented that I was finally doing my homework. He smiled. I messed around on the guitar a little. He showed me he was happy by laughing and smiling with his eyes. One of the men on staff stopped by to listen to us, and then told me that he had once played keyboards and drums in church.

Dad cannot talk any more. Most of the time, he can only get out a sort of growly sound. If it's really important, and he's inspired, he can say "yes." But here's how I know he knows what is going on. On Saturday morning, I looked into his face, and I said "Dad, I know you are having trouble communicating. I do not always understand what you are trying to tell me, but if you keep trying, I will do the best I can to understand. Okay?" Then I got the biggest brightest toothless smile and laughter so far. Tears fell.

The weather was beautiful and I wheeled his bed to a spot in the room where he could see out the window. He was frowning, and I asked him if he wanted to go outside. He managed an enthusiastic "yes!" I asked two members of the nursing staff, Jonnie and Barbara, if they could get him into the Broda Chair. They helped us and seemed glad to see "Tommy" get to go outside. Carlos, in activities, helped me by carrying the guitar while I pushed Dad in the chair. (A Broda Chair is the Rolls Royce of medical recliners. In a typical geri-chair, a tray is used to restrain the patient. In a Broda Chair, the patient is passively restrained by a tilt and recline seat.) We listened to the birds and looked at the flowers. We laughed and listened again, more carefully, to all the sounds: a crow; the air conditioner; mocking birds. The temperature in the air was perfect, maybe 75 degrees. A breeze blew up across Dad's recliner. I played guitar and sang some more.

When it was time for me to leave, I said to Dad, "I have to leave soon, and you know I won't be able to come back for maybe a few weeks." He looked right into my eyes with his philosophical brown eyes and nodded his head "yes." I said "I know that the people here are good to you when I'm here, but what I need to know from you is if they are good to you when I am not here. Do they treat you well?" He smiled "yes." I couldn't stand leaving him without something to distract so I put the movie Avalon on his VCR. When it started, I got another big smile, and I knew it would be okay to go.

And that was it. I kissed him on the forehead and went.


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
July 24, 2001