March 1, 2001

 An anonymous report on Tommy during his hospitalization submitted to Jesse by a blessed registured nurse who sure knows her job!

I first met Charles "Tommy" Thompson through the staff who takes care of him. I was making rounds when I overheard them say, "Dr. Rizk told us Mr. Thompson was a well known musician." Reading his chart, I found out he was with the Red Clay Ramblers. The name rang a loud bell, but I just wasn't quite sure why. I proceeded to look them up on the Net, where I found more information than I ever expected. I read and read, fascinated with each article I found. I decided it would be nice to show staff a little more of Mr. Tommy. I copied several articles about all his accomplishments. We talked about how devastating this disease can be. For a short while we dwelt on "what a shame" thoughts. I needed to know more about this man and his music. Could we possibly use his music to reach inside, beyond what we saw with our eyes?

He was sitting in the dayroom, watching TV when I approached. "Mr. Thompson, I've been reading about those Red Clay Ramblers. You used to play banjo with them, didn't you ?" His usual distant eyes brightened and a smile came over his face. "YEAHHHH!" he excitedly replied. "What was the name of that store you wrote about? Was it Hollow, ---- Hollow Rock? " " YEAHHHH!" "Would you like to hear some of your music?" "Yeah, yeah, yeah!" he rapidly repeated.

The next day I was off, so I set out in quest of Red Clay Rambler music. I found several CDs at a music store on Ninth Street in Durham. As I purchased one of them, I commented that I worked with one of the former members and I thought he might enjoy hearing some of his own music. The salesman remarked fondly, as if he knew him personally, "You must mean Tommy." I responded, "yes." Not wanting to violate confidentiality, I said no more and returned to my car. I impatiently unwrapped my purchase and placed it in the CD player. What happy sounding, make-you-want-to-dance music began to play! Though the year escapes me, I was suddenly transported back in time to July 4th and The Festival on the Eno. On a large outdoor stage, a group of men were performing. Many in the crowd were dancing on the lawn. Even I was making a feeble attempt at clogging, though I'm not known to do such things in public. I remember it was music I could harmonize easily to, if it wasn't pitched too high. During the slow songs we rested on the lawn, watching these remarkable musicians bring their instruments and their songs to life. (You see I have always enjoyed music, especially singing and had thoughts of singing professionally one day. The voice just didn't cooperate, but I still enjoy pretending. I guess that's why I thought it might make Mr. Tommy feel good to hear his music.).

Since we had to transfer the music from CD to cassette, it was two days later before we were able to sit down and enjoy the music of the Red Clay Ramblers with one of the original Ramblers. He was sitting in the big red chair, still a rather impressive sized man with long, long legs. Staff gathered around, eager to hear his music. I started the tape with "Hot Buttered Rum." Immediately, he sat up a little taller in the chair, a smile came over his face and from somewhere deep within, came the "hum" of the professional. Occasionally, he would move his lips. Though few words came, the tune was true. We listened to the "Barbecue" song, "Bye, Bye Blacksmoke," "Saro Jane," and "Annie Oakley." He listened intently to all of them, always smiling, sometimes humming along, but always with a wonderful sparkle in his eyes. It was Cotton Eyed Joe that showed us "Father Banjo." Although his arms were loosely tied for safety, his right arm came around to his lap, just at his waist. As if he was holding his banjo, his fingers began to move as he began to play along. He rested on and off, but when a pause came in the music, due to taping, his eyes darted quickly toward the tape player, obviously aware that something was amiss. Next, a lively instrumental fueled a dance. From his chair he danced in place, moving his feet briskly, in perfect time with the music. When it was time for me to leave, I asked, " Mr. Tommy, would you like to do this again sometime?" His eager reply, " Oh yes yes yes!!" " Does it upset you to hear your music? "No, no, no!" As I left the ward, staff remarked that he looked more relaxed and less agitated. Everyone, including several patients said they enjoyed listening to the music and how happy it made them feel.

This week's "sessions" have produced less dramatic results. He appears to be "under the weather" physically. He rested while the music was playing but it appeared to some of us, that his facial expression changed from an in pain look when we started, to a more relaxed pleasant one when the music ended. Nevertheless, with my repeated prompts of "Sweet Maple Sugar," he appeared to mouth, "Hot Buttered Rum".

What was intended to be a gift for Mr. Tommy, actually ended up being his gift to us. First, there was the gift of his music, which we thoroughly enjoyed. Secondly, the opportunity he gave us to see that "spark" come from the depths of disease, reminding us that sometimes the little things do make a difference. This validates the work we do and why we are here. Needless to say, as long as he's willing, we'll keep on rambling.

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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March 1, 2001