TAKE ME HOME COUNTRY ROADS
(but you can't ever go home
faithful Barnes', Catherine's parents, came to Washington to pick us up. They spirited us back down to their house
in Bath County where we were to spend the next two weeks reacclimatising
ourselves to America. It was actually
really good to be back. We got in
touch with our West Virginia support system immediately and made trips over to
Hillsboro and Lewisburg to see everybody.
We had kept the Schoolhouse while we had been away during the past year
and apart from my arthritic back, which suddenly acted up again and forced me
to stay horizontal for a few days, everything went very well. Catherine applied for a Counseling job at
Seneca Mental Health in Lewisburg which, needless to say, she got.
By the start of May, we had moved
into the schoolhouse and were settling back into life in the mountains of West
Virginia again. At the time, this
seemed the obvious thing to do. It had
been our plan to go back there all along but in retrospect and that's easy to
see after the fact, it was a mistake to try and go back to our rural existence
again. After all, we had just seen
that there was a whole wide world out there.
We would never be able to close the door to that again.
It was pleasant to be back in the
schoolhouse, although winter wasn't over yet and it was pretty cool there. I cut some firewood and we got the stove
revved up. We even got a pretty white
cat for company. We soon slipped back
into a country schedule on George Hill Road, unpacked our meager possessions
and set up the stereo again. The cat
and I drove out the marauding mice who had moved in as soon as we had
left. Someone had apparently tried
to force their way into the house too, for there were marks of some tool around
the lock. But we surmised that the
wasps from a huge nest hanging above the doorway had driven the would-be
invaders away because nobody had been inside the schoolhouse while we were
away. I seem to have to spend a lot
of time with domestic matters at first, getting our cars back into good running
order and collecting and cutting firewood.
I had to put plastic across the windows at the house and deal with a
late fall of snow.
My gallery in Ohio was the next
issue to be dealt with. I had tried to
keep in touch with Tom, the owner, during our travels but had found him
elusive. In fact I had heard nothing
at all from him. So I finally drove up
to Ohio to look for him. I found him
working in the produce department of a large supermarket. When we were finally able to talk, he told
me a long tale of woe, of trials and tribulations, of heavy debts and of a
final power struggle with his mysterious backers. In the end, he had owed too much money and had had to close the
gallery. His associates had seized all
his assets including my batiks. Tom
had no idea where the work was now and advised me to write it all off as a dead
loss. At first I felt very angry about
this but in time was able to let it go.
After all, my pleasure had always come from the creation of the
paintings. In truth, I had never much
minded what had happened to my work after I had completed it. But it was pretty disastrous for my career
as an artist to completely lose touch with two years worth of good work. Apart from that strange show at Alberini's
Restaurant, the batiks had never really been shown to the public. Fortunately I had taken photos of them all
but to this day, I have no idea what happened to the batiks and where they
ended up. Is the work gloated over
daily by some secret batik collector, lovingly hung in a private gallery with
discrete but expensive lighting, appreciated and admired by only a fortunate
few? Or is it all stacked in
someone's basement somewhere gathering dust and mildew? Probably I'll never know. Perhaps long after my death, the
"Missing Batiks from the Forgotten West Virginia Years" will
mysteriously surface again and be auctioned off at Sotheby's, making a lot of
money for somebody else. I left an
unhappy Tom at his little apartment preparing to go back to start his evening
shift amongst the cabbages, the artichokes and the iceberg lettuce at the
supermarket. On the wall of his flat,
he had hung a pretty little batik landscape, a view of the trees from the
schoolhouse which he begged me to let him keep. He had always been my greatest fan and had honestly loved my
work. He had absolutely nothing left
to show for our little enterprise together and I was happy to leave the piece
So I settled back into a slightly
uneasy routine at the Schoolhouse. We
got up before seven every morning and Catherine jumped into her Subaru to drive
the thirty miles down the mountain to Lewisburg. Her job there turned out to be pretty interesting work for
her. She spent a lot of her time
visiting local schools to counsel teenagers with problems of various
kinds. I knew that she'd be very good
at that, for not so very long ago she'd been a teenager herself and I knew her
to be intelligent, compassionate and understanding. Our relationship had really solidified after our travels for we
had spent the past year glued together at the hip. We had not only survived the experience under all kinds of
different conditions but had thrived mightily upon it. We were madly in love, were each other's
greatest fan and counted our blessings daily.
As Catherine found herself
increasingly busy with an involving and challenging project, I turned back to
my batik. I started a large, very
complex "Temple Elephants" piece that turned out to have a whole
history of its own. I also drew two
spring blossom pieces inspired by our stay in Bath County at Mary and Dick's. I felt immediately more centered to be
batiking again and I had lots of new ideas.
My head was bursting with images from our adventures in India and I was
anxious to make some new batiks before the intense clarity became blurred.
Our social life was always pretty
good on Lobelia Road. We had plenty of
friends like Phil and Bernadette living nearby. Carol, my ex., was still living just down the road at Stuckey's
hideous hunting lodge and Kristin and the Gesundheit gang came by often. Evie came regularly to talk about her life
there and we talked playfully of publishing a Gesundheit Smut newsletter
together. I made a new friend, Joe the
Long Islander, who had recently dropped out to live in Hillsboro with his
family. He made the most beautiful
electric guitars that I had ever seen.
He was a true artist and a master craftsman, a perfectionist who had
sold his work to Keith Richard and to Jim Hall. Joe laboured even longer over the tiny handcrafted details of
his guitars than I laboured over the waxy details of my batiks.
It grew slowly warmer which was nice
and life grew easier and more comfortable in the drafty, uninsulated
schoolhouse. Our friends, Elliot and
Carol and their family still had a house in Lewisburg and we could hang out in
town too if we wanted. We had access
to satellite television at Phil's although it was mostly a case of 200 channels
and nothing to watch. Washington DC
and the Gesundheit house in Arlington were always accessible to us. We would make quick trips up there to go to
the latest shows at the Museums and became very close to Patch and Lynda, Pammy
and Gareth. We both felt very
At the beginning of June, one night
at four in the morning, Philip called from London to tell me that Maurice had
just died, two months to the day that we had last seen him at Lion's
Green. He had apparently died
peacefully, Patty by his side, at home at the Toll.
I wrote to Patty and told her how
sorry I was. I was pleased that I had
been able to give her some rather nice photos that I had taken of them both on
one of my visits. She replied and sent
me a copy of the Eulogy given at his funeral by a fellow academic friend. I realized that Maurice had been very well
liked in his world, which was one that I hardly knew at all. He had seized the opportunities that had
come his way and had had a mostly happy and satisfying life doing pretty much
what he had wanted to do. I'm trying
to do the same thing and hope that I have as much luck as he had.
Patty and I stayed in touch over the
next year or so but she clearly wasn't very well and continued to be terribly
sad and depressed over Maurice's death.
During the next trip that we made to Asia, Kate wrote to say that Patty
had died, having survived her husband by only eighteen months. I've always thought that she died of a
Meanwhile I was struggling with
health myself, my lower back pain virtually incapacitated me at times. It was the result of some degenerative
arthritis and too many hard beds and too many bags to haul around the year
before. So I finally went for tests
and to see a variety of doctors without much relief. I realized that with age came little inconveniences and that my
health was very precious to me.
Eventually I started to visit Bob the Chiropractor who lived way down
South of Union and who ran a Health Clinic down there. Bob was a little older than I and was
perfectly content to trade services for batik. He made slow adjustments to my back, which continue to help
me. Over time, he and his wife became
good friends of mine. In return for
services rendered, I made him a nice study of his old barn and a rather special
batik called "Looking for Crayfish in the River". It portrayed Bob's two youngest children
knee-deep in the nearby creek against a lush midsummer countryside. The piece managed to avoid the
sentimentality of the great Norman Rockwell tradition and was full of colour
and light. Slowly my back felt better
and at the same time I started to come out of the slump that I had fallen into
after we got back.
I produced a "Small World"
Paradise Club at the Studio in Lewisburg.
We showed our Indian slides and talked about our trip and then danced to
World Beat music provided by DJ Jonathan.
The Chanterelle mushrooms appeared above ground in late July and we ate
them until we were finally sick of them.
My new series of batiks was going well and I had three or four new
pieces completed. But I wasn't happy
with the first version of "Temple Elephants", the dye colours were
too pale and I set to work on another version. It was a labour of Hercules and took me weeks to complete a
second time. I was also working on a
portrait of my brother and myself, standing together on the beach in Rye. It somehow defeated me every time that I
worked on it. Whatever I did, Phil and
I both looked like corpses painted by Francis Bacon. We celebrated Catherine's birthday, her twenty forth, in
Arlington where we threw a joint dance party for her and Lynda.
The only real excitement in my life
came when I had to drive an agonized Phil down the mountains from Lobelia Road
at breakneck speed one morning. I
took him to the hospital in Lewisburg to be treated for a kidney stone and we
both survived the trip. Catherine's
boss at work was dismissed after about six months and she was promoted to his
After renting the schoolhouse for
three years, with Fall upon us and the memory of the freezing air rushing
through the cracks in the walls, we decided to move to a new house. I suppose that we wanted running water and
a little more space. We had a look at
Betsy and Andy's old house along Lobelia Road and decided to rent it. At the start of November, we moved into a
It was another funky West Virginian
farmhouse, set back from Lobelia Road against a little hill. Behind it there were trees and a
pond. There was a fantastic variety of
wildlife in the pond at different times of the year and frogs galore whose
nightly chorus became very familiar to us.
I saw beavers there too and Canadian geese touched down there
regularly. The house was much larger
than the schoolhouse and had a real bathroom.
There was a big living room and a nice bedroom upstairs. We painted the house throughout, I turned
the back room downstairs into my studio and chased the spiders out of the
bathtub. We moved into our new home on
Guy Fawkes Day, November 5th, just as we started to feel the first chill of
Winter. Our life moved on, as did our
rent, which jumped from $50 to $100 a month.
One of the reasons that we had returned to West Virginia was because it
was still about the cheapest place in all America to live.
At the same time as we moved house,
Catherine took over her supervisor's job and found herself in charge of six
people and of a whole children's program.
She had to work even longer hours.
Although her work was often very stressful and she loathed the excessive
paperwork, she loved what she was doing.
Unfortunately her Agency had serious financial problems and was often
late in paying her salary. This
didn't inspire great confidence or loyalty from its employees.
I went into a flurry of activity too
and started to jump around in all directions.
I founded an Arts Group for local artists, not that there were very many
of us, with the idea of building an artists' support group. I was tired of feeling isolated and alone
out there in the Wilderness. I wanted
to be able to discuss my work with somebody else who understood that
feeling. But it didn't seem to work
out like that and all we generally seemed to talk about was money, how to make
it or how to keep it. That hadn't been
my idea at all when I started the meetings.
But we got together a few times, showed slides or work in progress,
drank some beers and then started to bitch about money again.
Catherine was a member of a local
Women's group, which met once a month to discuss set books, and to talk about
how what they read impacted on their lives.
It seemed pretty interesting and useful to me. So I put the word out that we local men might start to meet
regularly to discuss manly issues. I
went to half a dozen of the resultant meetings before dropping out of those
also. This was the age of the gentle,
sensitive and confused male and as far as I was concerned all we seemed to do
was talk about how sensitive, gentle and feminine we were. Of course, I'm as gentle and sensitive as
the next man but when I found myself listening to a heated discussion about who
cried the most, I knew that this wasn't for me. Some of these guys seemed to be able to cry at what they read
in the newspaper every morning. Like
some latter-day New Age Spinal Tap rock band, the group went on to labour over
and finally erect a circle of large leaning rocks for their meetings. I was happy to have dropped out.
All of which left me pretty much
back where I started, a lone batik artist working away in a vacuum, miles from
anywhere. Fortunately I had a lot of
ideas and threw myself back into my batik. After weeks of work, I completed a second "Temple
Elephants" batik, which came out beautifully. So beautifully in fact, that Eva from Gesundheit decided that
her wealthy mother would want to buy the piece and that we should send it to
her in Florida. Her mother had
admired my work when I had shown it to her in Florida a couple of years before
and Eva was sure that this would be the piece for her. So I wrapped it up and mailed the unframed
batik to her in Orlando. I heard
nothing more about the matter for a month.
Then word came back through Eva that her mother had indeed loved the
piece but that her new husband, who controlled the money, had nixed the
deal. The batik was being
returned. I was disappointed but
these things happened. All I wanted
was to get my batik back. A week
later, I went round to the Gesundheit Institute to visit and found the whole
house in a state of complete chaos and upheaval. That was nothing unusual, for Eva lead a notoriously untidy
life. But it transpired that the house
was in a state of emergency while a hunt went on for my batik. It had arrived in a large envelope from
Eva's mother one day and had somehow vanished into the litter of Gesundheit
life. The batik painting had almost
certainly been thrown out with old newspapers and inadvertently burnt by
I must say that I took it very well
considering the months that I had worked over my "Temple
Elephants". I refused all offers
of compensation, taking my revenge subtly by pleasantly and sincerely
suggesting that perhaps Eva should keep her life a bit more in order in
future. Probably I should have taken
the money she offered me but it was really a shame that I was being continually
frustrated in my attempts to get my newer work onto the market. Meanwhile I've got a slide of my batik,
which I can reproduce here, but I would rather have had the real thing. Oh well, wax to cloth, dust to dust, ashes
to ashes.... In the end, what did it really matter?
I let off some creative steam on our
continued trips to Washington DC where I helped Gareth with his personal
computer-produced 'zine, "Going Ga Ga". He was putting out an issue entitled "Manifestos". I came up with the silly little idea of
making a small book consisting of slogans or statements from many different
manifestos and then cutting the book into horizontal sections just like those
children's books which allow you to fit an elephant's head to a giraffe's body
and then give it a fish's tail. In
this case, one could match a chunk of Marxism to some Situationist statement
together with some gem of Post-Modernist wisdom. We called the whole book "A Child's Guide to
DeMechanifestoism". It was a fun
collaboration and Gareth and I planned further joint efforts. We took Joe the guitar maker up with us on
one visit in search of a culture fix and saw a wonderfully harrowing exhibition
of Francis Bacon's painting shortly following the artist's death.
I decided to go back into therapy
and after a couple of false starts, began to see a woman called Sherry in
Ronceverte every week. She was reputed
to be an expert on the dynamics of Dysfunctional Families. With her encouragement, I tried to get into
closer touch with my feelings about my childhood and about my father and mother. Getting in touch with the child within was
the constant theme of my sessions but I think that Sherry got more out of the
batiks I traded with her for services than I did in our rather laboured weekly
dialogues. It always seemed so much
easier to understand why my father was so unkind to me as a child and to
forgive him his shortcomings than to feel angry with him for his continual
abuse when I was a child. Within six
months, I had made Sherry a nice little lily flower study and a large rather
complex painting depicting children, (the children within?) playing under a
large oak tree (the Tree of Life?).
The latter was as near to the painting of fairies and elves that she had
requested that I could bring myself to do.
In the end, I concluded that actually I was pretty happy with myself and
my life, a lot happier than I had been five, ten or twenty years before. I was in a wonderful relationship, living
from my art, doing what I wanted to do and continuing to find life an
extraordinary adventure. But why was
I never totally content and did it really matter? Perhaps I'd start to atrophy if I ever felt that pleased with
On December 6th, we received news
that put all thoughts of whether I was well adjusted or as happy as I ought to
be right out of my head. Catherine's
father Dick called to say that they had just learned that Mary had breast
cancer. It was shocking news and we
took off for Bath County immediately to be with Catherine's mother. That first night that the family came
together to share in Mary's tragedy was actually both a tremendously uplifting
and strengthening experience. I
believe that we all felt a lot better for it.
Showing great courage in what must have been a terrifying situation,
Mary was able to face the situation squarely and to talk about it freely. The emergency definitely served to bring
Dick and she closer together. From
that point on, they were noticeably tighter and more loving to one
another. Mary went onto undergo
chemotherapy and radiation therapy following surgery. It aged her very suddenly, I saw, but over three years later,
the cancer has not returned. Mary
continues to work incredibly hard as a dedicated teacher and continues to be
healthy and happy.
Christmas was spent with the family
in Millboro. I cooked a traditional
Christmas pudding, made a series of linocuts for gifts and finished a portrait
of Catherine just in time to give it to Mary and Dick on Christmas Day morning. As usual, I personally had a hard time
over Christmas but managed to keep it to myself that year. My Indian diary told me to "Hold fast
my soul, hold fast and all is well".
We spent the last day of the
Eighties at home on Lobelia Road, had a visit from Patch and Lynda and then
watched "Star Trek 5" at Joe's house in Hillsboro. We managed to stay up until three in the
morning before crashing on the floor in his children's room. Everybody was feeling optimistic about the
approaching new decade but then everybody probably always feels that way.
The New Year started with a lot of
snow that lasted for weeks. Although I
found it beautiful to look at, it made life a lot more complicated. Extra wood had to be collected and cut, for
the new house could get pretty cool.
Our cars spun off the icy roads, went into ditches and had to be towed
out. Communications were just that
little bit harder. I pushed on with a
couple of big new Japanese-inspired pieces and contacted a new gallery in
Frederick, Maryland, which wanted my work for a show. I found myself dividing my time between Lobelia Road, Elliot's
house in Lewisburg which was always a safe haven and where we watched a lot of
bad video movies that year and Joe's house in Hillsboro. Joe was going through a hard time that
year, his work had slowed to a crawl and he had health problems. He and I could commune as the only two
professional artists on the block.
Catherine and I started to spend a
little more time at the Rosewood Cafe, the most interesting place to hang out
in Hillsboro. Two local women,
probably the only two lesbians in the county and good friends of ours, took
over the old local store. They turned
it into a large restaurant with a great atmosphere. The shelves of the shop were full of antiques and old
memorabilia of different kinds and the Rosewood had the widest menu I had ever
seen. It featured traditional meat and
potato dishes, Chinese food, Mexican food, vegetarian cuisine and hamburgers as
well as a huge choice of exotic desserts.
Everything was incredibly cheap and all they seemed to lack was a Sushi
bar though only because that might not have gone down so well in
Hillsboro. Of course service wasn't
always very quick there. On the first
day the restaurant opened, a group of us actually waited two and half-hours for
a meal, which must be some kind of, record.
But they'd speeded up a bit since then, featured live folk and country
music and one was always sure to run into someone that one knew there. It was one of the few places in the county
where locals and hippies could occupy the same space comfortably.
When we were invited to put on a
night of Indian food and music and to show our travel slides there, we jumped
at the chance. Our India Night was a
lot of fun, Catherine and I cooked and served a big Thali meal for about sixty
diners and then showed our slides on a screen at one end of the
restaurant. I was surprised how many
locals showed up and showed interest in the world that existed beyond
About this time, I was sad to see
Kristin, my old girlfriend and great confidant, leave the area to move to the
island of Maui where she had decided to start a new life. Kristin had been involved in the
Gesundheit project from the beginning and had abandoned her own family
community project to go to live on the land where the proposed hospital was to
be built. She had always been one of
the central movers and shakers in the Gesundheit community. But recently, she had started to have
problems there. Perhaps her own
personal issues, swept under the mat for years, were beginning to surface and
to come between her and other Gesundheit members and visitors. The issue of her behaviour had come to a
head while we were in India. She had
been asked to leave the Community for awhile, to get her head straight and her
life in order. It had been a
tremendous shock and trauma for her for she was now in her mid-fifties and had
put a lot of time and energy into the project. But it was probably a good thing for everyone concerned that she
move on. Friends of hers had bought
land in the Hawaiian Islands, were starting a small community around a farming
project and she decided to join them.
Going to live in Maui sounded pretty good to me. I would miss her a lot. But we stayed in close contact with her and
would see her again before too long.
By early Spring that year, my own
mental malaise had returned in spite of my hard work and efforts to stir up
some local action and sense of community purpose. I had painted quite a collection of new batiks but wasn't sure
why I was doing it anymore. I felt
that I had lost or forgotten my purpose and direction. Catherine was deeply involved in her work
with children and although she had some deep reservations about her work, she
was obviously learning a tremendous amount.
I felt that I had run out of challenges and had reached another dead
end. I couldn't see beyond the cul de
sac that life in rural West Virginia had become for me.
April 8th was a date I'll never
forget. Our world turned upside down
suddenly and my life would never be the same again. Catherine and I had spent a quiet weekend with her parents in
Bath County and were driving back home on a Sunday morning. Catherine had some vacation days due and we
had decided to drive down to Miami.
We planned to stay with Kay for a week and were going to leave in two
days. Catherine was driving the Subaru
across the bridge on the outskirts of the village of Huntersville when a large
Chevrolet hit us head-on at high speed.
Entering the main road from a Y junction to our right, the driver had
run through the Stop sign. Catherine
was prevented from seeing him coming by the sides of the bridge that also gave
her no space to turn out of the way of the oncoming car. Two cars hitting each other at fifty miles
an hour come together with tremendous force and I was knocked out for a minute
or two. I have a vague image of the
crash in my memory banks, an image of the car suddenly being right there in
front of us and of a painless impact.
Catherine and I were both wearing seat belts or we would probably have
been killed. As it was, Catherine
broke her nose on the steering wheel and suffered severe whiplash in her
back. Where the seat belt crossed my
body diagonally, I broke my right shoulder bone, cracked my sternum and broke a
rib. Worst of all, I had apparently
put my left hand up on the dashboard in front to brace myself and my left wrist
was badly shattered. White bone jutted
out vertically through the torn skin.
We learned later that the passenger in the front seat of the other car,
the father of the driver, had died in the accident. He had not been wearing a seat belt. Totally disorientated and in deep shock, sitting squashed in our
car which had somehow been pushed in like a concertina against my knees, I
remember mumbling to Catherine that probably we wouldn't be able to go to
Florida. A crowd swiftly gathered
around us, the police and an ambulance were called and soon arrived on the
scene. Catherine, who was in better
shape than I, managed to ask an onlooker to call her parents and our neighbour
Phil. I had to let go of the situation
completely and to trust that all was being done that could be done. They had to take the car door off on my
side to get me out of the car. I was
eventually loaded into an ambulance and whisked off to Marlinton Hospital for
examination. My beloved leather jacket
was cut off me, to my chagrin, as was my favourite shirt. Phil showed up promptly and the local
doctor determined that I needed more help than they would be able to give me in
Marlinton. My memories are bit vague
at this point but I remember getting a shot of something to kill the pain that
I still hadn't begun to feel. I
remember fading in and out of a long bumpy ride in the ambulance up to
Charlottesville where I was quickly admitted to UVA Hospital. As I was wheeled around for tests and
examination, I caught a glimpse of a bloody Catherine in an adjoining room,
which was very comforting. I also saw
Mary and Dick who had come to the rescue immediately. As I was examined by a young doctor who attempted to put my
broken wrist bones back together, Mary came and held my hand and I realized
from her reaction that I was in pretty bad shape. I was on painkillers in hospital for five or six days but the
time passed in a complete daze. My
wrist was operated on and set in a cast.
I remember that I had a lot of visitors but still hadn't really begun to
assimilate what had happened or what it would mean to us. Later I saw that the accident would shake
us out of our West Virginia rut and affect our lives for a long time to come.
We spent a mostly horizontal week at
the Barnes' house recovering from the accident, sleeping, reading and watching
a lot of video movies. Then we
returned to Lobelia Road. I had to
wear a truss for my broken collarbone and it seems to me that I stayed on my
back most of the time. I felt terribly
weak and my whole body ached interminably.
I had another medical examination in Charlottesville at the end of April
when the doctors decided that my wrist was not setting correctly. So I went back into hospital for another
operation which for some reason was much more painful than the last. I had my wrist rebroken and reset and
emerged with a new cast on my arm.
Fortunately, our car insurance had been pretty comprehensive and our
company was picking up all these bills.
If I had suffered the same injuries at home, from falling off a ladder
whilst cleaning windows, we would have been in debt for the next thirty years,
such was the size of our bills for medical treatment.
But within a month, Catherine was
back at work, I was off Demerol and the pain had ceased. I remember that I was terribly thin and
weak but I had had time to assimilate the experience. I knew that my top priority had to be to get my strength and the
use of my left hand back as soon as possible. We had to get a new car too.
We had my old Subaru of course but that had to be treated with a lot of
care these days. Janice, a good
friend of ours, came to the rescue and offered us a car in exchange for a
batik. She had been my T'ai Chi
teacher during my last period of self-help and improvement and had always been
a great fan of my work. She had a '65
American Rambler with less than 50,000 miles on the odometer which was in
really good condition. She offered to
give it to us in exchange for a batik painting of the view from one of the
windows of her house near Alderson. It
was a pretty good deal and soon we found ourselves with a small but well-made
classic US car. As an added
attraction, the Rambler had a small metal sculpture of a nodding bird perched
on the front which gave it a really unique, not to mention, comical,
appearance. Actually, although we
loved the car, we had to make small repairs to it continually. As soon as one little thing was fixed,
another problem would materialize.
Catherine fitted it out with a good stereo and used it for her work when
she had to cover a lot of miles.
On her birthday, May 24th, my
mother called to say that my father's will had finally be read and that each of
us had inherited about $30,000. I
could hardly believe the news at first and had to be convinced that a mistake
hadn't been made. Within two months,
our life had changed completely and was rising rapidly from the depths to the
heights. That same day, I drove the
Subaru for the first time since the accident.
My heavy arm cast came off in mid-June and the pin holding my wrist
bones in place was taken out. I was
left with a large metal plate, permanently in my wrist, to hold the bones in
place. My doctors at UVA Hospital told
me that I would never have more than limited use of my left hand. Certainly the hand seemed atrophied and had
actually shrunk in size. All my
fingers were stiff so that I couldn't close that hand or use it for very
much. I also had a stiff and sore right
shoulder and a permanent sharp pain in the center of my chest.
Determined to prove the doctors wrong and to take advantage of
the treatment that our insurance company would pay for during the next two
years, I started to drive to LowMoor Hospital in Clifton Forge, Virginia for
physical therapy two or three times a week.
It was slow going and often painful and seemed to take up much of my
life. But I was determined to get the
use of my hand back. I worked with a
therapist, Bob the misanthropist I called him, for he really didn't seem to
like people very much. But he massaged
my hand for hours, helped me to start to bend the fingers again and put me on a
computerized machine which helped me move and strengthen my wrist. I continued with these visits until the
start of November and made a lot of progress.
I logged on a lot of driving
mileage that Summer and Fall. Bob the
Chiropractor was a great help too and I went to him for work on my broken chest
and shoulder bones.
By mid-July, three months after the
accident, I was functioning pretty well again though my energy wasn't as good
as before. I had to be careful and
cautious with my body. I put a big new
Japanese-style batik in a show in Pittsburgh and was back to work on a new
series of batiks. One of them, which I
liked a lot, was a portrait of Catherine and her mother sitting by the river in
Goshen Pass. The composition was
reminiscent of a Monet painting and it was difficult to tell the two women
apart. Gareth came down to visit us
from Washington and we put together the next issue of Going Gaga, an audiotape
edition this time called "The Poison is in the Dosage". This time it dealt primarily with peoples'
drug experiences. I recorded a silly story
about life as a student in Edinburgh called "God is a Scotsman" and a
long, quite beautiful reading from T.S.Elliot's "The Wasteland" which
my friend Elliot contributed music to.
We mastered the tape on Elliot's equipment in Lewisburg and were
moderately satisfied with the results.
The principal excitement that July
was caused by the big black snake that somehow got into the house and made a
nest in the insulation under our bathtub. Country life was pretty slow.
In August, things got a little
busier. Simma and I managed to realize
a dream that we had had for years. I
drove up to Dulles Airport to pick up Zeb, my godchild, who was to spend two
weeks with us. We had a great time
together, he was a very mellow and together nine-year-old and I really enjoyed
every minute of his company. We ended
up having to do a tremendous amount of driving together that summer. We drove to Morgantown where Catherine was
attending a conference and then back to Washington DC, when brother Phil and
his new wife, Diana suddenly showed up to visit us at the start of a tour of
America. Phil and I didn't have a very
good visit together, I'm really sorry to say.
I was busy with Zeb and hospital visits and Phil and Diana were in a
strange new environment, far away from their world of Hackney. Our respective lifestyles were very
different. After a week they took off
to see New Orleans and we didn't see them again on that trip.
That summer, we took up canoeing
which was great exercise for my wrist and made trips down the Greenbrier River,
which I loved. I saw neurologists for
my hand, which was responding very slowly and hung in with all my different
therapies. I pushed on with my new
batiks too and finished a big and complex piece of a boatman rowing on the
Ganges in Varanasi.
That fall, I taught two eight week
Batik courses locally, one at Carnegie Hall (the Other Carnegie Hall) in
Lewisburg and, concurrently, another for the Pocahontas Arts and Humanities
Committee in Hillsboro. Both courses
went extremely well, were a lot of fun for everybody and were a good experience
My faithful friend Nic from Oxford
and Boston came to visit us and I felt sad when he left, as if a part of myself
and my past went with him. Perhaps I
felt that I hadn't yet been able to create a strong enough present life to be
able to really move on from my past.
At the same time, I recognized that I wasn't really content to dwell on
the past or accept my present life. I
knew that I had to make a move.
October found us planning another
long trip abroad. Catherine tied up a
lot of loose ends at work and found her own successor at Seneca Mental
Health. I hurried to finish my last
four Indian series batiks, a view across the Ganges, a Kovalum fishing boat
scene, a Katmandu rooftops piece and another Tiger Lily study.
And then Catherine, who had been
feeling nauseous for a few days, suddenly realized that she was pregnant. It was a terribly difficult time for us,
neither of us felt happy about the prospect of aborting a baby and yet we were
at the point of taking off on a long trip.
A child didn't fit into any of our plans at the time. As if to compound the problem, I got a call
from Jennifer, a woman I knew slightly from California with whom I'd been
corresponding for years. She said
that she'd like to come to visit us before we left. I figured that we could just about fit her in. We ended up taking her with us when I drove
Catherine over to Charlottesville late in October to go to the Clinic, there to
have the pregnancy terminated.
Everything went well and Catherine came out of it feeling fine. But we were both terribly sad for a
time. Jennifer caused me more
problems when, at the last minute, she asked me if we were sure that we wanted
an abortion. Had we really thought
about it and maybe we should reconsider our decision? I realized that I didn't know her very well. I felt a lot of sympathy for her when she
told me that she had had an abortion years before and would never be able to
have children as a result of it. But I
only needed to have help and support around me at that moment. I told her to keep quiet or to take
off. Just then, I resented her
attitude totally. It was a very
painful time for both of us and I was angry that Jennifer would think that this
was something that we hadn't thought and talked about a great deal. So I never told Catherine what Jennifer
had said. I was happy when she left a
few days later after hanging around Lobelia for a few days in an obviously lost
and confused state. We were packing up
the house in a hurry and gearing up to leave the country. We couldn't take anything or anybody else
on right then.
I spent a very long day going from
Hillsboro to Pittsburgh to pick up a batik and then dropped it off in Maryland
at another gallery before getting back home late on the same day. I drove nine hundred miles, got a speeding
ticket that I swear I didnít deserve and ate too much junk food en route. Catherine and I celebrated three wonderful
years together the following day and even Carol, my ex-, showed up in that last
week on Lobelia. Phil helped us move
all our possessions down to Catherine's Uncle Jon's barn near Union. We were suddenly homeless and in transit
once more, a state I'm fond of and quite comfortable with. We still had to make a trip over to
Charleston where Catherine was speaking at a Social Work Conference and where
we checked into the Marriott Hotel for three last days in West Virginia. Patch was also at the Conference as a
keynote speaker so we got to hang out with him awhile. Catherine gave her presentation and was
great (though I fell asleep during that session, I'm ashamed to say). I got to take a lot of saunas and eat
pretty well too.
On November 2nd, I went to a final
session of Physical Therapy at LowMoor Hospital when my wrist was tested and
judged to have only 30% of the strength that my right wrist had. With our backpacks packed and ready, we
went up to Arlington with Dick and Mary and spent a couple of days there, going
round the Museums and galleries with them.
At 6.45am on November 5th, on good
old Guy Fawkes Day, we were in the air once more and our plane touched down at
Heathrow Airport, London that evening.
Our next adventure was about to begin.