Tuesday 22 September 2020

Just a Little Closer to The Lord

Dang! Missed. Winston Groom dead and I never said thanks. I've been thinking about the rural micro-community in which we washed up 24 years ago; because I've been working shoulder-to-shoulder with them on the Blackstairs Farming Futures BFF project. Like when servicemen of different skin-tone face death and destruction together, they cut each other some slack afterwards and leave their pre-war prejudice behind [a bit anyway . . . maybe?]. Thus my neighbours no longer think I have hooves and tuck a pointy black protestant tail down me trews when I get dressed in the morning. Cuts both ways: these people are kind, competent and circumspect; and they are far better than me at pretty much anything that requires handling the material world. They think they are just ordinary folks, and that's true, but it doesn't mean that they aren't unique and uniquely interesting for their lived experience. Salt of the Earth is a tired cliché but it does the biz here. It's been in my mind to record the snap-shot of who's been living in rural Ireland as the 20thC became The Future.

40 years ago, The Beloved was given "Thanks Wiw!" an anthology of stories "WONDERS: writings and drawings for the child in us all" eds Jonathan Cott and Mary Gimbel. It's 635 pages long but we filleted out a few of the stories and read and re-read them aloud to/with The Boy as he was growing up. Twenty years later with the arrival of Dau.I and Dau.II, Wonders was dusted off and I read the same stories again and again. Indeed, the berluddy book burst its spine between pp266 & 267 because the previous story had been read so many times. That story is "Just a Little Closer To The Lord" by Winston Groom illustrated by Pat Oliphant the renowned political cartoonist.

JaLC2TL is set in Widgeville, Carolina where two parallel communities - one black, one white - have occupied the same space for 300 years. A mysterious traveller, called Walking Hand, washes up in their midst and stays, minding his own business and tolerated in an uneasy way by the people of Widgeville. He is "othered" much as in Ireland [and your gaff too] we other homeless people, travellers, refugees. Stuff happens and violence is about to be unleashed when someone opens the attaché case which has been Walking Hand's only piece of baggage. The case is full of pieces of tree-bark . . .

On each one was a portrait of a Widgeville family, in front of their own house.

"Oh, that's us!" someone said. "They're so real. They almost look like photographs."

And slowly, as each family looked at the painting of itself, a hush fell over the crowd, for each saw in his or her own face a deep and radiant beauty that they had never recognized was there before. The fact was, that the Widgeville people had always believed they were ugly - the whites because they were short and squat and different from people in other towns around them, and the blacks merely because they were black. But in the portraits they saw themselves for the first time as an outsider might see them. each face framed with the glow of hope and loveliness that bloomed from the paintings almost magically.

There's a resolution to that story [nobody dies!!] because Winston Groom was a consummate teller of tales; but you'll have to track down a copy of the book yourself.  Jonanthan Cott the editor was a well respected recorder of pop culture in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Mary Gimbel the other editor had the pulse of the New York arts-and-millionaires scene. Winston Groom wrote his contribution to Wonders, 6 years before he published Forrest Gump. And 16 years before the film that made him famous. That stuff I wrote about war helping colour-blindness in the first paragraph, was Groom's lived experience because he served [L] in Vietnam and what he saw set the compass of his subsequent life. As I say, he'd gone now: ave atque vale.

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