I’m Introducing my first guest blogger, Cooter Rasputin. Local and national media usually only give voice to artists who are NOT working-class or rural to sit around talking about Appalachians who ARE working-class and/or rural. We have few places to speak, while other people make money telling our stories.
To working-class and/or rural Appalachian artists: I don’t have a radio station or gallery or the money publish books. (I wish) I don’t have a quilt you can sit in front of in a rocking chair at some academic conference where birds not of our feathers both demean and romanticize our songs, but I DO have a place where you can talk about who you are, even though it’s just a modest little corner of the Internet nobody gives a shit about: my (free) blog. (where I do voice texting and minimal editing due to neck injury. HA! Top notch. I know)
Now, my guest blogger, my old college buddy, photographer and writer, Cooter Rasputin.
#OurStories #GetYourOwn #SitDown #ListenHere
Signed, Andrea Fekete
It’s Like a Sore Pecker: Granny’s Teeth
Something that just crossed my mind is how my grandma would break out some funny Appalachian-granny sayings occasionally. . . some I've forgotten and some I recall. There are a few reasons this crossed my mind, but mostly. . . I guess it's because I'm killing time before a final that I gave up caring about studying for and I was holding her dentures in my hand this morning while going through some of my stuff in my home office (which, I guess, I'll tell you about in a minute now that I've brought it up).
But before that, I should mention -- I was in a movie my friend made once. . . and, because he didn't care enough to rein us in like some cruel dictatorial director, we were allowed to rewrite our lines a little just to make them flow easier with our own natural cadence. For fun, I threw in a line about a saying that could have, but didn't come from her. . . .
"Like grandma always said, 'it's like a sore pecker, you just can't beat it'."
That line made the final cut and, after the film debuted, my friend told me, "yeah, that was the first line in the film where people would start walking out. You could tell who was in it for the long haul by whether or not they stayed after you came on screen.”
I'd like to imagine that's because my stage presence and my raw talent was just overwhelming to them, but I would accept the fact that it could be something a little more harmful to my ego. . . . Either way, even if she never said that, I'm glad I could somehow carve another facet onto the story of her life. She was an amazing lady and, really, she had a great sense of humor even if she didn't make a lot of dick jokes in her spare time.
A good example would be this one time she was on an extended visit with us at our old house out on the West End. I was maybe 3 or 4 years old. . . old enough to be able to talk and see and hear things that I didn't understand and then repeat them (which is how I ended up alienating an elderly lesbian couple next door to us -- which is another story altogether). I figure I'd watched Dynasty or some soap opera and the question of inheritance came up because I remember there was a long stretch where, any time a friend or family member had something that seemed cool to me, I would ask them if I could have it when they died.
Dad was sitting at the kitchen table using his old Buck knife to cut a cardboard box into smaller pieces for the garbage can: "Dad, can I have that knife when you die?"
Mom using a pretty comb to straighten her hair before we left to walk to Midway to get a hotdog: "Mom, can I have that when you die?"
"Yes, you can."
Anyone who was around me believed it to be some passing fascination and, for the most part, it was. I'm sentimental and cherish the relics that've been left for me now, but I've mostly stopped asking if I could have someone's belt buckle because it had a cool looking animal head on it. One thing I asked for, though, still stands out in my memories.
Grandma was in the bathroom and our house was small enough we just had the one available. The door was open and she was standing at the sink brushing her teeth. I had to go pee, but I was fascinated by how she could brush her teeth by taking them all the way out of her head.
"You need to use the bathroom, P?" she asked me, using my middle initial like she always did. I think it's because she called her daughter Janice's husband "PW" and we both shared the same name.
I can't remember what I said to her or even if I walked into the bathroom to use the toilet at that point -- I can only remember staring at her face -- she was a short woman but seemed so tall to me then. Giving me a toothless smile, I felt comfortable enough to ask, "Grandma, can I have your teeth when you die?"
She laughed and said, "I'll give you my teeth when I die."
Satisfied that I had sorted that out, I'm sure I walked into the bathroom and probably pissed all over the toilet seat. . . . What can I say, I was 3 years old?
About 17 years later (which is such a short amount of time, really, but was literally a lifetime to me back then) she died. I had been at work because she said she would be fine and, at her age, little health scares were normal. I got the call that she was in the hospital and my dad was going to come pick me up from work so I could go see her -- it was "serious this time".
She died while I was on my way there.
I felt guilty that I hadn't been there and hadn't been in a position to tell her I loved her one more time. I felt guilty that I would never let her iron my work shirt when she asked me if I needed help (I didn't, but she could have probably done it faster, better, and it would have made her feel good to show her love for me by doing it).
I felt guilty for how I never fully allowed myself to relate to her as an adult woman with an intense and rich life story that stretched far beyond her role as "just" my grandmother. . . shit. . . she raised EIGHT KIDS basically on her own. It's wild to even think about the lifetimes she managed to live in her time on the planet.. . . heavy feelings are normal when these deaths occur, but I managed to get past a lot of the guilty feelings I had.
I loved my grandma and we were close. She and I talked often and she encouraged me in whatever I was trying to do. We watched about a thousand hours of Gameshow Network together. Once, we even watched a good portion of Pink Flamingos together after I ended up buying the first VHS copy I ever saw at our local mall (click the link for that story).
The last kind act I could do for her was to be her pallbearer and, as much as I hated feeling the weight of what was left of her leave my hands and sink into a grave, I was glad to be there for her however I could.
It was maybe a month later when we finally let the family members come into her room to take little things of hers that they wanted. Before anyone went in, my mom straightened it up a bit and, after, said to me, "your grandma wanted me to give you these." I turned away from whatever it was I was doing and looked up at my mom as she thrust a double handful of stuff to me.
One was the copy of the Bible my grandmother read from daily. She had fancy ones, but this was the one her son in law found in a car he was rebuilding and gave to her since it was much more portable than her others.
In her other hand she held a white plastic dome with little angel stickers on it. I didn't know what it was until I opened the lid and saw the slots that allowed denture cleanser to drain away when the inner portion is lifted out.
"Oh no shit. . . I can't believe she actually did it," I said, while I unwrapped the little fragment of silk surrounding them. Sitting in the palm of my hand was the pair of dentures she'd been cleaning way back around 1983 when I had asked to have them. I was blown away by her sense of humor and how thoughtful she was to fully commit to her joke for almost 20 years... I sat there with them for a second as I laughed and cried at the way my grandma found a way to smile at me from beyond the grave.
So what's the moral to this story aside from how I had an awesome grandma (and maybe how you should hug yours if you can)? If there is one, I suppose it would be to honor the commitments that matter. . . even if you make that commitment to a three year old -- when he's 20 years old he'll remember it and be so glad you did.
ARTIST BIO: Cooter makes photos, writes, and works in West Virginia. Some of his efforts, and links to his ongoing work, are available on his website: www.mostexalted.com