Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Jimmy West's Hands: Johnson City 1969

Jimmy West was the only guy I knew in both Jonesborough and Johnson City. (We didn't really live IN Johnson City, but outside of town in a small development off Antioch Road, among the walnut trees and the tobacco farms.) He was a country boy, Tennessee style. And what I recall is a time in, I think, 6th Grade, when he had come to the county school--Cherokee Elementary--and he knew me so we hung out a bit, and I noticed his hands. His hands were--and this is a 12 or 13 year old boy--they were are gnarled and dry and full of deep creases. And I asked him about them and he confessed that the skin hurt but he didn't know what to do about it. I said, simply and quickly, put some lotion on them. He looked at me. He said that was what a girl would do. I looked at him, shrugged, saying So What and Who Cares. And he seemed to appreciate that wordless response.
Even in the small world of 6th Grade, I only saw Jimmy in the school now and then. I don't think he was in my classroom. But later I sat at lunch with him and he showed me his hands. They were no longer gnarled. They were smooth and looked like regular, comfortable hands. He told me he'd used lotion. I was glad for him.
But what this says to me is how people will harm themselves sometimes, or will follow ides or norm to their detriment, unless someone else says, C'mon, who cares. I was never a kid with a whole lot of insight, at least the practical kind, but I'm glad Jimmy realized that you don't have to give in to what other people think.
Now that I think of it, Jimmy and I had a certain intimacy because in Jonesborough he had contracted Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. H had squeezed a tick off his dog and contracted it. He was out of school for months and--I don't know why or how--he called me on the phone a few times. I talked to him, talked for maybe an hour or less at a time, and this seemed to be meaningful to him. I can't say that's what I thought at the time, that Jimmy needed some other kid to talk to, but it's what I think now. And I guess I see the hand lotion thing in the same vein. And I think I took pleasure in being nice, or in being helpful in some fashion.

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