Follow Me-2 (Part 2 of a 2 part piece)

If you’re just joining us you may want to read part 1 first then come back.

Both my parents grew up on farms—and farm work was righteous work. Any other form of employment was OK (as long as it was honest) but was almost certainly, in some ambiguous, amorphous way, morally inferior—farm work was the mother of all other forms of earning a living. My dad especially, spent all of his personal, creative energy, virtually all of his adult life (so far as I could see) trying to re-capture the magic and spiritual clarity of turn-of-the century farm machinery by building working models of things like steam-tractors and other farm-implements.

In summary—my parents and the Rouses—got together two or three times a month—to affirm each other’s biases, cynical appraisals, judgments and I’m-a-victim-it-ain’t-fair perspectives. The unspoken consensus was no matter how irrational and simplistic the belief is—so long as it’s concrete, ostensibly practical and working-class-“common-sense” self-congratulatory in nature. Any sort of competing view, any suggestion you might be wrong, any sort of abstraction or self-examination was heresy, contemptible and lower than excrement.

I don’t know when my folks and the Rouses went their separate ways and stopped getting together to sit in a room and talk but it just happened. They seemed to be such good friends who really enjoyed each other’s company—it’s one of those things like self-awareness trying to understand itself–that don’t seem to quite make sense but there it is.

I think I was out of high school and in the Army—home on leave—when I one day asked my mom why she and Gwen were no longer friends. Mom said something about being in the hospital and Gwen didn’t come to see her—that’s all I can remember. I don’t think I ever said anything to my dad about it. That would have been asking him to discuss something personal that may have involved feelings—an impossibility for him. You might as well have asked him to lay an egg.

Max died—I think I was in undergraduate school—sometime in the ‘70s. He and my dad hadn’t spent any time together probably in decades. I went to the memorial service—a Salvation Army affair in some dingy, smelly hall on a grubby street in a grubby part of town. The minister who officiated got Max’s name wrong and it was obvious from notes he read off a card he had never even met him.

Gwen died less than a year later—I don’t remember anything about that.

Sometime in the early nineties I was back home visiting my sister and ran into Douglas. It was obvious he was mentally ill. He had recently been released from an institution and kept talking about a plan he had to save those whose souls were suffering and a journey he wanted to lead loyal followers on (as soon as he could find some). He wanted to “claim the shining birthright of those who were yet to be conceived.” He would relate his ideas and aspirations at some length then stop every so often—seemingly to catch his breath—then mutter repetitively, “Follow me—follow me.”

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