Bomb Shelter Loyalty

        Several folks wanted to know what the Bomb Shelter is like.  Others wanted some insight into the lifestyle of a country doc.  I decided to tell you an old Bomb Shelter story that might satisfy both requests.  Except for the fictional parts, it is a true story, but the names have been changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty.

        The Bomb Shelter, owned by Jack Barber, is a longstanding N.C. watering hole for bluegrass musicians.  It is an authentic 1950s prewar (cold war) bomb shelter converted to a bluegrass haunt when the standoff with the Russians wound down.  I can not divulge its whereabouts, as that is a highly guarded secret in the eastern N.C. bluegrass community. 
        The crowd is a tight circle of players, mostly good amateurs, with the occasional professional sitting in. Everyone knows everyone in the bluegrass world.  As one of my patients used to say,  “All you bluegrass boys is thick as thieves.”  John Hartford said bluegrass was the last American small town, where we were an extended family, and no one locked their doors.  Treachery is rare in our world.  Expensive instruments can be left out without fear of theft.  Oh, of course, there are times when someone will break the rules.  When it happens, an all out search is launched.  The national trade magazines, like BGU, (Bluegrass Unlimited) will run an ad until the piece is recovered, as they did years ago when a well-known banjo finally turned up in a Brooklyn pizza parlor.  The perpetrator is seldom criminally punished, but their fate is much worse than that, as they are permanently ostracized from the bluegrass music community, becoming as well known as a PGA pro that would try to make his living moving the ball in the rough when unobserved.    
        All that being said, though, newcomers are always welcome into the circle, as long as they understand bluegrass etiquette. 
        One night a new man showed up at the Bomb Shelter.  He played a decent flat pick guitar, and had a passable voice.  We were glad to get to know him, as you often needed a man to fill in, and I entered his data into my Wizard filed under music, guitar, and lead singing.  (The Wizard was the predecessor of the Palm Pilot.)  I was one of the first in town with one of these gizmos, and it came in quite handy.  Mine was filled with a quite wide variety of contacts, everything from bass players to neurosurgeons.  The session was going along great, and someone called for “Catfish John,” a standard made famous by the Country Gentlemen, and popularized in this area by a gentleman named Floyd Freeman, who had played in a number of bands, and toured with Monroe for a few years as one his countless Bluegrass Boys.
        Floyd was one of my favorite patients.  We first became acquainted one night in a bluegrass emergency.  He had a show booked, and his mandolin player had cancelled out on him.  Seems the boy wanted to stay home and watch rasslin’ on T.V. with his mama, and would not budge.  With only two hours till showtime, Floyd was desperate.  I was off duty and agreed to fill in. 
        Freeman was a powerful singer; we blended well, and cut the gig without incident.  The true emergency came up after the show.  Backstage, Floyd rolled up one of his pant legs for me to inspect.  He had an obvious D.V.T. (blood clot.) After an urgent admission and some heparin he was cured up, and much appreciative.
        After that I was his Doc for a number of years, and also did a few shows with him every year.  We became fast friends.
        He had several medical problems, but in fairness to him, I don’t feel is would be right to outline them on the net, so I will leave it simple.  One day when I was out of town he died unexpectedly.  When I found out, I went home and cried.  As it turned out, there wasn’t anything anyone could have done, but it still hurt, and hurt bad. 
        We all went to the funeral.  As always, these are sad events, but there was some levity when folks were called on to recall some of the humorous anecdotal road stories he had accumulated over the years.  A number of musicians were there, and several impromptu performances reminded us Floyd wouldn’t want us to linger in sadness too long.  The preacher commented that the Docs didn’t know exactly what was wrong, and I wanted to TESTIFY, but held my peace.  I figured the minister’s job was to try to comfort the family, not me, and of course didn’t say anything to the contrary. 
        Some Doc avoid funerals, because they can be volatile.  One went to a service for one of his patients, and was spotted by a young man who pointed at him and shouted out, “There’s the S.O.B. what killed my grandma!”
        Darrell was only nineteen at the time, but in the wisdom of a kid who hit the road as a teenager, he understood.  He came by the office the next day, and strummed through a few bars of Catfish John on my office Martin.  “You know Tommy, I knew Free real good.  I went on road trips with him when I was only fourteen, and we had a lot of time to talk.  I don’t really think he wanted to go on like things were getting.  He was too short of breath to sing anymore.  I believe he knew he was going to die before too long.  There warn’t nothing you coulda’ done about it, and you don’t need to go blaming yourself.  I am sure he ain’t blaming you from heaven.
        Darrell broke into another chorus of  Catfish John.  “Mama said, don’t go near that river…. No one did that one as good as Floyd Freeman, huh doc?”  Darrell always could call for the right tune.  I guess he was right about Floyd too, but it took a long time to get over his death.
        Getting back to the Bomb Shelter, when someone called for “Catfish John” that night the new man was in town, I’m sure you now understand how that would bring back significant reminiscence for all of us.  Jack Barber still owned Floyd’s old Herringbone guitar, and though it was several years after his death, Floyd Freeman’s memory was still fresh.  The new man had heard him sing somewhere along the way, and commented how much he liked his style. After a moment, he looked at me in a peculiar way, and paused to study my features.
        “Ain’t you a doctor?”  He asked me in the wary way people often do in the beginning. 
        “Yep.  Bibey.  Tom Bibey.  Pleased to meet ya’.”  I extended my hand to shake and howdy. 
        He took a longer look.  “Ain’t you the doctor that killed Floyd Freeman?”  Usually the Bomb Shelter rocked.  Now it was the quietest moment there we had ever experienced.
        I broke the silence.  “Sir, doctors can’t say much about cases due to confidentiality.  However, I can tell you with absolute certainty that I did not kill Mr. Freeman.  If you are not prepared to retract your statement, then we’ll have to go outside and settle this.”  I never had quite gotten over losing Floyd- he was a good’un. 
        I looked at the boy and immediately wondered what possessed me to issue such a challenge.  Usually, I let reason outvote a flash of anger.  He was at least twenty years younger than me, and the veins on his tree trunk neck were popping out like ropes.  
        At least I had the sense to choose good friends.  To my right was Moose Dooley.  He had some flecks of gray in his beard, and was twenty pounds over his rasslin’ weight, but he was still formidable.  Once we played a festival in Lillington, and we had dared him to enter a tough man contest over at the gym, where he had finished second.  We had ragged him unmercifully, until one night he proclaimed there were some guys around tougher than him, but none were in the room.  He seemed to have lost his humor regarding the subject, and I noticed no one ever brought it up again.
        Stroker, our flatpick man, was lean and quiet.  Sometimes he’d go three days without eating, a habit he acquired while in the army special forces. He grew up in the country just north of Winston, and they say he once stayed in the cage with the King County orangutang for five minutes.  He’d seen a lot worse foxholes in his time than this one, and moved in to cover my left flank.
        Barry Graylord was the tenor man that night.  Barry had been an all star linebacker for the Harnett High Mad Hornets, and had a baseball tryout pending with the Braves one spring, until he broke his femur in football season his senior year.  His meathook paw on my shoulder was significant reassurance.
        As for me, well, I ll have to admit my first concern was whether or not the boy would dislodge my cataract implant if he hit me in the left eye.  I’d grown up myopic and my only decent sport was golf.  I’d spent my formative years reading books and taking bubble tests, and my physical abilities had been significantly eroded through years of practicing medicine.  My standard position was to never call a vote until certain of the outcome, and in my resentment had rushed to judgment.  I just had to hope the crowd didn’t start chanting,  “Fight, Fight, Fight…”  The logs in the woodstove sizzled.  It was very quiet.
        Darrell edged over and glared at the man, but I waved him off as best I could.  Those hands and fingers were his livelihood, and besides, he had a gig with the Gentlemen at Oakboro that weekend, and I didn’t want to wreck the show.  Simpkins stood by Darrell.  With his two hundred fifty pounds, the scales were starting to look significantly out of balance to the newcomer. 
        I must tell you that new history transpired that night at the Bomb Shelter.  And no, a fight did not break out.  First, let me tell you the Bomb Shelter is a peaceable place.  There are very few absolute rules. It is as laid back as it gets, an atmosphere of hot dogs left over from the V.F.W. cookout, Co-Colas, and Nehi grape drinks.  Other than cigarettes and occasional white liquor whiskey, vices are to be left at home so as not to disturb the picking.  Except for one time two years ago when Wild Bill was placed on six weeks probation after wrecking his wino cycle into the retaining wall, and letting out a string of cuss words in front of Jack’s grand kids, no one has ever been banned. 
        Jack is the law in the Bomb Shelter and he quickly moved in to enforce the house rules. “Son, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.  Dr. Tommy here takes care of most of us, and we don’t allow any disrespect here.  Also, you and your people are no longer welcome in this establishment.”  Jack was always polite, but firm, and besides, the boy was significantly outnumbered.
        He put away his Martin and headed for the door.
        The Moose stopped him before he was gone.  “Boy, that’s a nice Martin you have there.  Do you like it pretty good?”
        “Yeah, it’s a good guitar.  Why do you ask?”
        “Well, if you ever come back here you might as well give it to me, because I’ll break your knuckles and twist your fingers into pretzels, and you’ll never be able to play it again.”  When the Moose got his blood up, it was a scary sight.  I knew Moose well enough to know that he wasn’t serious, but that boy didn’t, and he immediately disappeared never to grace the door again.
        We resumed playing without any further discussion.  I was glad the newcomer wasn’t much of a player, as we wouldn’t miss him as badly as if he’d been a hot picker.
        I was thankful for Moose Dooley and all my buddies, too.  That boy woulda flattened old Doc faster than the King County Rangatang if I’d had to tangle with him alone.

                                                      -Dr. B     

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