Appalachia Music

Like Desperados

Like Desperados

Spending any amount of time at the VA Hospital in Oteen makes one think of old men.

The hospital certainly serves female vets as well as young veterans…even younger than me. But the majority of the patients are old men. Many are shaky, pale, and sickly.

Sometimes when I walk the out patient halls with Pap I wish I had some sort of story vacuum. Just think, if I did, I could suck up all the stories that belong to those old men. My what a treasure that would be!

The entirety of Pap’s recent hospital stay was in the ICU part of the hospital. It didn’t seem to be as busy as it usually is somehow, but maybe it was.

You can’t help but notice the other patients.

There was an old veteran to the left of Pap’s room. I don’t think he even knew where he was. I’d wager he was spending his last days on earth right there in the ICU. I never saw anyone visit him and that made my heart hurt.  I could hear the nurses as they talked to him. I guess he was nearly deaf because they had to yell at him to get him to hear. I was comforted by the love and compassion every last nurse showed for him. In this case, I could literally hear it in their voices.

Another one was there because he’d overdosed on meth. He wanted to know if Pap worked there or if he was the Chaplain. The man finally decided it didn’t matter who Pap was he just needed him to listen to him talk.

There was a young man suffering from the same heart problems as Pap. I never saw him, but his family told me shoveling all the snow that Asheville got last week brought on heart pain that resulted in bypass surgery. I tried to comfort them by sharing Pap’s story.

Pap was 42 years old when he had a triple bypass. Six weeks later Pap was back at work. Those bypasses cured him for the next 25 years. The Deer Hunter likes to tell people about how Pap was in his 60s when they worked together building houses. The Deer Hunter says “Even though I was a young man and Pap was in his mid-sixties he worked circles around me every last day. Why at the end of a long hard day he’d pull sheets of plywood up on the roof of a house when I could barely get them above the fascia board.”

We’ve always been pleased with the nurses and doctors at the VA Hospital. But this time, they just seemed extry speciaal as Pap would say.

I’m convinced the 2 docs that cared for Pap could head off to Hollywood to be in the movies if they wanted to be. Two very powerful, kind, knowledgeable, women who just happen to be beautiful in two completely different ways. When I called their name Pap would say “Now is that the one with the amber eyes or the one with the black hair?”

His nurses were just as special. I wish I could remember each of their names because they were all great. Nancy took care of Pap like she’d known us our whole lives. We finally decided she seemed like family because she reminded us both of Nina Chastain.

There was a night nurse named Dewayne. He told Pap to call him De-wayne and encouraged Pap to get through the night time pain and worry of being in a hospital. Pap told him “Son you’ve got a good spirit that’s helped me through this.” It was easy to see that statement probably pleased De-wayne more than his next paycheck would.

I set in Pap’s hospital room and thought about the old men in the VA, the song Desperados Waiting for a Train came to mind. There’s a line in the song One day I look up and he’s pushing 80. As I sung the song in my mind that line made me realize Pap is pushing 80 too. He’ll be 79 in July. Even though I know Pap is an old man, I’m sometimes surprised by the fact.

I first shared Pap and Paul’s version of the song Desperados Waiting For A Train back in 2013. Guy Clark wrote the song. If you’ve never heard it, the song is about the relationship that occurred between a kid and an old man.

According to his website, “Guy Clark was was born in Monahans, Texas, on November 6, 1941 and grew up in a home where the gift of a pocketknife was a rite of passage and poetry was read aloud.”

Desperados Waiting For A Train grabs your heart from the first line: “I’d play the Red River Valley He’d sit out in the kitchen and cry.”

Clark wrote the song in the late 1960s about an oilfield worker who stayed at his grandmother’s hotel. The song was most notably covered by The Highway Men.


I hope you enjoyed the song-I thought you might like Pap’s ad libing at the end. The song makes me think of:

  • learning to play Red River Valley on the piano-how one note seemed sweeter than all the others
  • sitting in the kitchen making music with Pap and Paul
  • all the people who’ve sat in Pap’s house and made music over the years
  • Paul telling me I can find the chords in the song better than most of The Highway Men
  • Papaw Wade and his tobacco
  • how the snuff Pap used to use would leave stains on his chin every once in a while
  • A 14 year old Deer Hunter pulling a loaded horse trailer home from Cataloochee because everyone else was too drunk to drive
  • the old men who visit the VA Hospital in Oteen and the nurses, doctors, and other staff who take care of them
  • the impression we each make on others-even when we don’t know we’re making it



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  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    February 1, 2016 at 10:30 am

    I enjoyed this post so much…
    Until one has been in a hospital for a length of time do we realize that inside it’s doors is it’s own community….I try not to pass a hospital today without remembering and praying for those, that inside those doors are people in pain, people healing and unfortunately some that will not make it back to their homes….Their families are also traveling that journey with them…It is so easy to forget as we pass hospitals and busy ourselves with everyday life and living when we are well.
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    Janet Pressley
    February 1, 2016 at 2:48 am

    Beautiful story, Tipper. I know from experience when my dad has been in the various hospitals and rehab centers. I feel so sorry for the patients that are alone. I have gone in and visited a few of them. One beautiful old lady held on to my hand and tried her best to talk in my ear, but she was hard to understand. I could finally catch a few words and what she wanted to know was when her daughter was coming back to see her. I am glad Pap is home and got the best of care. I know he wants to do everything he can to help anybody. I hope he will take it easy. It’s hard to keep a good man (or woman) down.

  • Reply
    Pamela Danner
    January 31, 2016 at 9:11 pm

    What a lovely post! Your way with words is such a gift, as our old men are. We ate breakfast out yesterday and there were four old men sitting close by. It was so sweet to watch and listen to them. So happy Pap is back home and on the mend.

  • Reply
    January 31, 2016 at 6:48 pm

    I cannot add a thing to your heartfelt, insightful post and all the wonderful comments. I am so thankful Pap is doing well and that he had such good care. I pray each day is better and better.

  • Reply
    January 31, 2016 at 4:40 pm

    Tipper – this post was beautiful… My mother’s mother was a Chastain and her father was a Wilson….I wonder if we are related some way or other….

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    January 31, 2016 at 4:20 pm

    It is a relief to hear that your Pap is doing better. I hope and pray he will continue to improve!
    I wrote in my next to last post on about our own family “desperado”. He has been on the run since 1890. I figure he is getting tired of hiding and will turn himself in any day now.

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    January 31, 2016 at 3:54 pm

    What a wonderful heart felt post today.
    It is wonderful that our country, as broken as it is theses days, provides a service to our veterans such as the VA.
    We are blessed to live in these times where health care is so readily available.
    Being married to a nurse I hear many stories of broken people who just need to be shown love and respect.
    My brother in-law goes to the VA for medical issues as the result of Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam. He is treated very well there and is very thankful for that resource.
    That song is a favorite of mine and Guy Clark is a great story teller.
    Please tell Pap thank you for his service to our great country and we pray that he is feeling much better. And thank you for sharing your feelings with us. It makes me stop and reflect about life and how precious it is.

  • Reply
    Louise Baker
    January 31, 2016 at 12:51 pm

    This was a very heartwarming article. It was wonderful to hear that our VA is helping our people who served our wonderful country. I find it very distressing to hear how much work our VA needs to be revamped to fill our soldiers needs. My husband is also a veteran and families make many sacrifices That we need to remember and honor. Sending prayers to you and yours.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    January 31, 2016 at 12:35 pm

    I enjoyed today’s blog alot and The Deer Hunter has told me those same stories of how Pap use to work. (Pap’s work ethic has left a good impression, and I’m glad he’s home with his family.)
    Several years ago I use to work at Die-Mold Corporation which joined the VA Facilities at Oteen. At lunch time a few of us would put on our white shop coats and go eat with all them Doctors in the cafeteria. One guy, Gayle Ferrell from California got him a Stethoscope and hung it around his neck and he was “wordy” as Jim Casada and he’d sit right down with those Doctors and discuss things as they were eating. One Doctor even asked Gayle to come upstairs and
    look at one of his patients. You could get a good meal for just a little over a dollar back then and there were no taxes either. We just admired how friendly everyone was to us…Ken

  • Reply
    January 31, 2016 at 12:32 pm

    I hope you know the impression you’re making as a writer, as a daughter, and as a cousin. Just beautiful all around.

  • Reply
    Ken Ryan
    January 31, 2016 at 12:17 pm

    What a fantastic post you have this morning! I loved it, and I loved the tune.

  • Reply
    Mel Hawkins
    January 31, 2016 at 10:32 am

    Mighty fine–mighty fine indeed!
    Y’know, some people want to abolish the VA for various reasons—political ideology among those reasons.
    But they don’t don’t seem to get “it”: These old vets (me included) are all eligible for Medicare, too. Then why do we flood the VA? The care, despite what you may have heard, stands up with the best anywhere else. But the biggest reason, I think, is the feeling that you are among your honorable peers. Not every soldier was a hero, but every one did her/his “bit”. All this is on the unspoken level—which is the most powerful level of connection for human beings….and that is a unique part of the healing process that VA only can fill.
    And maybe it is a reminder of back when we were young–“…and in our natural prime”, as Tom T. Hall says.

  • Reply
    Brian P. Blake
    January 31, 2016 at 10:29 am

    In the 1960s, I served in the U.S. Air Force and am a veteran of the Vietnam War. As such, I am eligible for Veterans Administration health services. The VA here in New Haven, Connecticut, which is affiliated with Yale University Medical School, saved my life. In March 2013, my VA physician diagnosed abdominal cancer and on 13 July, at age 73, I underwent a major, ten-hour operation to remove it.
    Dr. Chu presided, a nationally recognized surgeon, opening an incision from chest to groin. The scar is dramatic; I’ll never wear a bathing suit again. The team got most of the tumor, leaving a deeply seated residual because I was “near death.” Recovering in the hospital over the next 4-1/2 weeks, I received the best of care, including physical therapy, and they saved me again when I suffered two heart attacks while lying in intensive care. VA-provided chemotherapy has stabilized the remaining cancer and I receive CAT scans every four months to monitor it.
    Yes, we’re old. But I’m as well as could be expected, able to function and write my book and to attend my son’s wedding last September. Whatever experiences others have had, the VA has performed heroically for me.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    January 31, 2016 at 9:57 am

    Tipper–Now that I’ve got the mist in my eyes cleared enough to type, I’ll offer several comments.
    *It’s wonderful to know that there is compassion and deep caring among the staff at Oteen. Obviously that is far from universally the case in Veterans Administration facilities, and as I have all too much reason to know right now on personal level, loving and devoted staff in a care facility can make a world of difference.
    *You have a rare gift of observation, often for the smallest nuances, that continues to amaze me even as I want to encourage you to continue to cultivate (and express) it.
    *I thoroughly enjoyed Pap’s expressions, hand and head motions, and general “I’m into this song” demeanor in “Like Desperadoes Waiting for a Train.” I particularly liked it when he runs his hand down his chin as if tobacco juice had somehow suddenly seeped out with the words of the song.
    *Finally, although I’ve known and enjoyed the song for years, this is the first time I ever played really close attention to the words. Guy Clark’s craftsmanship here, as in so many other songs, is most impressive.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    January 31, 2016 at 9:55 am

    I enjoyed this so much, Tipper. My husband’s daddy was treated at the Nashville VA many times, including two open heart surgeries. I haven’t been in many years but at that time they had 4 bed wards so we met many other veterans and families. There was a guest house provided by local churches where family members could stay for free or for whatever they could donate. There was a kitchen with donated food and washers & dryers. It’s gone now & it’s such a loss–my mother-in-law spent many nights there and was so comforted by the other people there. Plus she could not have afforded any kind of motel room for so long.
    My father-in-law- was a outspoken man and was a little younger than the usual patient. One of his elderly roommates was having a really hard stick for blood that went on and on. Finally my father-in-law spoke up and told them to stop it right now and go get someone else to do it. He stood up for the three tries rule for himself too–would tell them he knew they had someone better at it and to go get them. In spite of this, he was always treated with kindness and we felt he got good medical care–surgeons from Vanderbilt did a lot of the surgery there. I know there have been complaints about VA and I’m sure some are true but we have always had excellent care. My brother is in their care and gets extensive tests, etc. for his many problems and he loves his caregivers. He was in Vietnam and a probable Agent Orange victim.
    I happened last week to hear the song, I wish I Was Crazy Again, in which two old friends call each other old desperadoes and it’s been going through my mind over & over. When I saw your title today I had one of those strange eerie feelings. Mama always “knew” a lot of things and we jokingly called her a witch–maybe it’s coming out in me.

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    January 31, 2016 at 9:28 am

    Oh, Tipper, this may be my favorite Blind Pig & The Acorn edition of all time!
    So powerful and beautiful. This sentence is immortal: “Sometimes when I walk the outpatient halls with Pap I wish I had some sort of story vacuum. Just think, if I did, I could suck up all the stories that belong to those old men.”
    You do have a story vacuum, Tipper. Your loving, caring attention and deep understanding flow onto your blog and generously share with us readers your beautiful extended family and your Appalachian world. Each day we can all live for a little while in a wonderful culture that is fast fading from our world. The little story about 14-year-old Deer Hunter is a gem! Nowadays, many boys don’t become manly at such a young age. And that Pap! He is a wonder!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    January 31, 2016 at 9:22 am

    Caring for others is a spiritual gift and one I do not have. My Mom was a nurse by birth and by training. Dewayne fits that description as well.
    My brother, a vet, told me of a doctor at the VA who was herself terminal. But she worked on because, she said, it was where she was meant to me.
    There a few things better than that.
    I know what you mean about time getting away. Sometimes we get a forceful reminder how much time has passed since we thought about it last. My Dad warned me how it would be. I’m sure he didn’t want to be so right.
    I’m glad your Dad is back home. I’m sure he counts you all being close as one of his greatest blessings.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    January 31, 2016 at 9:17 am

    Tipper, this is a wonderful, wonderful post in so many ways – it is truly one of your best.
    While Paul’s playing and singing, the firm foundation of your unseen bass, and Pap’s harmonizing in Desperadoes are their customary fine, there are two parts to that video which I especially like:
    1) Watching Pap enjoy his son’s and daughter’s music-making and
    2) Hearing the laughter of his son and daughter at the end.
    Pap’s family is mighty blessed to have him, and Pap is mighty blessed to have his family.
    And we’re all blessed by the whole Blind Pig outfit.

  • Reply
    eva nell mull wike, PhD
    January 31, 2016 at 9:09 am

    Ok Tipper: You did it before I knew what was happening! But after ‘drying my tears’ I read your post slowly! You have captured so much pain and suffering of those precious fellows as well as the goodness of those care-giving folks. I wish someone would post your thoughts and share them with every veteran still suffering from their military experiences. One of my brothers is so much on my mind these days.
    Back when I was teaching in Nashville, Jim bought a recording of “Highway Men” and I listened to it so many time as I went up and down I-40. It is now so good to just remember those days,as we sit here and sip our morning coffee!
    Kindly, Eva Nell Mull Wike, Author
    “Fiddler of the Mountains” 2015

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 31, 2016 at 8:26 am

    A fine song and a good singing of it. I could tell just looking at Pap the day after he came home that he was much better than he has been in a while. Those are fine folks at the VA in Asheville. They took really good care of my husband before he died.
    There is an entirely different feeling at the VA Hospital than the other hospitals in Asheville. I think it’s the comradery among patients and between patients and staff. In the regular hospital the patients are all isolated but t the VA they are together and and talking.
    Sweet picture of the Deer Hunter. He was really the sweetest boy you could ever imagine! He has the same sweetness of nature that Pap has.

  • Reply
    January 31, 2016 at 7:51 am

    Good job on the song.. We also are very familiar with hospitals, and their staff, for some a wage just doesn’t seem enough for the care they give, it takes a special person to do this job well.. I just pray God could give them a special blessing in their lives that we couldn’t give. Because they deserve it.. Hope and Pray Pap is doing well and progressing..

  • Reply
    January 31, 2016 at 7:44 am

    Such a wonderful tribute to the VA hospital and its dedicated workers. I’m still praying for Pap and his recovery process.

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