During a recent exchange with a new writer friend, I shared a couple of pieces of my writing. One of which is posted below. He wrote back saying, "Even with your education and world travel, your cultural and family ties run deep. Definitely sounds alot like The Waltons, something I can't relate to. I envy you what you miss. My house was somewhere to stay away from when I was a kid."
I had to smile when I read his words ... The secret was still hidden behind the laughter wasn't it?
I wrote back:
Thank you for your note, some keen observations. Though I must say, it's interesting to know that I can still fool people. I grew up in a home that I needed to escape as well. I did it every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night and as soon as I could I went to college. I was raised in a poor, uneducated family, filled with shame and a constant feeling of being less than. Some of my life, which I have written about in "Country Music," was filled with love, but there was never a doubt in my mind that I was going to get out quickly and go to college. I was never going to be as weak as my mother who had no choice but to stay with an emotionally abusive husband, and listen to the silence as I kept the family secret of what was happening to me while she wasn't around. Marrying a man who is brilliant, educated to the highest degree, and from a culture so different than my own, a set of values much different than mine was another form of escaping. I've been on the run for a long, long time. Now maybe you know what's really missing.
The writing that I sent him:
“Country music singers have always been a real close family,” Hank Williams, Jr. told the world back in the 70s.
I grew up listening to the stories of love and the heartbreak told to the rhythm of the guitar, whine of the fiddle and beat of the drum.
I, too, have felt that country music singers were a part of my family, because their rhythms have defined most every step of my life.
My earliest memories revolve around watching Hee Haw with my grandma on Saturday nights. In my early days, I spent most every Saturday night at her house, and we’d just laugh and “have a big time,” as she would say. She loved Minnie Pearl, with her big hat – the price tag still dangling from the brim – and Grandpa Jones. Myself, I always loved to hear Roy Clark and Buck Owens when they’d declare, “I’m a pickin’.” “And, I’m a grinnin’.”
We’d watch the whole hour as if it were a new experience.
Generally, earlier in the day we’d watch Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner as they performed on their own show. Porter would be in his rhinestone-covered leisure suit and Dolly looked beautiful in her long, sequined dresses and big, blonde wig and “painted-on face.” But regardless of what they wore or even the songs they sang, it was just so good to be there with Grandma enjoying a country song.
Grandma also had an 8-track tape of Porter with songs about the “Carroll County accident” and a bear that was “big around the middle and broad across the rump.” She played it over and over on her old console stereo and we’d smile and sing along, laughing every time the bear song came on, and crying sometimes when we heard about the accident.
All we had at home, for most of my life, was a standalone record player, where Momma would let us listen all day long during the hot summer months to scratched up albums of Loretta Lynn and Lynn Anderson.
There were some old albums my older brother had left behind with funny looking singers with names like Herman’s Hermits and The Animals, but I never liked to listen to those.
I’d much rather sing along with Momma as we listened to Loretta Lynn tell us, “I was born a coal miner’s daughter.”
I loved that song because it sparked Momma to talk about her father and his days in the coal mines, and it reminded me of the first movie I ever got to see at the drive-in theater – “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”
My mother and my grandmother were my two best friends in the world. They died a year apart in the early 1990s, but they live on in the country music that I used to hear and the music that I still hear today.
It’s as easy as pie for me to close my eyes and remember Grandma begging my oldest and dearest niece – the only one of our family blessed with a singing voice – to sing the words of Conway Twitty’s “Tight Fittin’ Jeans,” or hear Momma’s voice singing along with Lynn Anderson as she reminded us all “I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden.”
Grandma never wore a pair of jeans in her life, and Momma never had a rose garden – but they both got joy out of those songs that left a special smile on their faces and in their hearts that they couldn’t have found any other place but in a country song.
I find myself smiling those smiles sometimes when I hear a song that takes me back in time or holds a special meaning in my heart.
There are literally hundreds of country songs that touch me in those ways.
The late Charlie Rich sang a song, “Rollin’ with the Flow.” My oldest brother, Larry, has driven a truck since he was old enough to – which was before I was born. His trips all across the country delivering what other people needed usually meant he wasn’t home to visit Momma very often.
But every time I heard Charlie Rich’s voice over the radio, singing, “On and on I go, I keep on rolling with the flow,” I knew Larry was coming home.
Within a day, or at the most two, of hearing the song, Larry would call Momma on the phone and we’d all load up in our little Pinto and drive over to our small town's little haven for truckers, to meet him.
I remember other times when our family would go off on a day-trip, my younger sister, and my niece (who was just four years younger than me) and I riding inside the camper shell of Daddy’s pick up truck and singing the songs of Ronnie Milsap, Kenny Rogers and anything ever recorded by Alabama at the top of our lungs.
As long as we live, those will be memories that only the three of us can truly understand or treasure.
As I’ve grown older, country songs primarily remind me of certain times or certain people in my life. If I hear an old Alabama song, I think of those growing up years, thinking Randy Owen was the sexiest man I’d ever seen. If I hear Brooks and Dunn sing “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” I think of those college days when “Slappin’ Leather” was the craze and when I hear the Judds croon out, “Mama He’s Crazy,” I think of that first love and how I tried to tell Momma about him through the song.
When a new job for my husband uprooted me from the only home I’ve ever known, Kenny Chesney gave me company and made me smile with his song, “Back Where I Come From.” There was comfort in hearing “It’s where I’ll be when it’s said and done,” and knowing I wasn’t gone forever.
Alan Jackson captured almost every emotion that rushed through my veins September 11, 2001 when “the world stopped turning” and soon after Brooks and Dunn reminded me just how special it was to live in this great country with their song, “Only in America.”
Almost every step of my life can be directly linked to a country song or artist. There are songs that make me smile, inside and out, because they are funny or uplifting or remind me of a simpler time and life. And there are those that make me cry real face-wrinkling tears, either because they touch me or because they make me remember.
Country music has given me a voice, an understanding, and a friend.
5 months ago