It’s no secret that I used to be one of those grizzled, alcoholic country musicians with a lot of integrity and faded dreams of glory who has to hit rock bottom before stumbling on one final shot at redemption in the most unlikely of places: a hot nineteen-year-old girl.
Well, those rowdy days are behind me now. I live with a completely different nineteen-year-old girl. A lot of well-intentioned folks ask me if it was tough to give up the glamour and excitement of life on the road for the tamer pleasures of my twilight years. Quite the contrary, as visitors to the old homestead find out quickly. Even the most skeptical soon fall under the enchantment of gentle country nights and the innocent pastimes of a seemingly bygone era.
I reckon the youngsters are the toughest to convert. They’ve been desensitized by constant reruns of Gilmore Girls and Kyle XY on the ABC Family channel. When my “big city” nephew Willie stopped for a spell at our little country cottage, the first thing I did was stick a long piece of straw in my mouth, push back my battered farmer hat to mop my brow with a bandanna, and try to trick him into whitewashing a fence. He was having none of it. These kids are too smart for us old-timers today, what with their video games and government- mandated health insurance and revolutionary Dyson-brand vacuum cleaners. But that didn’t mean we couldn’t have fun, and I determined to prove it by acting out both parts of my legendary fistfight with Minnie Pearl. She was in a Nashville hospital at the time, deep in a diabetic coma, and never even knew it happened. That was the way we did things back then. I was in a coma, too. Used to be you couldn’t walk two blocks in Nashville without seeing two comatose superstars propped up by unscrupulous orderlies and beating one another unknowingly, like a couple of zombies dressed up in sparkling suits. Forgive an old man for complaining, but nowadays the business has been overrun by a bunch of cookie-cutter catalog models going around conscious and singing in tune and not hitting each other, and it makes me sick.
Well, needless to say the little fellow was soon tuckered out and ready for a nap. His auntie volunteered to take him upstairs to bed. “Now mind you don’t give him any taffy or pudding or cobbler,” I insisted. “Nor fritters nor cakes nor pies neither. I know how you womenfolk are—soft touches, the lot of you. But the last thing we need is Willie waking up with his poor little belly in an uproar because he’s so allfired full of your good country cooking. And what a fearsome mess he’ll make with chocolate smeared all about his little mouth!”
“He’s older than me,” my Betty replied, feisty as ever. “He has a freaking MFA from Iowa. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Ploughshares, the Mid-American Review, and Fence. Did you even read his chapbook, Cornices Aplenty? It’s so full of tenderness and longing.” “It’s in my stack,” I said.
“Your stack!” Betty replied. “That’s your excuse for everything.”
“I prize your famous sassiness,” I told her.
“Come on, little man, let’s get you undressed,” she said to Willie, as she lead the sleepyhead upstairs by his hand.
I uncorked my ceramic jug marked xxx, put on my double-LP concept album of me coughing into a harmonica, and sat with my faithful old hound Red before the roaring fire. It was July 4, but I am nothing if not a creature of habit. For example, it was the imperfectly preserved skeleton of my faithful old hound Red that sat so loyally by my side, if I am to be precise.
How the years fly by, I was given to reflect. Why, I recollected when Willie was no older than twenty-three and already having trouble with his prostate. Always so precocious!
“Life sure is funny when you think about it,” I informed the skeleton of old Red, scratching him in the place where his ear used to be.
“You said a mouthful,” Red replied.
He talks to me sometimes.