I was country when country wasn't cool
I felt like I could honestly say "Sing it, sister!", though my father would have disagreed. He was a real cowboy; I just played at it on weekends and summers on Grandma Turner's farm. I wore my boots and pearl snap shirt to the Top O' Texas rodeo every August. I got Molly Bee's autograph there one year. Dad sang Bob Wills songs when there was no working radio in the truck, which was almost always, and completely wore out the one Lynn Anderson tape he had when he put an 8-track tape player in the Chevy. Ernest Tubb and Porter Waggoner were the height of entertainment on Sunday evening TV. I kinda did grow up in a country song.
In my teens I distanced myself from these roots. But the Eagles and Charlie Daniels and Marshall Tucker and Lynrd Skynrd had a real country vibe to them, and they were cool. By college Willie and Waylon and the boys were outlaw country, and they were cool, too. I think we, meaning all the folks who grew up like me in between rock and roll and country, disavowed our country roots after John Travolta did "Urban Cowboy," but we'd still perk up at a Buck Owens or Jerry Jeff Walker song. And being able to two step and dance to the Cotton-eyed Joe (cot-nod joe) came in handy many times. Country music is chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and cream gravy* for me; not something I'd eat every day but incredibly comforting and sometimes it's the only thing that will fill up the empty spot.
About a week ago I got an email from Eddie Brown ... some people call him Edward. Anyway, Ed (that's what I call him) invited me to lunch though he lives like 5 hours from here (and yes, for my yankee friends ... it's still in Texas). Anyway, it seems that a bunch of old friends were going to be in Boerne (that's where Ed and Millie ... some people call her Mildred ... live). It had been a while since I'd seen some of these folks and I needed a fresh memory of them so I got up early and hit the road. I made it to the Dodging Duck before Ed did.
Simply put, a good time was had by all. Linda, Tonya, Frankie and Millie, my high school dream girls, were there along with Millie's husband Bill, her brother Matt and his wife Lori (or is it Laurie?), Dub Taylor, Doug Burns and Ed with his wife and daughter, Carolyn and Meredith. Quite a crew. Stories were swapped, catching up was done and we all reminisced about the evils of peer pressure. Apparently some of us were more easily influenced than others, but let's not go there. The food was good, the beer was better and it just felt like a special day. Yeah, it was kind of crazy to drive 5 hours for lunch, but I really felt like I needed to. I must have hugged them all about a half a dozen times, and I'm not known to be a hugger, before I finally said a firm good-bye. Well, I take that back ... I didn't hug the guys. Ed and Doug were sure hugging a lot, but that's another story.
I had the Bison Burger for lunch that day and as I hit the road for the drive back I regretted not having the chicken fry. I switched on a country station, thinking it had been a while since my last country music fix. I didn't know a lot of the songs, but that didn't really matter because you can understand the lyrics. By the time you get to the second chorus you're singing along like it's an old favorite because it just feels familiar.
I listened to Jack Ingram sing "That's a Man" and I thought, "I just had lunch with the kind of men he's singing about."
When the Eli Young Band sang "Always the Love Songs" I remembered sitting on a dock at a lake, either late at night or early in the morning, the night that Tonya got married, and having a long (probably drunken) conversation about life with Linda.
And George Strait, what can I say? I heard "River of Love" for the first time and I realized that some people get it, some people don't. I figured that all the folks at lunch had been out on that river ... most more than once. They probably get it.
On the way home I stopped in Austin to visit a friend who's going to school at UT ... t.u. to some of my friends and family. She's a beautiful young woman and I felt like the creepy old guy sitting in the restaurant with her, but it was a good visit. My friends were a bit shocked when I told them my plan to stop in Austin and see a former Sunday School student ... not because I was stopping, but because I had taught Sunday School. Anyway, we had a great talk. I told her about my friends, and she told me about what's going on in her life. I was impressed by her maturity and sincerity and the love she has for her friends and family.
She took off with friends to go to the basketball game and I got back on the road, heading home. I had heard about a lot of good kids at lunch that day and had just visited with another one. Driving out of Austin I was amazed at the number of Obama stickers and signs and I thought to myself that I get a lot more hope from "good kids" than I do from politicians.
When I heard Josh Turner (no relation) sing "Everything is Fine" I believed him.
As I was nearing Temple I heard Taylor Swift's song "White Horse" and I thought about another young woman I know who could benefit from the sentiment.
When I first glimpsed Reunion Tower in the Dallas skyline Rodney Atkins' song "It's America" was playing. Is it just corny patriotic sentiment, or is it how some people really feel about our country? I think I know which way country boys would jump on that question.
I was taking my exit in Plano. It had been a long day. The song on the radio was the Zac Brown Bands' "Chicken Fried" and I knew my trip was done.
And right now, I can't get John Denver out of my head.
* if you get the chance ... Mary's Cafe in Strawn, TX.