Hendersonville, Tennessee—I’m on stage playing music within spitting distance from Nashville.
Before today, I’ve only been here once in my entire life. I was a redheaded seven-year-old at the time. My father worked a few years in Spring Hill, welding column splices that would one day become a General Motors plant.
I visited the GM plant today. A non-descript iron continent. My father called it his greatest achievement.
My father once took me to the Grand Ole Opry. There, I saw Mel Tillis perform “Coca-Cola Cowboy” and I can still remember it.
The stage lights, the barn-themed set, men with white hair and cowboy hats, playing two-step rhythms.
Afterward, we bought ice cream. We sat on a bench looking at neon lights.
My father said, “All my life, I’ve only heard the Opry on a radio. I think I like it better on a radio.”
I hardly remember the rest of that night. But I do remember fiddles, pedal steels, corny jokes. And I remember feeling happy.
So, I’m here. I’m thinking about life, and how short it is. For Joe Six-Pack like me, this is as close to heaven as I’ll ever get.
My father died when I was twelve. I hung drywall and laid tile at seventeen. I cut lawns, threw sod, and planted shrubs at eighteen.
At twenty, I played guitar in a small Baptist church. At twenty-one: I played in beer joints and all-you-can-eat catfish buffets.
I guess what I’m trying to say is: I’m happy. I mean really happy.
Today, I’m on a stage with my friends, playing guitar not far from my father’s greatest monument.
In the audience, I see a little redheaded girl with pigtails.
She looks so happy.
I’m singing with my friends. The same friends I’ve played music with for many years. They’ve seen me grow up. They’ve helped me become me.
Fred, on the drums. He knew me when I was a college kid, when I played at the VFW.
Tom, on the upright bass. He played with me at the grand opening of a used car dealership in Panama City, Florida, once.
Patti, on fiddle. She led symphonies before she joined our ragged outfit.
We aren’t a great band, I’m not going to lie. I’ve seen and heard better. We’re all right.
But we’re together, by God. And we’re in this town. And that counts for something.
And even though I’ll probably never be here again, I’m here now. With my wife. With my father’s beat-up guitar.
Yesterday, my mother told me she’s proud of me. My wife kissed my forehead this morning and said the same thing.
I don’t know why I’m even writing this. The last thing you care about today is where I am, or what I’m doing. And you probably didn’t want to read more about my late father—I write about him too often.
But, I guess I just wanted to thank you, whoever you are. Thank you for reading what I write. And thank you for your kindness to me.
I didn’t mean to cry while writing this. But you can’t win them all.
This General Motors plant makes me damn proud.