It was late. The bar was overrun with good-timers who were out past their bedtimes. The night-crowd was dwindling.
Bartenders were ready to go home.
I’d just gotten off work, I stopped by to see the band.
The boys played Merle Haggard’s anthem, “Are the Good Times Really Over.” The young man singing was not yet thirty. He had a dark beard, his eyes were closed, and he was testifying.
The bar fell silent while he sang.
The old man next to me stared into his beer glass at his own reflection. “That boy’s the real deal, ain’t he?” he said.
Ain’t he though.
When he finished singing, he picked up a banjo and nearly tore off the strings. The whole establishment stomped its heels on one and three.
“God, he’s good,” said the man next to me. “That kid is something else.”
I ordered a beer, but forgot to drink it. I was too carried away watching the virtuoso fly through the Great American Songbook.
During a break, I introduced myself. He was standing outside, looking at the stars. I told him how much I liked his music.
He smiled, but said nothing in return.
So, we stood for a few uncomfortable minutes, silent. I decided I must’ve said the wrong thing—as is often my custom.
Another man joined us. He was staggering, slurring his words. He lit a cigarette. He stood beside us, too.
“Damn son,” he said, slapping the kid’s back. “You were fabu-lificent.”
The young man finally answered, “Thanks.” Then, he wandered inside and picked up a mandolin.
Later, the young man switched to guitar. Then electric guitar, then banjo, the list goes on. And I’ll bet if you handed him a Campbell’s soup can and a number-two pencil, he could’ve played Brahms’ Symphony Number 4.
Years later, I saw him again. He was a little older. He was even more accomplished than the first time I’d seen him.
Someone in the audience asked him to sing Merle Haggard. He didn’t want to. People insisted. So he stepped toward the microphone and launched into a tune.
He sang to a woman in the audience who held a young boy in her lap. On break, that same child hugged his leg and called him Daddy.
Afterward, we talked a little, but not much. And that was the last time I ever saw him.
It was a Sunday afternoon when I learned that he’d passed. I was riding in heavy after-church traffic. My friend told me over the phone. I pulled into a gas station just to think about the Alabama boy who died too young.
Truth told, I don’t have the right to say much. We weren’t quite friends. I don’t even know why I’m writing this—there are those who could write something better. But his mama asked me to.
Tomorrow makes two years since he left this world. And I don’t want his mama to think I’ve forgotten about him.
Nobody could ever forget Marcus Buckner.