I was a kid. The “Grand Ole Opry” had recently moved to Opryland. My old man was working in Spring Hill, Tennessee, building the GM plant. We were living nearby. It was a July evening and my father was young. Younger than I am now.
My father came home from work one evening, covered in soot and sweat. His red hair was a mess from wearing a welding helmet all day. He had raccoon eyes and the artificial sunburn that come from wearing goggles and holding an oxyacetylene torch.
He announced that we were going to the Opry. Just me and him. To see Ernest Tubb.
Mama dressed me in red Dennis-the-Menace overalls, a Willie Nelson T-shirt, and teeny Converse Chuck Taylors. Then she combed my hair with one of those black nylon hairbrushes that shredded your scalp and gave you a subdural hematoma.
We piled into my father’s truck. It was an F-100, forest green, with a welding-machine trailer attached to the back.
It was a 40-minute drive into Nashville
proper. We entered the city. It was magnificent. The lights. The people wearing cowboy hats. The scent of French fries and pork fat in the air.
My father took me to get ice cream before the show. We sat outside on the curb and I spilled my vanilla on my Willie shirt. So he took my shirt off. I was bare chested beneath my little red overalls.
We pulled into the Opryland parking lot before showtime. We were walking into the building when a man approached my father. He had white hair. He was dressed in rags. He asked my father for money.
My old man never carried much money, for his own protection. Not protection against thieves, but protection against himself. “If I have money I’ll spend it,” he always said.
So he never carried much more than a few tens. He was a notorious tightwad. He was…