Somewhere south of Montgomery—a girl sings on a barroom stage. She’s college-age. Brunette. Her family plays backup. Her daddy is on bass. Brother plays guitar.
She doesn’t do the American Idol act—no vocal gymnastics, no hair flinging. This girl sings Patsy Cline with her eyes closed.
A loudmouth in the crowd makes a gross remark. Her daddy stops playing. A man who weighs as much as a Pontiac bounces the would-be rowdy.
I’ve never visited this place before, but I’ve been to hundreds like it. There’s a spot like this on every American rural route. A glowing sign. Trucks parked around a cinderblock building. Broken cigarette machines.
My fellow Baptists hate this kind of den. But it’s a good place to find honest lyrics.
The guitarist speaks into the mic, he calls the bartender to the stage. The crowd of mostly men cheer.
The bartender is a bottle-blonde, early-fifties, pink T-shirt. She’s got a dry voice that sounds like Virginia Slims.
She waited on me earlier. She had the bottle-cap off before I finished saying, “Budweiser.” She said her name, but I couldn’t hear over the noise.
The two-man band plays something slow. Her voice is older than the brunette’s, but she sings with more conviction.
“In the Sweet By and By,” is her first number. Then, “Just a Closer Walk with Thee.”
By now, men have placed bottles on flat surfaces. We’re at the Meeting House.
She finishes with “Old Rugged Cross.” And if there’s a dry eye in the county, it’s probably made of glass.
She’s behind the bar again, refilling peanuts, dumping ashtrays. I tell her how much her singing moved me.
All she says is: “Thanks, hun.”
I press my luck and ask where she learned to testify like that.
She laughs. “My dad was a traveling minister. My whole family sang. We went from church to church, it’s how we survived.”
They sang four-part harmony in every major American city. When she got older, she left her family and tried Nashville. That’s where she met her husband.
“I flopped,” she said. “I quit music when I was twenty-four. There were lotta girls more talented than me. But the blessing outta the whole damn mess was my husband. Thirty years with that man. He’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
So they settled here. They started a family. Raised two kids. They’ve been happy.
Last year, they discovered her husband has prostate cancer. He just finished his first round of treatment at UAB. It doesn’t look hopeful. They’re still waiting for results.
Before the end of the night, the bass-player asks her to sing another. She takes the stage. The crowd has thinned, but they still cheer her.
“I want my husband to help with this one,” she says on the microphone. She wraps her arms around the bass-player. They kiss.
Together, they sing “Amazing Grace.”
So does everyone else in the room.
Let him live, Lord. Please.