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.
Kim Cochran - February 23, 2017 3:48 pm
I love your stories…I wish I could come up with something more creative than that but in truth, I need to get back to work. Please keep writing, it makes me happy (and I suspect there are many like me who feel the same)!
Nona - February 23, 2017 3:53 pm
Thanks for writing ….. you give me H O P E.
I have so much I could write if only I could speak the English language…. much less write it .
Keep inspiring …… IN Jesus name.
John Gray - February 23, 2017 4:02 pm
Prayers sent for the bartender/vocalist and the bass player.
Sandra - February 23, 2017 4:35 pm
Beer and Hymns is a monthly event at a local brewing company here in Savannah. Having grown up Southern Baptist, I was amused when I first read about it, but, on second thought, sounds like a match made in heaven.
Carol - July 19, 2017 1:50 am
WHERE does this magic happen?!? ❤
Carol DeLater - February 23, 2017 5:11 pm
Love music. The Blues make me stop whatever I’m doing and listen…Muddy Water Blues..Ray Charles…old country too. I was raised Catholic and never heard these hymns in my church, but I appreciate them and understand why them bring a tear to the eye and fill your heart.
Linda - February 23, 2017 7:15 pm
Sean, you’re a treasure. Reading your columns is now my favorite thing to do every afternoon. I want to share them with everyone.
Maureen - February 23, 2017 8:08 pm
Beautiful – I’ve shared this. Music speaks to the soul…
Michael Bishop - February 23, 2017 9:28 pm
“And if there’s a dry eye in the county, it’s probably made of glass.”
I genuflect to that line in this deeply poignant story. I already know that I’m bound to steal it. So please forgive me, Sean.
Byron Audler - February 24, 2017 8:48 am
It’s rare to hear someone grasp the soul of the South and put it to paper. You have done that, sir, and I am in love with your prose.
Cherryl Shiver - February 24, 2017 10:51 am
I have never been in a Honky tonk. Yes sir, I was raised by one of those Baptist, then married a straight State Trooper. But, I do like me some music….it touches your soul. You know Tom T. Hall’s song I Love….. now that tells it all. Listen to the words sometimes, the man has lived.
Oh, my favorite, babies, old dogs, and grass that’s green.
judy clark - February 25, 2017 8:32 pm
I tried to read it aloud to my husband but keep chocking up….finally finished it through tear filled eyes and asked my husband what he thought and he said when I finish crying I’ll tell you…..American Hymns is one of your best and that is saying something!!
Peggy Black - March 16, 2017 11:52 am
Those songs are the background music of the South. I’m in tears. Amen, Lord, let him live.
Beverly - March 16, 2017 1:14 pm
Love this one, too! I’m finding I love what people write in response to your words….you bring something out in people and that’s your amazing talent
…….to bring out all that’s good and thoughtful in folks……hope you read what they say…..
Lisa - March 16, 2017 2:17 pm
You don’t have to sit in a pew to attend church……sounds like you and all those bar stool “sinners” praised the Lord from a cinderblock building!! I bet he heard y’all just fine! Keep on writing, I LOVE your stuff!
Charaleen Wright - April 3, 2019 4:07 am