One year ago—Atlanta, Georgia. Willie Nelson stood on stage and sang my childhood. He sang: “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.”
I rose to my feet in honor of Mama—who expressly failed in this regard.
While Willie played for thousands, my wife handed me her glowing cellphone. There were photos of a pink newborn baby on it.
“That’s your niece!” yelled my wife.
I cried, then smiled for three hundred days.
Though it bears mentioning, life hasn’t always been worth smiling about. Take, for instance, the day we scattered my father’s ashes. That was a particularly bad day.
I had hoped his remains would catch the wind and fly away like angel dust. They dropped like a brick.
That following year, I wore out Daddy’s vinyl record collection, trying to remember him.
One of my favorite records: an album bearing portraits of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings on the cover.
I listened to “Mama’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” until I half-hated the melody.
But, of course, I never could hate that song. I sang it on my very first gig.
And I was god-awful.
At the end of the night, the owner paid me fifteen bucks and said, “Learn some new songs, kid. If I hear that damn Willie song one more time, I’m gonna go crazy.”
I tried to learn as many new songs as I could. After swinging a hammer during the afternoons, I’d practice music until the wee hours.
I peddled my unimpressive songs to rundown places and earned next-to-nothing for my mediocre performances.
They were joints Mama would’ve been ashamed of, with neon signs in windows and sad people at tables.
In one such place, a staggering man once threatened to shove my guitar into a well-known crevice of the body if I didn’t quit playing.
I asked him what I’d done to offend his tender sensibilities.
He said the song I played reminded him of his first-wife.
A fight broke out. It was a big one. The rowdy man stepped on my guitar.
I don’t remember feeling lower than I did, seeing the splintered remains of my instrument.
The elderly bartender collected the wood fragments and laid it in the trash.
The next morning, that bartender showed up on my porch. Without saying much, he escorted me to a music store in the next county. He selected a guitar and paid for it himself.
Years later, I attended that bartender’s funeral and told that same story to a room of crying people.
So today is special day.
Not because it’s sunny. Not because birds are singing. But because of a kid.
A little girl with an uncle who looks like me. An uncle who once cried at a Willie Nelson concert when he discovered he had a new niece.
My niece is a one-year-old today.
I can only pray her mama doesn’t let her grow up to be a cowboy. Because her uncle is praying for it.
Happy birthday, Lily.
I love you so much it hurts, darling.
Debbie Beach - May 22, 2017 4:11 am
Debbie Beach - May 22, 2017 4:12 am
????? so precious
Judy Harris - May 22, 2017 12:31 pm
I love knowing there is a man that cries with joy. I love knowing there is an uncle that loves his niece so much. Happy Monday.
Buck Godwin - May 22, 2017 12:57 pm
I have a niece who I loved like that. She always called me “Handsome”.
She loved riding in my shiny little sports car with her golden blonde ponytail blowing in the wind. She always wanted to go faster than I cared to drive.
I treated her like she belonged to me and I think she had that same kind of love for me.
She’s 60+ years old now. She still calls me “Handsome” and I still love it!
Jacque - May 22, 2017 1:33 pm
I just wanted to let you know I’ve been sharing some of your columns on Facebook, and I have a lot of writer friends. The consensus is that you’re really good – and that’s coming from people who are really good themselves. 🙂
Carolyn Gilbert - May 22, 2017 1:41 pm
Just discovered you via a friend who must have been at a book signing or performance In Dothan al. Used to live in Andalusia so lived the Dean s cake House. Leave close to Augusta ga now. Any chance of you performing near here? Carolyn Gilbert
peggy - May 22, 2017 1:56 pm
I love your work………..
Susie Munz - May 22, 2017 5:06 pm
Sweet story! She’s lucky to have you for her uncle!
Donna Schoditsch - July 15, 2017 4:27 pm
Have not met your neice, tho I have seen many photos of her precious self. I do love and admire your sweet sister???
Valerie Ellis - July 15, 2017 6:29 pm
Do you have a book or collection of your writings yet? I’m a Southern girl stuck for a time in the southern Arizona desert. You are a cool drink of water to me and I would love to have a book of your thoughts and reminisces. I follow you on FB and read every post I see. I read God’s Book to stay anchored and to look forward to my future. An SOS book would be good to take a look back now and again.