Montgomery, Alabama—I am standing only feet from Hank Williams’ gravestone in Oakwood Cemetery. Hank is joining me for lunch today.
On my lunch menu: a SPAM and mustard sandwich.
Long ago, my cousin and I spent a few weeks in Montgomery when he was visiting his girlfriend in Hope Hull. We were eighteen. We couldn’t afford a motel, so we slept in the back of his truck. We cooked suppers on a propane burner. We bathed in truckstop bathrooms.
The things a lovesick teenager will do.
On that trip, I visited Hank Williams’ grave for the first time. It was night. I stood before his tombstone and my cousin asked me to sing a few bars.
I sang “Mansion on a Hill.” We removed our caps.
High-school-age kids came upon us. We could see their headlights and hear them snickering.
“Have some respect!” shouted my cousin. “Audrey Williams was kin to my mother!”
I made the Sign of the Cross and took a knee, even though Audrey Williams was about as kin as Forty-Mule-Team Borax.
The high-schoolers apologized and left; we laughed until we turned purple. And we ate SPAM and mustard sandwiches for supper.
We did that for my father’s sake, he loved SPAM almost as much as he loved Hank. My father used to cut little chunks of pink meat with his pocket knife, drown it in mustard, and place it on white bread.
I never cared for it.
Anyway, Hank’s music was my father’s music. And it ties me to him, somehow. I can see Daddy sitting on a porch, singing “Hey Good Lookin’” and whittling, while I sit in the yard, eating mud.
After my father passed, I listened to one particular Hank album until I wore it out. Because back then, Hank Senior gave me the same feeling I missed. A good feeling.
The same feeling once gotten from a man who came home from his job, smelling like hard work and body odor.
For years, I kept some of Daddy’s shirts around. I wouldn’t touch them unless I needed to. These ratty things weren’t for touching, they were for smelling. I would press the fabric into my face and breathe.
So that’s what Hank Williams is to me. He is sweat, pomade, and soot.
Yeah, I know a lot of people prefer Elvis, or the Beatles, or the Grateful Dead. Not me. Give me Hank, Babe Ruth, a can of SPAM, and I’m liable to sing the “Star Spangled Banner.”
I hear a car engine idling beside me.
I am about eat my sandwich when I see a Chrysler approaching. An old woman rolls her window down and pokes her head out.
“Do you work here?” she asks.
“Me? No, ma’am.”
“Oh, I saw you eating and I thought maybe you worked here.”
Her name is Helen. She’s elderly. White hair and pearls. She sits in the passenger seat, her sister, Mary Rae, is driving.
She’s looking for her husband’s grave, but can’t find it in this tall grass.
I learn that Helen was a lifelong Montgomery native until her husband died of a massive heart attack. She was sixty-six when that happened. She’s a lot older now.
After he passed, she moved to Birmingham and hasn’t visited her husband’s grave in a decade.
She points beneath a grove of oaks. “I think Harrison’s over there somewhere. Would you help us look?”
I wrap my sandwich in foil. I step through the high grass, scanning headstones for the name “Harrison.” The car follows behind me, idling. It doesn’t take long to find her husband. Helen is overjoyed.
“Thank you,” she says. “Coulda never found him in this long grass.”
We bid each other farewell. I watch them from a distance. They place a bouquet on a headstone. They fold hands. They bow heads. Maybe they’re crying. I can’t be sure.
I bow my head, too.
After all, Helen and I aren’t that different. Not really. We’re both here for the same reasons, sort of.
People like us come to these places to feel things. We come to remember. Because remembering is all you can do once the ratty shirts have lost their smell. And because remembering just feels so good.
Rest in Peace, Harrison.
The SPAM sandwich wasn’t half bad, Daddy.
Melodie - August 7, 2018 6:30 am
WOW! Just today, I ‘visited’ my family. They, too, liked Spam. My mama, brother, sister, and I, lived on Kauai, HI for many, many years, and Spam is a staple, there. They are back to rest in Florida, where we had our humble beginnings. My grandparents on my mother’s side, are there with them. I’m the only one who remains above ground. I find great peace and comfort visiting them. There is always a nice breeze. I love to reminisce about the good, fun, loving times. I look forward to your daily posts. Thank you.
Penn Wells - August 7, 2018 9:30 am
“As long as you are remembered, you remain alive.” Truth.
Melodie - August 7, 2018 2:35 pm
GaryD - August 7, 2018 10:28 am
Nothing better than fried Spam with mustard on two pieces of white bread…except maybe baloney and vanilla wafers between two pieces of white bread. Hank is #1 in my book. There’s nothing he ever sang that I didn’t love.
Dewey Todd - August 7, 2018 11:03 am
I grew up about 100 yards from where you were sitting (on Shawnee Drive). We used to visit Hank’s grave regularly. My grandfather was Hank’s barber and drinkin’ buddy. And, I too love Spam and mustard sandwiches. Thanks for the memory. “I Saw the Light”!
Joy - August 7, 2018 12:47 pm
Sean you are an excellent story teller….memories are such a blessing. You always remind me to see people differently. Every person has a story, every person is hurting in some way and everybody needs to feel that people care about them.
Thank you for your writings. I look forward to them every day.
Andrew - August 7, 2018 12:49 pm
Tomorrow I am taking my Granddaughter, Haile Bear, to visit Wewa. Haile is a rising Mosley HS freshman. Her summer reading assignment was to follow your blog. I now follow you daily with my morning coffee.
We plan to visit Lanier’s back porch to purchase honey, Dixie Dandy, eat at corner cafe, end of the road boat launch, Dead Lakes, Presbyterian Church….
Do have any other recommendations/suggestions/hot spots that we shouldn’t miss.
Wewa or bust.
My wife and I grew up a few miles east of Mamers. We feel a special kinship with our favorite writer
Rose - August 7, 2018 1:23 pm
Why is it so thrilling when you hear of someone that likes and eats the same thing as you? Crazy
Edna B. - August 7, 2018 2:02 pm
Spam was a staple in my younger days too. And Hank Williams and the rest of the country singers were on our radio all day long. Thanks for these wonderful stories, you make my day. Sean, you have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.
anne trawick - August 7, 2018 2:40 pm
I spend a little time in cemeteries myself. Maybe that’s why you strike a familiar chord in me.
Sharon Hand - August 7, 2018 3:13 pm
SPAM and mustard sandwiches. I have eaten a few of them.
Jon Dragonfly - August 7, 2018 3:33 pm
I was living in a very small town in Louisiana (Leesville) on the day Hank died. The only time I have seen a similar outpouring of grief over a man’s death was the day Jack Kennedy died. Hank was, and is, a beacon to the thoughts, hopes, and desires of the common man.
Jack Quanstrum - August 7, 2018 5:23 pm
Rememberence. That’s a good thing. Thanks.
Susan Swiderski - August 7, 2018 6:58 pm
We’re all truly more alike than we are different. Like C.S. Lewis said, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You, too? I thought I was the only one.”
Spam and Hank resonate with a lot of us.
Deb - August 7, 2018 8:38 pm
When my 16 year old son died in 1993. Smelling his shirts is all that helped me survive the first few years. ❤️?
Janet Mary Lee - August 7, 2018 11:31 pm
I am sorry for your loss.I know you think on him every day.
Bill T - August 7, 2018 9:37 pm
I had my first “True Love” in 1950 as a Freshman in high school. (she was in Junior High). She dumped me that same year. For a couple of weeks all I could do was mope in my room and listen to the (AM) radio and Hank and Lefty Frizzel singing about how I felt. Thank goodness she left me cause I got a cheer leader from a rival school 61 years ago and she’s sitting here beside me. Still love Hank..
Bonnie - August 8, 2018 12:57 am
Love Sean….Like Hank……like Spam……hold the mustard
Sandra Smith - August 7, 2018 10:43 pm
20 years & I’m still wearing Daddy’s flannel and wool shirts. It feels like a hug from him, when I do, and I recorded his cassettes of Hank Sr, and play the cd’s, preserving the cassette, I wish I could get some of his eight track’s recorded. He’s got some real good one’s. I listen to those ol’ songs, close my eyes, and, just like that, I’m riding down a Mississippi pigtail in Daddy’s truck, feet up on the dash, nursing an RC Cola, full of peanuts, window’s down to clear out Daddy’s cigar smoke, both of us singing , Hey Good Lookin’ or Jambalaya. He’d play & sing to Hank Sr, Hank Snow, Ray Price, just to name a few. Those pigtail rides, and the music…even the smell of his cigar, were some of the Best days of my life. I’m eternally grateful for them.
LARRY WALL - August 7, 2018 11:20 pm
Beautiful picture that you painted, Sandra. I could even smell that cigar. Keep on singing and remebering.
Janet Mary Lee - August 7, 2018 11:37 pm
Thank you Sean for hanging out in cemeteries! I am not by my grandparents place. I wish I could visit. We were in Germany for 9 years living there, and they have some of the most beautiful ones ever. People have picnics there, and read, and the children play. Very different than the U.S.Flowers are not expensive, nor are shrubs and trees. I miss those places…but love the memory you invoked! Well, it hardly gets better than Ole Hank…:)
Jack Darnell - August 8, 2018 2:02 am
Yep all that feeling stuff is true. Problem at 80 imma be in that grave yard pretty soon myownself. Hope someone wants to visit.
I like it.
Sue Riddle Cronkite - August 8, 2018 1:35 pm
Another good ‘un!
Jim - August 10, 2018 6:13 pm
My maternal Grandparents are buried not far from Hank Sr. I need to stop by soon.
Nancy Powell - August 11, 2018 2:54 am
I love this story! I love Hank too!
Miss Charlie - October 3, 2018 11:08 am
For me it was Hank Williams and oysters on crackers with hot sauce and fried balogne sandwiches. These always bring my father back to me.