I am in South Alabama, covering Hank Williams’s 100th birthday in his home state and mine.
My first stop is a nursing home. I have an interview with Earl. Earl is not an authority on Hank’s music. Earl is a retired sheet metal worker.
He sits in his wheelchair beside the window, listening to music at such a high volume that the windows are cracking. He is slouched. A stroke has impaired his speech and his thinking.
“He used to be sharp, before his stroke,” his granddaughter explains. “He used to have great expressions, sometimes I kick myself for not writing them all down before his stroke.
“One thing I remember he used to say: Things don’t always work right, but they always works out.’”
Earl listens to music coming from a smart TV. The song is Hank Williams’s “Lovesick Blues.” He bobs his head. You can see the toe of his Velcro shoe moving.
“I-I-I used to p-p-play this song!” he shouts. “Turn it up!”
Earl used to play upright bass with a band called
the Wildcats. They played all over South Alabama. He played every Hank song in the book. His wife died. He never remarried. He raised six children on his own. No help.
You want to talk about strong.
So I don’t get far with Earl. The stroke has done too much damage. So we part ways. Soon I’m on my way to the next interview.
Hank is on my truck stereo. The tune is “Dear John.” A song which reminds me of my father. Also named John. In some ways, he and Hank were similar. Both were skinny. Both were singers. And both ended their lives by their own hands.
My next interview is Karah, who is no expert on Hank Williams, either. But she grows delicious tomatoes and that’s practically the same thing.
I find her working in her garden with her 10-year-old daughter,…