I was a kid. I was riding in Daddy’s F-100. Forest green. Rusted fenders. Oxygen canisters on the back. Welding hoses, dangling. He was a young man. It was nighttime.
It was Saturday evening. We were leaving prayer meeting. We were often at church on Saturday nights because sometimes Daddy sang in the choir for prayer meetings.
And each week, on the ride home, after our Baptist congregation had prayed thoroughly enough to severely constipate themselves, we listened to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio.
That night, the Oak Ridge Boys were singing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” Daddy’s favorite. I remember my father turning it up. I remember those flimsy radio speakers distorting.
Then, the truck made a noise. A loud noise. A tire had blown out. Daddy gripped the wheel with both hands and guided the truck to the shoulder of the rural two-lane.
He left the doors open and the radio playing. He removed his church-shirt so that his scrawny, pale, bird-like torso was bare. And as his beloved hymn played, he taught me how to change my first tire. He let me do all the easy parts.
Afterward, we sat together on the truck bed. The stars were above us. Minnie Pearl was telling jokes.
She told the one about the little boy who once said a cuss word in front of his mother. His mother was aghast.
“I’m going to give you a whippin’!” his mother said. After the mother administered corporal punishment, the boy looked at his bare hindparts in the mirror. “Look what you did, Mama!” he said, “you cracked it.”
I remember the pleasant feeling of being together with my father that evening. And I always think of him just that way. Young. Shirtless. Skinny. With the Opry playing.
It wasn’t long thereafter that one day the preacher visited our house. He was wearing a necktie, although it wasn’t Sunday. And there’s only one reason a preacher wears a necktie on a weekday.
They said my father’s body had been found in his brother’s garage. Daddy had used a hunting rifle to end his earthly career. For my father’s memorial, I sang “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” and had to be escorted off the platform.
Since then, all I’ve ever done is try to please Daddy. I don’t do it on purpose, but somehow I try just the same. I try to make him happy. I suppose most former little boys do this. I will be a 93-year-old man, still aiming to please his father.
Which leads me to my final point. Last night, my wife received a phone call from the Grand Ole Opry, who asked me to make an appearance on their show. After the shock settled, they also asked whether they could release an album of my music.
My wife nearly dropped the phone. Then they said that after the show, the Opry staff is going to throw a little party in celebration of the album’s release.
They told me I could invite anyone I wanted. And the image of my father’s face flashed into my head. I wish like heck I could invite him. But life doesn’t work that way.
So whoever is reading this, if you don’t have anything happening on September 22, I’d like to invite you. Stick around after the show, I’d like to let you know how much I appreciate you. I’d like to hug your neck.
Speaking of hugs, after my wife got the news, she hugged me tightly and asked, “Which song will you sing at the Opry?”
Well, I know just the one.