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author Shelby Stephenson

Chapter 14, from Country

 by Shelby Stephenson

 

 

Now back to the ballgame, as they say, near the

green fields of home, the frat-boys singing songs the

 

college crowd loved during those early 1960’s

when “Green Leaves of Summer” rose over the

 

airwaves and boys and girls starred in Mitch Miller’s

Sing Along showering spaces popularly

 

elegiac until MM’s demise at ninety-nine

in 2011; meanwhile, the LP output of the Brothers

 

Four was a real gas. Sparkman, Arkansas, home of

Jim Ed Brown and Bonnie Brown and Maxine,

 

Louisianan. Their biggest song, “Jimmy Brown,”

not “Jimmy Brown, the Newsboy,” that A.P. Carter

 

lament: the Browns’s “Jimmy Brown” was based

on the folksong, “Three Bells”: Roy Orbison sings my

 

favorite version: the old songs gave The Browns popular

sellers like “Scarlet Ribbons” and “The Old Lamplighter.”

 

Jim Ed, Maxine, and Bonnie sang off and on until Jim Ed

kept singing when the trio stopped: “Pop-A-Top Again,

 

I Think I’ll Have Just One More Round.” Before I

forget I want you to know that Tom Brumley’s

 

one of my favorite steel-guitarists; Boudleaux and

Felice Bryant, two of my special songwriters, wrote

 

Little Jimmy Dickens’s first hit. I learned it because I

am a “Country Boy”: “I’m just a plain old country boy,

 

a cornbread loving country boy; I raise cane on

Saturday but I go to church on Sunday.” Isn’t

 

childhood the works? Read Dylan Thomas or

Theodore Roethke: I figure I’m not a failure,

 

trying to make something out of local

stuff, my years as a boy in the country, the

 

road not yet paved in my mind, the huge, red-tailed

hawk circling easily out over the five-acre field,

 

instead of drafting near the house to stir the baby

bluebirds: clearly trouble comes in phases of the

 

early years; if I do not succeed, I lose the brilliance

of the dwelling I was born in: inviting you, too, to

 

come, sit a spell, while we talk about words in these

B’s, for example. The Bryants wrote songs on the

 

funny-side of life−like “Hey Joe.” I learned it from

Carl Smith. The Everlys recorded the Bryants’

 

“Bye Bye Love.” The Osborne Brothers released

“Rocky Top.” Jim Reeves named his band for “Blue

 

Boy”: “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.” My blades get

chummed with black-green, pussle-gutting wads.

 

The spindles crank under my seat, stalling my

John Deere LT 155 until it chokes down. I

 

smell a thicket of fishbait. I am no mechanic

want-to-be: I use wheel-chocks when I transport the

 

mower. I want to learn how to doctor a ratchet; that

is, actually use one. The manual does not say:

 

Warning: pull strap all the way through slot of

short-hooked end and then hook both ends, ratcheting

 

the tie-downs three times. Oh those tie-downs −

like the whiskers of Toonces the Driving Cat − they

 

flow until they almost flap loose from their

moorings meowing along the wind’s road

 

Immortal Dorkman’s major tune. There is a

lot of bucking, too, especially when I drive over

 

railroad tracks slow enough to bounce the little

tractor or the Scag, hoping and praying wheels

 

will not roll, wondering if I locked the brakes. I

perspire. Will the unblocked tires (forgot those

 

chocks) show me off to Someone Who Knows,

dressed in JD Green − or Scag Orange with that

 

Tiger Cat logo across the shirt? The cash-register

pings and I pay this time the woman at the

 

Quality Equipment Company (the John Deere place)

and she says: “Honey, your mower has been

 

ready since July 20 − we called you and left a

message on your voice-mail machine.” The

 

burden’s on the payee, isn’t it, the tutee,

underdog. Cricket does not know she’s one:

 

weighs ten pounds, Long Valley Norwich Terrier,

born, June 22, 2002, breeder, Georgia Rose Crompton:

 

Cricket’s ten years old on her birthday, 2012: what

beautiful and loyal companion she is: never

 

smiles, just rolls her eyes around, like that Lucky

Old Sun, waiting for me to come home,

 

staying by my side without straying, until she

smells an animal and she’s gone, like Don Rich,

 

that guitar-playing fiddler whose motorcycle did

him in and under: Buck Owens said his “right arm

 

was gone”: O sleep good and rise, you Buckaroo.

Nin and I saw Buck Owens and the Buckaroos

 

once at a theatre in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

When I was fourteen at Cleveland School, by the

 

way, I was in the chorale just long enough to sing

“There’s a pawnshop on the corner in Pittsburgh,

 

Pennsylvania, and we stroll hand in hand beneath

the clock!” The Buckaroos were dressed in yellow:

 

Buck looked like Big Bird. To fly you must feel the

fuzz under your armpits and hold on to your seat: it’s

 

lonely there, hero-worship a far cry from Tom Brumley’s

steeling-glow. Tom’s Albert Brumley’s son. His bar

 

swoops the neck of his guitar toward

Doyle Holley, Rich, and all the Buckaroos.

 

 

 

Chapter 28, from Country

 

 

I don’t want to surf Imagination for any

chronology: surfeit withers like

 

Saran Cling Plus Wrap with its sharp-cutting

edge, no Hallmark attendance, no Phuns; yet,

 

pshaw − clear the throat and Hawkshaw Hawkins

appears as a given. Harold Hawkins, the singer

 

from Huntington, died in the plane crash with

Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas, and Randy Hughes,

 

the pilot. I wonder if Hawkshaw of “Dry September”

could sing:   I’ll bet he hummed some amid the

 

powder and the pomade, hemming and hawing, trying

to make a difference among cowards ganging up

 

on Will Mayes: Hawk knew Mayes did not harm

Miss Minnie Cooper; yet he went along with the

 

lynching party, maybe hoping to help throw off

balance the whole bunch − Butch, McLendon, and the

 

hot-heads − faithful their rage might pummel evil into

bigotries too many to matter, Will calling Hawk,

 

Mr. Henry. Like a sharp-eyed detective

Hawkshaw Hawkins was a hunter in his youth. Why,

 

he might have been called “Hare,” I suppose, for

I’ve read he traded some rabbits he shot for a guitar: since

 

Wheeling was near, he was close to the WWVA

Jamboree, starred there, regularly, in the early 50’s,

 

appearing also on Red Foley’s Jubilee on ABC-TV:

my junior year at Cleveland High he joined the

 

Opry, 1955: Saturday nights I’d hear him on WSM,

650 A.M., the Air Castle of the South: “Sunny Side of the

 

Mountain,” “Barbara Allen”; “The Little White-washed

Chimney” he sang his heart out on, gathering in the

 

boy he was, born 1921, died 1963 near Camden,

Tennessee, in that airplane which fell into pieces

 

approaching Nashville: the troupe had done a

benefit in Kansas City, Kansas, for the widow of

 

“Cactus” Jack Wesley Call, a local DJ, who died in

a car crash, the chain of wrecks continuing after the

 

plane scattered on the ground, when Jack Anglin,

tenor singer of Johnny and Jack, got killed in a

 

highway wreck on his way home near Nashville,

after attending a memorial service for Patsy Cline:

 

to eulogize his friends in his song Tex Ritter rewrote

his “Hillbilly Heaven.” I’ve levitated in lofts as a

 

boy − you could say without much pretense I could

have been the Billy in the Low Ground, for I have

 

pronged hay with forks and pitched it; in the fall

when brown leaves call, I have set my fields on fire;

 

I have showered sparkles, too, with the folks at

PoetrySpark, at a Sizzle in Raleigh, reading with

 

poet David Rigsbee: we did not let the flame get

out of hand in the room we were in, a dressed-up

 

backend of a bar and grill, money exchanging in

front, but one − to be heard − did kiss a microphone

 

which smelled like a breath birthing breadthways

so the audience could hear: I could feel Poetry Central

 

lowering its bar to carry on without me: first reciting

Emily’s “Hope is the thing with feathers” and an

 

Ammons ditty from Sphere about verse dithering

among loose vowels or “sun-thing” like that, I

presented “Etching” from my Possum and finished off

with “Refrain” from Family Matters: Homage to July,

 

the Slave Girl in part about that ten-year-old

who took me away; art quailed, images fell

 

amuck, trucks on the streets ran into man-holes

withering to size and fed the underground metaphors

 

Stevens’s angels could have mixed, my underwear

shifting, the mike outright stinking: I could tell

 

the audience might not have come there to hear me

imagine what life’s like on my greatgreatgranddad’s

 

plantation: or, maybe I am wrong and some are

right: certainly, by jostling history to Poetry Personal, I

 

did not usurp the drinkers listening to “I’ll Take You

Home Again, Kathleen”: I lend and lean PoetrySpark from

 

this terrace under D’s Canopy, the same old place Nin

fell into a depression for the I-don’t-know-what-time.

 

The mockingbird’s singing in the Nellie Stevens holly.

Cricket’s watching the shadows for wings leafing the

 

hollering geese: the tulip poplar’s leaves fill the lawn

right where I ran the Scag and made the grass pretty; yet

 

the eye, my pupil, most of all, must find me, as I

evoke George D. Hay again, radio-station executive, announcer,

 

reporter, editor, Indiana-born, 1895, died, Virginia, 1968,

elected Country Music Hall of Fame, same year: I have brought up

 

the rear of multiple careers all my life: at first all I

knew was singing − and maybe that’s the last thing I know:

 

when I was fifteen I ordered from WSM A Story of the

Grand Ole Opry by George D. Hay, “The Solemn Old Judge”

 

(Copyright, 1953, by George D. Hay); after all these

years I’ve lived with the book − a pamphlet

 

sixty-three pages, first edition, price, $1.00,

privately printed. I took it off the shelf and a

 

cut-out fell out, a paper microphone, WSM, I

crafted for Miss Galloway’s typing classes I

 

took in 1954 and 1955: no “strikeovers,” she’d say:

now what can I say: that there were three books

 

in our house in ’53 − the Big Family Bible

(Southwestern Publishing House, Nashville, Tennessee),

 

a Sears Roebuck Catalogue, and A Story of the Grand Ole Opry:

life’s more than a bunch of crows cawing over western

 

Johnston County: doesn’t a life of poetry fill with the

marvelous and the shaky, solid rays of suns the world

 

over, with rags and children in them, fashions sparkling

bold and arrogant; ravens tagging the tops of sycamores

 

as one settles in the tip of a very slim-needled stem atop

a pine in Danny Langdon’s meadow, Danny, walking

 

up to me, cicada’s hull in his beard, while Nin

waits to come out, be counted and courted again.

 

George D. Hay started in real estate, taking a

job with the Memphis Commercial Appeal, then

 

turning to Radio, his birthday radiating between the

births of Paul Green (1894) and William Faulkner (1897):

 

I can see my father’s Philco on the little vanity by the

kitchen-sittingroom window, the radio’s top hot from the

 

blue-green-rose tubes in the casing, the noise a crackle, some

snaps, pops, rattle: I’ve read that Hay was the first to report the

 

death of President Harding, 1923: more people knew Hay’s

name after that; he became main announcer for WLS,

 

Chicago: my namesake Shelby Jean Davis he must have

known: by 1925 Tennessee got WSM, owned by

 

The National Life and Accident Insurance Company:

Hay put fiddling Uncle Jimmy Thompson on the

 

radio, called the show The WSM Barn Dance,

November, 1925, probably not a rainbow in sight, Hay

 

saying something like The clouds are grand with

opera; now the land’s full of grasshoppers hopping and

 

hoot owls hooting; cotton blooms a shindig and so

do we: Welcome to the Grand Ole Opry! The Dixie Dew Drop,

 

Uncle Dave Macon, came on in ’26: the Fruit Jar Drinkers,

the Gully Jumpers, the Possum Hunters, Delmore Brothers:

 

Sam and Kirk McGee from Tennessee: Hay brought in

there, on stage, a real steamboat whistle and he

 

blew that thing; the clear channel station went out

into the land, all over here near Benson: I listened:

 

peripheries found me, the long rows without end − go to

the end and turn around, a through and a round: feed the hogs,

 

water the mules, and watch out for snakes in the corncrib: the

people said You will wither with the wheat and the corn in

 

fall and shocks shall stand tall and you shall still miss the

image seeking you all the more, life and death informing life

 

and death, the living and the dying, the call of the payment and the

pavement in the central empire of the marginal: dirt roads and

 

woods shall celebrate triumph and return, as sorrow’s

by your side and memory your foundation.

 

 

 

Chapter 47, from Country

 

From Paul’s Hill for my country all the songs in the book

for the singers and the songwriter-poets I sing −

 

“If That’s the Fashion” and “If You Ain’t Loving, You Ain’t Living.”

Songwriter: Tommy Collins (Leonard Sikes). Like a Bird of Dawning

 

I’ll chant all night long for the Pythian Home − and for orphans − for

Leon Payne’s “I Love You Because” and let the

 

pages record Gene Autry’s rendition of Ted Daffan’s “I’m a Fool to Care.”

Marty Robbins just about weeps “I’ll Go On Alone.” “Is It Too Late Now?”

 

Listen to my brother Brown and me perform a Flatt & Scruggs Songbook.

Picture me crooning “I’ve Always Wanted you,” one of the first

 

country songs I heard Sonny James smooth seemingly out of drops

bubbling tears in his throat. I’m prepared to sing Marty’s

 

“I’ve Got a Woman’s Love” he sang for his wife Marizona. I shall sing it for

Nin: no longer impatient with scores and chords, I’ll ford the river: “I Won’t

 

Have to Cross Jordan Alone,” my Dell laptop changing and moving

words − Salute! − the Esterbrook Fountain Pen I wrote in flowery permanence

 

the songs in my book (ink was less expensive than the Ball Point, invented the year

I was born): the long run stretches “Just Out of Reach of My Two Open Arms,”

 

V. F. (Pappy) Stewart waiting for Faron Young to tune body and soul, as I

make that creation the origin of my teen years: Ferlin Husky:

 

I bought the album-turned CD − “Among My Souvenirs”: Ferlin

died, March, 2011. Merle Haggard said: “There were a lot of years

 

when nobody in the business could follow Ferlin Husky.

He was the big live act of the day. A great entertainer.”

 

Now stand up for Nelda Fairchild, the real author of “Kisses on Paper”:

May Ned (her pen-name − reap heaps): “Kiss Me Big,”

 

Ernie Ford’s novelty, breaks out of Speedy West’s steel and

Jimmy Bryant’s strings. Catch the sound of Wade Ray’s lament against

 

that Devil Booze (“Let Me Go, Devil”). “Letters Have No Arms”−Ernest Tubb

had a hand in writing − I learned it from Wade Ray and the Cow Town Five,

 

D-J-ing my life away, part-time, WMPM, Smithfield, North Carolina.

Sense in Ray’s version of “It’s All Your Fault” the poetry Cindy Walker pens.

 

May I remember the first stanza of “Look What Followed Me Home Tonight,”

lost from the little book: deliver Newt Richardson’s and Vic McAlpin’s lyrics

 

for “A Lover’s Quarrel.”   “Mister Sandman!” Popular in the 50’s when I made

my book while Webb Pierce sang Merle Kilgore’s “More and More” and Carl Smith

 

cried out for all tomorrows Leon Payne’s “More Than Anything Else in The World.”

Like most of Payne’s songs, this one feels like a poem and

 

a love-story: “More than anything else in the world I want to hold

you in my arms, darling, when you are near, then everything seems

 

all right.” “One Has My Name, the Other Has My Heart”

(Eddie Dean, Dearest Dean, Hal Blair) I learned from my

 

brother Paul who sang it in the late 1940’s as part of the Campus Playboys when

he was a student at Louisburg College, Louisburg, North Carolina.

 

Paul also sang and played rhythm guitar with The Moonliters,

a band which played around Raleigh, North Carolina.

 

Jim Fleenor played clarinet in the Campus Playboys

band, after college, returning home to Abingdon, Virginia, where

 

he presented full craftily for decades his clarinet in The Highland Quintet − east

Tennessee, southwest Virginia, and western North Carolina:

 

Freddie Hart’s “Loose Talk” I learned from Carl Smith: Buck Owens and

Rose Maddox recorded a blazing version of the song, a real country feel in it,

 

a smell of pending divorce court and family matters, gossip, deceit:

“We have to leave here to find peace of mind, dear, some place where we

 

can live a life of our own, for I know you love me and happy we could be

if some folks would leave us alone”: “Pretty Words,” Marty Robbins: one

 

of my mother’s favorite songs and mine, too: “Pretty words were like heaven to me”:

“Release Me,” Eddie Miller, Dub Williams, Robert Yount, listed

 

as writers: my favorite version: Ray Price’s: everybody

recorded it, just about: “Rosetta” I got from Wade Ray. Earl Hines

 

and Henri Woode, writers: Bob Wills sang it too, recorded it. He loved the song,

named a daughter − Rosetta. Leon Rausch recorded it with Tom Morrell and

 

the Time-Warped Top Hats: “San Antonio Rose” − Bob Wills − one of

the all-time classic swings: Nin and I sing it often to hear the players play:

 

“Someone to Care,” one of my favorite sacred songs, “Jimmie Davis”:

“That’s the Good Lord Saying Good Morning,” “Tex Williams”:

 

I must have liked the song for the pop-poetry: the world as

Nature, I would learn later: “When the meadowlark sings at dawning

 

and the wind’s in the willow trees, that’s the Good Lord saying good

morning, good morning to you and me”: “That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine,”

 

written, Gene Autry, a standard I sing. How many more! “A Place for Girls Like You,”

Red Hays, writer, Faron Young, singer. On this hill, through the fields,

 

Brown and I harmonize “Talk of the Town,” one we learned from

Don Reno and Red Smiley, early 50’s: I remember

 

they had the song on King: O Songs of King! When the last breath

I take among days of shadows and desert-rattling water, “Then I’ll

 

Stop Loving You?” I’ll bow to Jim Reeves who’ll sing it, while Wade Ray

bows his fiddle and wails “Too Late to Cry.” Noel Boggs shall play his steel guitar;

 

Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” bless the flakes as Eddy Arnold falls for all

who’ll listen. I’ll take your hand, Lord, and my brother’s banjo shall roll out

 

“I’m Using My Bible for a Roadmap” and “The Wiggle Worm Wiggle.”

Jim Eanes’s melodies shall sprindge from his hand burned when he was a

 

child, a bad fire inspiring with ardor “Down Among the Budding Roses.” Shoots

shall shower Little Jimmy Dickens jumping backwards through a hula-hoop,

 

simultaneously pantomiming “Thank You” in rhythm to Thank You! painted on the

back of his acoustic Gibson guitar twirling amid the crowd’s rousing music’s

 

waves, rescuing you and me, O Reader, from the Hand of Many Falsehoods: I

exclaim to the Boy back there on the Hill, “You’re Under Arrest (for Stealing My Heart),”

 

Autry Inman and Bill Foster hoping Ray Price and the Drifting Cowboys

might turn good bad verse into frogskins and liverwurst, leaving the

 

image of theft and scary, sorry lines in corncribs for the rats and

mice that’ll bring back corn they stole last winter: George Washington’s

 

picture shall show supreme! “You’ll find that crime doesn’t pay;

your sentence is life, darling, here by my side, this is the price you must pay.”

 

 

 

BIO

Shelby StephensonShelby Stephenson’s Family Matters: Homage to July, the Slave Girl won the 2008 Bellday Poetry Prize, Allen Grossman, judge. Shelby Stephenson’s The Hunger of Freedom (2014) was published by Red Dashboard.

The Writing Disorder is a quarterly literary journal. We publish exceptional new works of fiction, poetry, nonfiction and art. We also feature interviews with writers and artists, as well as reviews.

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