Thursday, March 27, 2014


I was 12 years old.  Barely budding, in the spring of my adolescence.  Saturday afternoon, cleaning my room. It was the first time I had a room all to myself.  John had moved to Idaho, and George was gone for some portion of the summer, so I got his room if only for a whisper of time. It was an afterthought kind of space, added on at some point, in the rafters over the garage. Freezing cold in the winter and hot as heck in the humid Pittsburgh summer. You had to go through Libby's and my actual bedroom to get to it.  But it was private and for a brief moment in time it was mine.  I took the little black and white portable TV I had won from the JC Penny cherry  counting contest and set it up next to the HiFi on the built-in counter top in back portion of the room. On this particular Saturday I turned on the little TV to keep me company while I cleaned.  These were the days before DVR's and On Demand TV.  I came in right in the middle of the Saturday afternoon matinee movie.  Eventually I sat on my bed, compelled by the tragic story on the screen.  In shadows of my own young life I watched as the main character in the movie evolved, from a slight square shouldered singer-songwriter in a cowboy hat, dripping with talent, to a sorrowfully drunken failing artist who eventually handed over his life and all that mattered to the bottle. In the end, his life was lost completely. He died in the early morning hours of NEw Years Day in 1953 at the age of 29 from heart failure exacerbated by pills and alcohol.
I never did get my room clean.  I ached at the side of my bed, my chest curled over my belly.  By the end of the movie I lay curled fetal-like on my bed as the credits rolled.
Having come into the show halfway through, I never did catch the name of the movie. Not until the characters' names appeared in the credits did I know the full name of the hero. They only called him Hank.  He reminded me too much of my father.  Too tragically much.
His name was Hank Williams.

After the show I remembered that downstairs, in the bottom drawer of the console that once held an old tube TV, long since dead, was an old Hank Williams LP.  The TV didn't work in that console, but the record player did.  So I scurried down the stairs, dug out the album. slipped it out of its cardboard sleeve and set it on the turntable.  Switching the knob to 33 1/3 I watched as the round black ripple of a disc started to turn, then set the thin needle on the arm at the shiny edge of the record.
I laid on the old brown herculon couch in the living room and listened as he strummed his guitar and sang:
Hear that lonesome whippoorwill
He sounds too blue to fly
The midnight train is whining low
I'm so lonesome I could cry.

I lay there on our couch, my chest rising and falling, tears rolling through my hairline and pooling in the cups of my ears. I did not try to stop the tears. I was twelve years old. And I knew too much.  

I knew things a twelve year old should not know.  I knew the sound of anger; passionate anger, blood drawing anger.  I knew the sight of knives in hands, of running feet, of slamming doors and mournful cries.  I knew the stench of liquor, and trousers worn too many days without laundering from too many days without coming home, of cigarette butts gathered in ash trays, and the fermenting of malt at the bottoms of empty beer bottles.  I knew the taste of old cigarette smoke, and Spanish olives from a bottle dipped in alcohol. I knew the sounds and smells and images of a dark bar room, my eyes searching through the smoky neon noise for the profile of my father.  "Dad, when are you going to come home?"  I walked out alone.

We quietly inhaled all of these and held them in our lungs, next to our overstretched hearts.  Quiet and smiling, when we went outside to play. But at night, when I was back in the room I shared with my sister, we laid in our twin beds, a small night table between us.  We laid there and listened to our mother's muffled sobs, out past our bedroom door, down the hall, through her own bedroom door, where she hovered in that solitary space alone.  We laid there, our heads resting on our feather pillows, our eyes looking into each other's, our silent tears rolling over the bridge of our noses and dropping into our soft flowered pillowcases.
I have lived long enough to know that all men are not destined for tragedy.  I call Dave a missionary for men in our family.  And my father's only son is good and gentle. I have lived long enough to know many kinds of tears.  They come in all sorts of settings, through laughter and through sorrow, and in divinely peaceful moments as well. My good husband lifts his hand to his face just about every Sunday, at some point in church.  He tucks his thumb and middle finger up under his glasses and wipes the tenderness from his eyes.  His hands are kind. He wipes his tears and wins my heart over and over and over again.

1 comment:

  1. Whoa...did the memories ever flow with this one. Still can't believe you won that tv...Sometimes I wish we didn't have to know so much in those days...seems like we had to grow up faster than we would have ever wanted our kids to nowadays. Yet, we watched that unbelievable mother of ours get beaten down emotionally and then rise above, time after time, and teach us that we had a choice and a responsibility to make the best of our life, no matter what the situation. I remember her holding up that light blue poster board as she practiced her Relief Society lesson on her own handwriting it read "I the Lord am bound when ye do what I say, but when ye do not what I say ye have no promise." The Lord saw all of us through many a rough time...He did not leave us alone. For that I am ever grateful. Love you!!!