My father weighs heavy on my heart this time of year. He would have turned 85 years old this week, except he died suddenly the day after Thanksgiving in 1997 at the tender age of 68. And last week, as I stood in Nashville’s Johnny Cash Museum attending a creative conference, I thought how much Daddy would love to be there. Daddy loved country music. The voices of Merle Haggard, Charlie Pride, and Eddy Arnold filled Daddy’s car (the chorus of Arnold’s “Singing His Cattle Call” will forever be etched in my memory) and I can remember Daddy’s worn out 8-track tape of Willie Nelson’s “Red Headed Stranger,” which he played over and over singing “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.”
But our song was the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s version of “Mr. Bojangles,” which Daddy would cue up and have ready to play whenever I hopped in his car. We’d both tear up when they sang the line:
He spoke through tears of fifteen years how his dog and him, traveled about. The dog up and died, he up and died. After 20 years he still grieves.
I must have been crying ahead of time for our beloved jack russell terrier Andy, who turns 17 in January. Since he’s been glued to my side for nearly 15 years (we adopted him at age 2), I can easily see myself pining for that dog 20 years from now.
I think Daddy would be tickled that I’m planning to spend January and February down in Nashville, working on a new project that includes a mix of contemporary country music, southern culture, and storytelling. I know Mama’s happy — a native Tennessean and former University of Tennessee cheerleader, she’s delighted I’ll be returning to her home state if only for a couple of months.
So as I make arrangements to head South for the winter, I’ll leave you with a video of “Mr. Bojangles.” Still can’t make it through this song without tears.