The Musical Tax Man

Scott, the family tax expert, declares himself a proud Okie, travels back and forth between his California and Oklahoma homes and if you ask nicely he might sing you a song.  He’s a big-hearted man. Tax extension deadline 8 AM and my ominous blue tax folder waits on the desk.  But first, a little Leonard Cohen.   Hallelujah.

 

 

The Singing Cowboy on The Glory Road

Gene Autry & Champion, The Wonder Horse

                                                                ————

Daddy was a Pentecostal preacher in the Deep South with a list of sins as long as your arm he intended his children to avoid.  Too late. We were already sinners. We’d been to California.  We saw a picture show. Gramma K dropped us off at the Alex Theater in Glendale where we stayed for hours.  She knew Daddy preached against it, but she didn’t care. Now we were back home in Arkansas, dreaming of how the rest of the world might be as soon as we could get there. My brother, Leslie Ray, was at the point in our church where a person is meant to declare himself and get baptized. He had no intention of doing that. Here’s a scene from my book, The Glory Road, which also appears in the play.

– – – – – – – – – – –

Murfreesboro, Arkansas 1951
Population 1,075

Behind the parsonage, past the back yard and the weeping willow, our garden sprang forth, Reverend Jones’ agri-painting spread out in rows of different colors. Daddy’s years of living on farms taught him everything he needed to know about planting and tending and harvesting and he was determined we would also learn to grow and cook what we needed. This was the first time we’d had space for growing and we used every inch of it.

A chicken wire fence enclosed three sides, with climbing vines already moving up and a row of Marigolds around the base. He said Marigolds discourage unwanted pests. The fourth side, closest to the house, had a picket fence with a gate. Adjacent to the garden was a shed where Daddy kept tools safe and dry.

When he called us to come work in the garden, we raced to the back porch to put on our gardening shoes, which were last year’s school shoes. Daddy didn’t own casual shoes either. He gardened in his oldest hard-soled preacher shoes and pulled galoshes over them.  We went straight to the shed to pick our implements.

Daddy said,

“Nita Faye, that hoe’s too big for you.  Easy now.  Maybe we’ll give you this trowel instead.  Son, did you feed your rabbits?”

Even when the completion of an assigned chore was more a future plan than an actual fact, Leslie Ray answered the same way every time the question came up.

“Yessir, fed ’em.”

Daddy took the trowel from me and demonstrated.

“Don’t slice into things like that. Turn the dirt over real gentle. You gotta work with intention, girl, like this.”

He reached around and brought up a clump of tiny potatoes in one swoop.

He asked Leslie,

‘How about the chickens?”

“Fed ’em.”

“Son, tell me, what were you thinking, lettin’ those pigeons out on Sunday?”

“I wanted to see if they’d come home.  See if they’re homing pigeons.”

“You know where your pigeons went, don’t you?  They flew straight over the congregation just when people were leavin’ church.”

Daddy was trying not to laugh.

“The whole situation could-a been avoided if you’d-a been in Sunday School class where you belong.”

I said,

“He hates Sunday School.  Leslie Ray’s a heathen.”

Leslie said,

“Shut up Nita Faye.”

Daddy responded,

“Boy, I don’t want to hear ‘shut up’ come out of your mouth again.”

We weren’t allowed to yell at each other or hit each other, so we slung around some language to make a point. We called each other the strongest names we could think of, words that sometimes showed up in Daddy’s sermons, therefore I got away with ‘heathen’ for a while but Daddy kept tightening the rules.

“Son, you know what those pigeons did right on top of the congregation, don’t you?”

He burst out laughing and we joined in and had to stop digging, we were laughing so hard.

“You should-a seen Sister Anthony!  You better hope they come home a different way than they went!”

Daddy strode up and down the rows, a satisfied man plucking a weed, tapping a cantaloupe.

“Leslie Ray, bring in some-a them green onions.  That row over yonder’s about right. Nita Faye, you’re not doin’ so good with those potatoes. Here, dig ‘em up like this. Give ’em a little pull. Just a little. See?”

He got down on his knees again and unearthed more of the prettiest   potatoes. I copied his technique.

“Daddy, can we have new potatoes and creamed peas and cornbread for dinner?”

“We can if you don’t chop those poor little things all to pieces.”

He started to whistle, then hum, then he sang,

 I’m back in the saddle again
Out where a friend is a friend

I sang too.

Where the longhorn cattle feed
On the lowly jimson weed
I’m back in the saddle again.

Leslie taunted,

“That’s Nita Faye’s boyfriend’s song.  She loooooves Gene Autry.”

“Yes I do.  I’m gonna marry Gene Autry and sing on the radio with him and move to California and live right by Gramma K.”

Daddy said,

“Well now, Nita Faye, you can’t marry Gene Autry.”

Leslie added,

“Yeah because when you grow up he’ll be too old to marry you by then.”

Daddy kept collecting vegetables, putting them into the basket we used so the dirt could shake out before we took them into the kitchen.  He was  serious when he said,

“Naw – cause I’m not sure he’s right with the Lord.  Don’t matter if a man’s famous.  He’s not goin’ to heaven unless he gets down on his knees and gets saved first.”

“Uh huh!  I bet he’s saved!”

“Well he’s not usin’ his voice to sing the Lord’s music out in public like he ought to.  The Lord gives you a gift like that, you got to use it only for him.”

And just like that, after withering my dream of being Mrs. Autry, Daddy picked up the basket full of beautiful baby potatoes  and headed to the back steps, where he took off his galoshes and went whistling into the kitchen.

– – – – – – – – —

Here’s an old recording of my future husband singing
Back In The Saddle Again

 

 

Saturday Night Versus Sunday Morning on The Glory Road.

See those rhinestone clips on Mother’s dress in the picture? She snuck them into the studio for this 1940’s publicity photo of “The Joneses” and they weren’t seen again.  She  promised Daddy she’d give up makeup and jewelry when they took a church to pastor but her love of all things shiny remained undiminished.

Gramma K told Leslie Ray and me Mother’s necklines were a lot lower before she found Jesus.  Gramma never forgave her daughter for leaving a promising music career to follow a country preacher around the South.

Here’s a rhinestone excerpt from my  book, The Glory Road.

– – – – –

Glendale, California 1955

When we set out on this trip it was with a dual purpose. First, because Gramma K lived in California, we visited when we could, and second (or first, depending on who was making the list) Mother would be performing . She was booked on the bill with several Country and Southern Gospel stars at El Monte Legion Stadium, where Cliffie Stone broadcast his Hometown Jamboree.

Daddy said yes to the show, even though it was on television because his wife was using her music to testify.  And also because he was crazy about her.  Since they’d found Jesus, their agreement was that no matter where she sang she would carry forth the banner, witnessing by singing only gospel. She’d already stepped in front of cameras when she sang over at Brother Daly’s Tabernacle in New Orleans.

Raising his wife required all the reassurances Daddy could muster and so far it was taking up a good deal of his time on this trip.  Gramma was thrilled her daughter would be singing on television in California but no amount of church music was going to be enough for her. Gramma said gospel would never make Mother famous.

Mother was wound up tight about the TV show and that was no small problem. She was high-strung during the best of times.  Added pressure sent her spinning off. Her latest concern on this trip seemed to be what to wear.

Since becoming a preacher’s wife, Mother’s sweetheart necklines were raised a bit higher.  She brought out one of the dresses under consideration to show Gramma and hung it on the back of the door.  Too plain for television,  said Gramma, who plunged into a jewelry box on her vanity table and pulled out rhinestone clips.

The two of them continued picking through all the sparkle. Mother grabbed an especially large piece and attached it to her dress, using the clip to gather the fabric downward to a greater dip. She looked in the mirror and said,

“Could you just D-I-E!”

Gramma held out matching earrings.  Big earrings with so many stones they would tax the earlobes of a timid woman. As soon as she saw the earrings in Gramma’s hand, Mother snapped,

“Mother! You know I can’t wear jewelry.  I gave Raymond my word.”

“You’re not dressing for church right now. You’re singing on a program where a lot of stars wear custom outfits. I guaran-damn-teeya every woman there will have on something like this.”

There was no denying how much Mother wanted to wear them. Here was my thinking.  What I’d have done in her place.  I’d have taken that jewelry with me and clipped them on just before singing.  Then anybody who wanted to say something about it could just go ahead.  It’d be too late.  Mother didn’t do that.

– – – – –

Mother often sang this with gospel quartets backing her.

‘I Am A Pilgrim And A Stranger”

Fern Jones with the Sunshine Boys from the album
Fern Jones/The Glory Road (Numero Group)

This version was recently featured on NBC‘s new show, AP Bio.

 

 

 

 

Memories and music stick together.

Mother was our scrapbook keeper, saving stories about us and our evangelist and musician friends during the 1940’s and ’50’s. These books were much too big to travel in the car on The Glory Road.  They stayed on a shelf in the apartment we rented in Texarkana while we toured the South.

When we made a quick stop before hitting the road again, she tucked  clippings inside, often adding handwritten captions. Something about watching her work with them set her apart for a few hours from the mostly unsentimental person we knew.  Always nocturnal while the rest of us were early risers, you’d find her at the kitchen table long after we’d gone to bed, still drinking strong coffee, adding stories with her scissors and tape.

Every time I turn a page now, edges crumble, leaving a trail of scraps on the floor.  I’ll preserve these using whatever technology works best.