My kids don’t like country music, mostly country music in the car. My go-to car radio station when they were little was a country one. They associate country music with motion sickness. My son still gets nauseous and a little clammy if country music plays in my car. Sure there are exceptions and a polite tolerance for the genre but I feel comfort in knowing they will likely never be planning a weekend of debauchery at WeFest.
I was not raised on country music but had my fair share of exposure to it during my childhood. In a small hamlet near the family cabin, Indian Creek Tavern was situated down the road from the Indian Creek Store; two gas pumps, LP-tanks, a small deli, generous candy selection and a sliding top freezer for frozen confections. Ormie and Ella Brunclik and their son Lyman lived at the rear of the store that was neat, clean and the only place you could pick up items without having to go into Cumberland. The tavern was on the opposite side of the road, directly across from the Grover Root American Legion Hall which was a barn shaped building where I attended my first wedding dance. At varying times there was a trailer situated beside it that provided housing for the bartender of the bar across the street. The juke box at Indian Creek was filled with country music of all varieties and eras. I loved pumping coins into the machine and pushing the buttons to select the songs. Then I would saunter over to either the pool table or bumper pool table and chalk my cue stick, or perhaps belly up to the bar to have a Slim Jim, some cheddar-cheese popcorn and maybe take a pull off of my low-ball of lemon-sour. Wisconsin was different in that way, you just didn’t take your preschooler to a bar back home in Minneapolis. I loved the environment, the farmers who stopped in on their tractors were all friendly. I liked the taxidermy displayed behind the bar and the pictures on the flipping records in the juke box showed the big-haired and long-dressed country women; Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette and Lynn Anderson. After I had played the requisite Rambling Rose by Nat King Cole I was free to select whatever other singles I liked and often I chose country because the songs all told a story.
Despite Indian Creek’s small size (there really was a small creek out back) as I grew older I realized the locale could have produced its fair share of country ballads. Eleanor and Junior Root were the bartenders when I was little, they lived up the road with a huge brood of kids that all looked like Eleanor and the one time I recall stopping by their home they had a mending fawn wandering around inside the house. The real country saga would have come from bartender Ray and his patchwork family. He moved a trailer in for his considerably younger bride and her two kids Bobby and Bonnie who I began playing with when I was about eight. Further up the road on the left was a corn field and on the right was the abandoned school-house. The three of us kids would wander up the road to play on the playground equipment. I was perhaps eleven when Bobby offered me a swig of the clear amber liquid he had helped himself to while unloading a delivery truck. It was fire water of some sort and I could not spit it out fast enough. Bobby was two years older than me and his sister squeezed between us in age, they were reminiscent of redheaded and freckle-faced siblings in a hundred books I’d read. As I got older I went to Indian Creek less, opting to stay home and sunburn myself on a floating raft while listening to John Denver on my cassette player. I last saw Bonnie during my senior year in high school when she dragged a familiar farmer (who was older than my father) over to the table I was at in a restaurant outside Cumberland. I had not seen Bonnie in perhaps five years and I remembered playing with the farmer’s kids outside the tavern during summers when I was younger while his wife got louder with every cocktail Junior poured. Bonnie was animated and still a scrawny teenaged girl and when she introduced the farmer to me as her husband I wanted to spew my coke the same way I had the cheap Phillips whiskey years earlier. I had only listened to country music, she was living it.
Yesterday I had the unique pleasure of working six consecutive hours to continuous country, a Pandora or Spotify program with no commercials. It played so long that I actually got a mix with some of the tracks repeating. Of the songs I heard, many reminded me of specific places, some had me thinking about certain times in my life and others gave me recollections of people I’ve known.
King of the Road was the earliest one I remember knowing as a kid. I’m not sure why the song resonated with me as a child but I recall as a preschooler singing “I ain’t got no cigarettes” which I’m sure I learned from the Indian Creek juke box and oddly I likely had a pack of candy cigarettes (manufactured in Pewaukee Wisconson, which I thought was hilarious as a kid) in my possession while learning those lyrics. The Johny Cash tune Folsum Prison is one that I best knew as a parody off of a comedy album owned by my brother. The Dolly Parton tunes (often duets with Kenny Rogers) reminded me of my uncle Dick and the VHS tape of her he played repeatedly one summer. Other tunes brought me back to my freshman roommate Jill who exposed me to epic tunes like “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool” which sort of summed up her commitment to that musical genre in the early eighties. She tolerated my passion for Springsteen, The Who, Prince and The Clash as well as Soft Cell and local bands but I came to enjoy much of the music she added to our eclectic mix. I chuckled while listening to Harper Valley PTA which I had owned the 45 of, questioning why my parents allowed me to purchase such a racy record. The Hank Williams Jr. songs throughout the day reminded me of my “record club” days and the cassettes I bought during my year living in Missouri. Those were great sing-along songs that kept me awake on drives to see my brother in Dallas, visits back home and road trips to the cabin the following summer. I even got my mom Dorothy to like Bocephus. Rounding out my day was some Jerry Jeff Walker who is the perfect combination of redneck ignorance and a sense of humor.
Cheating, drinking, prisons, trains and broken hearts might seem like the ingredients for a depressing work environment. Personally I found it pretty pleasant, the day sped by and despite the song topics I found the music enjoyable and energizing. The hardest part about the whole day was fighting the urge to sing along.