My friend and neighbor Mary Jo came over and helped me kill a large bug a few days ago. I could tell it was a smart, savvy, creative insect, and I sensed that it might elude me with its speed and mad skills. It glared at me from a tricky location – where the sunroom wall meets the ceiling. Thank you, Mary Jo, for helping me outwit it! And now, I hope, the story of bugs in my home in the time of corona ENDS (while the story of our friendship has another funny chapter).
Beth Alexander has been thinking about friendship, too…
From Beth Alexander:
On the best Zoom call I’ve experienced recently, the very wise Janet Miller said, “Friendships create grace.” While the pandemic has put distance between many friendships, effectively tucking them in the freezer to enjoy later like a favorite ice cream, it has made those that remain active that much sweeter. Seeing old friends, men and women I respect and admire from across Nashville, on that Zoom call made me gasp, telescoping a relationship in a moment and wondering at the beauty in each face. I long for connection with others.
Who knows how friendships begin? Surely having common experiences and common goals are factors. My favorite friends provide a safe place for candor, and leave me enlightened or laughing. Me and Patsy, Kickin’ Up Dust is about a friendship between two women with big things in common – writing songs and performing country music, a childhood of poverty and an appetite for hard work.
If you’ve lived in Nashville for very long, you know some of the story. Loretta Lynn and her husband Doolittle moved to Nashville in 1959, and Loretta first played on the Grand Ole Opry in October, 1960, when she was just getting started in country music. Ernest Tubb had been so impressed with her that he gave up his spot on the Opry for Loretta’s first performance. She earned the princely sum of $15. And she was over the moon.
At that time, Loretta knew Patsy Cline purely as a fan, learning to play her songs and trying to put as much heart into them as Patsy did. The next summer, June 14, 1961, Loretta was shocked to hear that her idol had been gravely injured in a head-on collision on Old Hickory Boulevard; Patsy had cut an artery, broken her wrist and dislocated her hip. The shattered windshield had cut her face badly.
Loretta’s next appearance on the Opry followed in July, and the emcee opened with a plea to the audience for prayers for Patsy’s survival. Taking the stage, Loretta spoke directly to Patsy and dedicated her rendition of “I Fall to Pieces” to Patsy, a song that had just hit Number 1 on the country music charts. After the show, Loretta and “Doo” crossed the street to be a part of the Midnight Jamboree show at Ernest Tubb’s Record Shop. From her hospital room, Patsy and her husband Charlie heard both shows. Patsy sent Charlie out to find Loretta that minute to invite her to visit Patsy in the hospital. It was after midnight when Charlie drove directly to the record shop, introduced himself to Loretta and gave her Patsy’s message. Loretta and Doo met Patsy the very next day.
Thus began a strong bond of friendship between a woman well on her way to fame and a rising star. Their visit that day ranged from career concerns and insecurities to clothes and make-up to husbands. In many ways, Loretta portrays her friend as an angel, giving her little-worn show dresses, teaching her about make-up, insisting she learn to drive, and suggesting tips for keeping Doo at home at night.
Loretta’s stories aren’t racy but Patsy was tough and could be profane. To make it in a business that is still a man’s world, she probably had to be.
Patsy taught Loretta to ask for half her money for a show up front. “No dough, no show – that’s my rule,” she said. And Patsy helped Loretta navigate the often unspoken rules that still exist in Nashville: “Keep it polite and act like you don’t care about money.” She watched and learned as Patsy, outspoken about what she wanted, got exactly that.
The last single Patsy recorded was “Leavin’ on Your Mind,” in January 1963. She died in a small-plane accident in March, and had two other hits posthumously climb the charts. Yet their brief, deep friendship has endured in Loretta’s heart.
In the mid-1970s, country music stars and managers regularly broke for lunch to head to O’Charley’s, where I worked with a great group of girls, many still friends today. (I haven’t seen them this year – they’re in my freezer while we wait for corona-thaw; I hope I’m in their freezer too!)
One day, I waited on Loretta Lynn and a friend who may have been her business manager. The reigning queen of country music wore a lacy cream-colored dress and was recognizable to everyone in the room, but was modest and down to earth. Her voice that day, “country as cornbread,” comes through clearly in this story, written by her daughter, Patsy’s namesake, Patsy Lynn Russell. At first, I thought the country locution would detract from the story, but by page 3, I just put a set of quotation marks around the whole book, and listened to her talk to me.
I’m ready to open the freezer to all the friends inside, but it’s not quite time yet. Come, heat and summer sun, and kill the virus. Come, love and honesty and courage, and melt the barriers between us all. Love, courage and honesty – those are the ingredients for a valuable friendship, and may well be the source of grace as well.
* * *