I grew up on George Jones and Gospel Music. It is only natural if you lived on a dirt road in Clermont, Georgia that you will be listening to “White Lighting” on Saturday night and then on Sunday morning hearing Vestal Goodman on the same radio station singing, “Looking for a City.” Every Baptist Church in Clermont had someone who could sing that song.
On Sunday morning we would drive up to Cleveland, Georgia to visit my great-grandmother. The dial on the radio would be set on a station from a neighboring town that played gospel music until five o’clock on Sunday. Every gospel song in some way or another talked about going to heaven. The song may start out talking about the love of God but by the end it is describing pearly gates and streets of gold. Every group had a tenor and a bass vocal. I always loved to try to hit those low bass sounds which of course were impossible because I had not even reached puberty.
As the sun started going down below the mountains we would leave the old farm-house and start our drive home. On the radio would be country music. Not this new stuff we hear on the radio but the “passed out drunk on the front porch with your dog while your wife is leaving you” kind of country music. George Jones was my favorite. I was too young to understand love but by the time I was old enough to experience it I knew what heartbreak was all about. I heard it through the songs on the radio. My all time favorite country song is “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” A lover forsaken by his love keeps old letters and photos and promises never to stop loving her. He only stops loving when he dies.
My mama is to blame for the influence of broken-hearted country music and going-to-heaven-when-I-die gospel music. I rarely listen to old-time country anymore. However, I am guilty of having some George Jones on the ipod. I don’t care for gospel music. My faith has taught me that walking with Jesus is more than just preparing for my mansion over the hilltop. But I am grateful for the exposure. Those songs, car rides, and family visits make me a better storyteller. Every song told a story. Every song helped shape who I am today. My mama didn’t just give birth to three boys. She gave us a life, a life with a rich story. Thank you, mama.