Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Hank Williams Sr.

I heard a Hank Williams Sr. song on the way to work this morning, and was reminded of the early days, the days of the storms.

Back in the days of my early teens, when my father's storms were at their worst, he would close down the bars at least two nights per week. In an uncanny and cruel twist of fate, I would normally be asleep until just before his pickup would hit our driveway, just in time to hear him drive up to the house, stumble in the door, and start calling my name.

Unfortunately, it fell to me--as opposed to the other 5 kids-- to tend to my father in the middle of the night. This was another, especially cruel, twist of fate, because it meant, among other things, getting him beers, listening to his ramblings and insults, running interference for my mother (assuming she was sober enough to need interference), and, most acute in my memories, playing for him Hank Williams' Greatest Hits on the record player, each Hit sad, each about three minutes long. After a couple of hours, he usually ran out of gas and fell asleep. I would then try to get some sleep before going to school the next morning.

In a very important way, Hank Williams Sr. got me through these middle of the night episodes. You might even say that he got me through my childhood. Hank's voice could not block out the beatings, but, by focusing on his lyrics, his voice could at least block out some of the insults. Most children of abusive parents will tell you that the insults are far worse than the beatings anyway.

I remember coming home one time on a Saturday night. I was about 17 years old. This was a couple of years after my father's storms had begun to subside; it had been some time since I had been awakened in the middle of the night. As I pulled up to our driveway, a Hank Williams Sr. song came on the radio, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," and I sat in the driveway listening, my mind in that other world, feeling lonesome, feeling like crying. The song still puts me in the mood, even though I am not lonesome and have nothing to cry about.

Without my initially knowing it, my father came up behind me, saw me sitting there, and he listened as well, in the gray darkness. When the song was over and as I got out of my truck, I was startled to see him there. I felt like somebody caught with a dirty magazine in his hand. We locked eyes for just a moment. The rush of adrenaline at being startled combined with the mood the song had created almost caused me to punch him, but I kept myself under control. This is the closest I ever came to hitting my father back.

We walked into the house together. Not a word was said, but we never listened to Hank together again.

Here is a belated thank you to Hank Williams Sr., three minutes long and yes, sort of sad.