As a child most of my Saturday nights were spent sitting in front of the family TV watching the “Grand Ole Opry.” Not so much because my brothers and I loved country music but because our parents did — particularly our father.
One of Dad’s favorite stories was about the time he went to a barn dance — held in a real barn — where one of the performers was a young Ms. Minnie Pearl.
For those of you not familiar with Minnie, her real name was Sarah Ophelia Colley Cannon, and she was an American country comedian who appeared at the Grand Ole Opry for more than 50 years. Later in her career, she was a regular on the television show “Hee Haw” for nearly 22 years.
One evening running late, and in a rush to get on stage, Minnie grabbed a new hat, which was to be a part of her costume, and put it on without removing the price tag. When she was introduced, the emcee questioned her about the price tag and she was so successful in making jokes about it that she never wore another hat on stage without the price tab being attached and visible to the audience. More times than not, her performances contained one or more mentions of the price tag. It became her trademark. Dad would always end his story about Minnie by reminding us that he saw the price tag.
Despite his love for the “Grand Ole Opry” my father never had a chance to attend a live show in Nashville. His exposure was limited to his TV and his radio.
For nine months in 1980, Linda and I lived in Tennessee; and several times my father asked if we had yet gone to a show at the Opry.
We lived a couple of hours from Nashville and my reply was always the same, “No, Dad, we haven’t yet had a chance to make it to Nashville.”
He always seemed a little disappointed.
A couple of weeks ago, and 39 years after leaving Tennessee, Linda and I finally made it to the Grand Ole Opry.
We were attending a family gathering in Nashville and, when a couple of folks expressed an interest in attending a show on Friday evening, Linda and I decided we would tag along.
It was a great experience. The performers and the music were a good mix of past and the present, and the two-and-a-half-hour show flew by.
As I watched the show, images from my childhood — mostly of my father — raced through my mind. In addition to watching the Opry’s television show on Saturdays, my father would lay on his bed many Friday nights listening to the Opry’s radio show. As I watched the live Opry show, I could see my father resting on his bed, his radio next to his ear with the volume low so that it wouldn’t disturb any of the rest of us.
I left the show wishing more than ever that Dad could have attended.
Although the short time we spent in Nashville was enjoyable, the bookends of the week were not. The week began, and ended, with the death of two family friends.
The first was the mother of one of Linda’s brothers-in-law. Clem’s mother, who was 95, died a couple days before we were to be in Nashville. The second was an uncle of our son-in-law, Chad, who died the day before we arrived home from our trip.
We had known both for many years. In fact, Linda had known Clem’s mother for nearly 50 years.
We spent the night with Clem and Linda’s sister Joan on our way to Nashville. During our visit, the conversation at one point turned to our mothers and the ways each disciplined their kids for staying out too late.
When it was Clem’s time to talk about his mother’s disciplinary style, he shared that she never really got too angry when one of her kids came home late, but she never went to sleep until all of her kids were home safely.
An avid book lover, she would simply sit propped up in bed reading by the light of a small lamp on the table next to her.
“My father would generally be asleep, but no matter how late it was,” Clem said, “I always knew Mom’s light would be on!”
As the days go forward, we will miss both Clem’s mother and Chad’s uncle, but we will take solace in knowing both are in a better place where another welcoming light is always on.
— Tom Schmitt is the publisher of The Daily Nonpareil. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.