Little Jimmy and Daddy
by Mike PetersWe got there early and picked our seats--front row, dead center. Dad and I sat in the bandstand for quite a while, waiting for the singer to arrive. My father was relaxed, which was completely out of character for him in this situation. He did not like to wait for anything. Very impatient! If we had to wait to be seated at a restaurant, we ate somewhere else. If you weren't ready to go at a certain time, he'd leave without you. On this day a laid back, easy going Dad substituted for my stubborn, impatient father.
My father liked all his ducks in a row. Nothing out of place! Spontaneous did not even play a bit part in the scripted discipline that made up his day. Something out of the ordinary led to stress and anxiety. Maybe that was the basis for his migraines. Maybe it was the Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome that he suffered, due to his time on the front line of Korea. Either way, with a schedule he had some control.
Dad had a standing appointment at the barber shop every week, Saturdays at noon. When Dad made a trip to the restroom in the middle of the night, he would always brush his teeth and comb his hair before returning to bed. Image is everything! On this afternoon, he let his hair down.
While we waited in the bandstand bleachers, Dad filled me in on the entertainer. He was our kin. Born back in Raleigh County, in a place called Bolt. Uncle Forest Stover lived there for a while. One of our Stover family reunions was held there. Bolt, according to a 1929 description given by the Beckley Chamber of Commerce, was a farming community with two general stores. You can get there by taking Route 99 west out of Beckley. Bolt is not far from Wyoming County.
My father's family can list President Eisenhower and Daniel Boone among their relations. But Dad seemed most proud of 4' 11" country music star "Little Jimmy" Dickens. He'd tell anyone that would listen, and even some that wouldn't, that Jimmy was our cousin. Maybe he felt distanced from his other famous cousins by time, status or geography. I'm not sure. But this was certainly not the case with Jimmy. Jimmy was one of us. Jimmy was from the "neighborhood." He'd eaten pintos and "taters." He had been to the company store. Like Dad, he was the son of a miner. Like Jimmy, my father made it out, away from the dust that blackens your lungs. Jimmy was fresh off his number one country hit "May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose." It had crossed over and made it to 15 on the pop chart in 1965.
Mom had volunteered to work the West Texas Fair in Abilene, but with one small stipulation. Her schedule had to be flexible, allowing time off to watch some of the performers. This was one of those times. Dad thought she'd stay with us and watch cousin Jimmy. Mom had other plans. She defected to the other side of the fairgrounds and watched another singer. That miffed Dad slightly, but then it was quickly back to a calmer state. Who is this guy and what has he done to my father?
I spoke to Mom recently about the decision to watch the Conway Twitty show. "He was SO good looking," she remembered. It would be a while before Conway released her favorite--"Hello Darling."
"Little Jimmy" Dickens took the stage wearing his trademark rhinestone studded "nudie suit," cowboy boots and ten gallon hat. The hat was as big as he was. He played with such fervor, full of so much energy, from one end of the stage to the other! I wouldn't see that much energy again, until I attended a Bruce Springsteen concert or after I had children.
My Dad clapped hard, cheered loud and sung along to "Take an Old Cold Tater and Wait," "A Sleeping at the Foot of the Bed," "Out Behind the Barn," and others. It wasn't a bobby soxer swooning over Frank, but it was way out of bounds for Dad.
We sat through both shows. During the intermission, Mom returned from Conway. She held our seats while we made the obligatory concession and bathroom runs.
After the final show, my father and I went up on stage. Dad proudly shook Jimmy's hand and they talked. I don't know if this was the first time the cousins had met or if they were talking about old times. I don't remember any of their conversation. But here were two native sons, kindred spirits basking in the hot Texas heat. It was Marfork and Bolt, Peters and Dickens, Coal mines and Coal River.
Saturday nights in our Texas home were spent watching Ernest Tubb, often called the "Father of Honky Tonk Music." The "Texas Troubadour" had his first big hit in 1942. He played that hit weekly and it wasn't long before I knew all the words to "Walking the Floor Over You." Mom took me with her to see Ernest Tubb at Ft. Worth's Panther Hall, a show Dad was unable to attend. She also took me to see Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, Jr. and Jerry Lee Lewis at auditoriums and arenas around the Columbus, Ohio area, after Dad had passed. I also attended many concerts while in high school and college. But it never was quite the same as the time I sat next to a father and watched a cousin in the bright lights. A local boy had made it to the big time. Another was in the front row lending his support. And I sat close to both of them, getting a sunburn and learning about family.
Little Jimmy Dickens
and Elizabeth Creed
NCO Club Okinawa