On The Road: Highway Ladies
But in looking back at the places I've been The changes that I've left behind I look at myself to find I've learned the hard way every time. ~Jim Croce~
- On The Road: Xenia, Ohio
We moved to Xenia (pronounced Zeen-yuh) at the end of 2007. A city of 27,000, it is the county seat of Greene County and being only twenty miles east of Dayton it is also part of the Dayton Metropolitan Statistical Area. . .
One never knows where the road will lead. There are sharp turns, dead-ends, detours, and bumpy stretches—there are also pleasant surprises to be treasured.
We have friends and family scattered all over the map—to visit or hang out with them is enjoyment personified. Sometimes to do so is the overarching motivation to pack up and go.
Whatever the impulse is that puts me behind the wheel, roadtrips are always an adventure—I look forward to them for reasons that are as complex as the DNA that makes me the way I am.
We just completed a journey that took us some 2200-odd miles in a large irregularly shaped circle through seven states and across southern Ontario in Canada. I’d pause here for a moment to unleash a scathing rant about gas prices, but what would be the point?
Resistance to venting disappeared before I could stop it—my fingers have taken off on a little keyboard dance of their own, so here goes: For more than half my life every politician has proclaimed the necessity for us to be weaned off our addiction to foreign oil, but evidently some funny business happens on the way to higher office.
To suggest that they all become enablers or bagmen for OPEC might be grossly unfair, BUT this I know: The solution will not be found in the commonplace finger wagging and shotgun bursts of hot air.
Every single elected official has the gift of talking circles around the issue without ever implementing policy or change. I’m entirely sickened by the roaring echoes of neverending rhetoric that reverberate nowhere and result in nothing—the news simply keeps repeating itself.
Nixon was president and Trudeau prime minister when the first energy crisis struck the West. Both leaders were influential movers and shakers on the world stage, but their delusions of grandeur have faded into the obscurity of textbooks, while we remain hostage to desert potentates sitting on top of lakes of black gold.
The bad news is that the situation isn’t going to get any better any time soon—the good news is that despite soaring costs at the pump, we are blessed and far more fortunate than the majority of the world.
Another sliver of good news is this: Music has charms to soothe, inspire, and cause us to reflect on what really matters in life—songs can speak to our heart in ways that grip and hold us tight.
On Pandora Radio I have a station entitled Highway Ladies—it’s a collection of brilliant women whose lyrical stories and voices cut through the crud. I’ve never met them, but certainly regard each one with admiration for their poetry often accompanies me on the road.
Here are selections by Highway Ladies. They’re a small glimpse of rambling songs that dig deep into my soul and have often taken me to higher ground where the grungy junk of life—like arm and leg gas prices—gets put in proper perspective.
I'm the mirror in the hall From your empty room I can hear it fall Now that we must live apart I have a lock of hair and one-half of my heart. ~Rosanne Cash~
So I will look for you Between the grooves of songs we sing Westward leading, still proceeding To the world unseen. ~Rosanne Cash~
The World Unseen
My connection to Rosanne Cash’s music came about naturally. In 1982 her second album Seven Year Ache caught my ear—I’ve never stopped listening.
The fact that her father was Big John Cash intrigued me—she was born in 1955, the same year as me, which also piqued my curiosity. However, it’s her gifts as a songwriter that keeps me tuning in—her insightful explorations of the emotional landscape are often compelling and sometimes downright heart-wrenching.
The World Unseen can be found on Black Cadillac. It was released in 2006, and is stark and emotional—a stunning reflection of the grieving process. Written and recorded in the wake of sorrow—her mother, stepmother, and father had all died within a two-year period—the album is a collection of cathartic gems that ought to be among the tools put to use by bereavement counselors.
The World Unseen expresses the emptiness we feel when a loved one dies—the helplessness that relentlessly ensnares us. We miss those who pass over to the other side, and in our longing to remember we inevitably evaluate memories in the context of figuring out our lives. Here’s a piece of reality that many attempt to deny: We NEVER stop missing those we’ve loved—as days, weeks, months, and years fill the rearview mirror we seek deeply personal links to them. We stoke a desire to find meaning by delving into the mystery of the great beyond.
Questions about the afterlife lurk in everyday shadows. With the tires turning somewhere halfway across Michigan The World Unseen crept into my consciousness—westward leading, still proceeding to the world unseen.
My imagination leapt. I considered mortality and faith, and in the midst of existential angst some words penned by a part-time tentmaker and fulltime thinker blanketed my brain: Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
Steam Train Maury died last night His wife Wanda by his side Caught the Westbound out of here, hopped the high irons to the by and by They say he jumped ten thousand trains Rode a million miles for free Helped out at VA hospitals and penitentiary's Dandy Dave, Rusty Nails and Sweet Lady Sugar Cane Dead Eye Kate and the Baloney Kid raise their cups tonight in Steam Train's name Senators, congressmen, puppets on a string Among the windswept vagabonds Steam Train was the king The last of the hobo kings The last of the hobo kings. ~Mary Gauthier~
Last Of The Hobo Kings
Mary Gauthier became known to me through Pandora Radio. It was her song Mercy Now that arrested my attention—goosepimples chased down my spine because in one of those quirks of circumstance I first heard it on the morning my mother died.
It didn’t take long for Gauthier's music to make inroads into my life—Amazon makes it far too easy to collect CDs. Last Of The Hobo Kings is on Between Daylight and Dark which came out in September 2007.
Its snapshots of a life lived on the fringe of respectability immediately appealed to me. Initially I thought that it was merely a product of her creativity, but then discovered that it was based on the life and death of Maury Graham, who was born in Ohio on June 3, 1917 and caught the Westbound out of here on November 18, 2006. His early life was marred by brokenness and being shuffled from one relative to another. In 1931, as the Great Depression spread its economic distress far and wide, Maury Graham started riding the rails as a hobo—he was fourteen years old.
He learned a trade and held a variety of different jobs, but Graham embraced a niche lifestyle largely unknown to mainstream America. A five-time holder of the title King Of The Hobos, he took on the nickname Steam Train Maury in 1969. He didn’t retire from the hobo life until 1980.
Gauthier is an exceptional storyteller—her vivid characters are living and breathing.This song makes me want to jump in a boxcar and join all the other windswept vagabonds to pay respect to Steam Train Murray.
Last Of The Hobo Kings never fails to arouse empathy and compassion in me. It’s an essential reminder that every life has intrinsic significance—no one is disposable. Everyone has a story to tell, and a community is a multitude of diverse stories gathered together.
We’d do well to comprehend that even the tangle-haired lady mumbling at Dunkin’ Donuts or the grizzled old rubby-dub aimlessly shuffling along the sidewalk are important pieces in the mosaic jigsaw of humanity. They are valued by their Maker—they should be valued by us.
The green rolling hills of West Virginia are the nearest thing to heaven that I know Though the times are sad and drear and I cannot linger here they'll keep me and never let me go. . . ~Bigazzi/Tozzi~
But someday I'll go back to West Virginia to the green rolling hills I love so well Yes someday I'll go home and I know I'll right the wrong These trouble times will follow me no more. ~Bigazzi/Tozzi~
The Green Rolling Hills
On the last leg of our recent journey we sliced through a section of West Virginia. With all the rain this spring the greenness surrounding us was a wave of artistry, which reminded me of The Green Rolling Hills.
Anita dug a box set of Emmylou Harris out of the glove compartment and keyed up the song—it had become special to us on a previous sojourn in the Mountain State, where mountaineers are always free.
On that occasion, in the summer of 2002, we drove the north-south corridor through West Virginia on I-79. We were heading to Savannah, GA to reconnect with Fire In The Eyes and to finally meet his lovely bride and their growing passel of daughters.
We had planned our time so that we weren’t in any kind of rush, which allowed us to poke along and stop whenever the urge struck us. Cars and transport trucks raced past as we kept well below the speed limit.
We were on a sightseeing cruise and enjoying it immensely—every ten miles or so we pulled over, got out and took pictures. Beautiful falls short of describing the wondrous scenery.
Thoughts of the hereafter came to mind—exactly what lies beyond the blue sky? My Grandma Major was one of the finest weavers of words I’ve ever known—plus her grasp of spiritual topics had homespun wisdom. Though it may not be theologically sound, the picture she painted of heaven excites my imaginings—it features sloping green hills and a gentle river lined by groves of willow trees.
Standing at a fence overlooking a gash of a valley in West Virginia, my grandmother’s vision came alive—peace settled over me. Life is hectic and loaded with difficulties and heartaches of one kind or another. Having a clear recognition that hard trails are transitory is healthy and comforting.
Whether the songwriters intended it or not, The Green Rolling Hills helps me refocus this truth—the phrasing and melody evokes a sense of being homeward bound to where these trouble times will follow me no more.
Two of my favorite fictional characters, Woodrow F. Call and Gus McCrae, of Lonesome Dove fame routinely come to mind, especially when I get into an introspective mood on the road. There is a cantankerous tenderness between them that is endearing.
One scene in particular never strays too far away from me. In it, Woodrow and Gus—retired Texas Rangers—are embarking on a cattle drive to Montana. While on horseback they engage in a dialog about life and death.
It gets initiated as a challenge to the stoic, emotionally stunted choices Woodrow has made in his relationships—a woman named Maggie loved him and he flat-out refused her. She died all alone in a little fart of a town in Texas. Gus rails at him for this, which results in the following sharp exchange.
Woodrow, narrow-eyed and jaw set tight, said, “She could’ve died anywhere. She just happened to die in Lonesome Dove.”
Gus is exasperated. “It’s not dying I’m talking about, it’s living.”
That’s what these three songs say to me—we possess the knowledge that one day the sweetness and sourness of this world will be gone. While we’re here we are to enjoy all the wonders planet earth has to offer—we stay buoyed up and balanced against the hardships by understanding that eternity beckons.
It’s not dying I’m talking about, it’s living.
- Wanted Man
Wanted Man a.k.a. Ken R. Abell, seeks to be a blessing to others. He's a rake, a rambler, and a teller of tales who understands that there is strength in a story well told and well lived. To learn more, inquire or schedule him, visit this web site.
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