“It’s been rough and rocky travelin’, but I’m finally standing upright on the ground.” I’ve been hearing those words since I was a little girl. They flow from a radio or lift like vapor off a vinyl record, spinning. Willie Nelson singing about himself and his drummer, Paul English; and their adventures on the road. “After taking several readings, I’m surprised to find my mind still fairly sound.” Sung also by my dad while he BBQ’d, cooked burgers on the charcoal grill in the backyard shade in the mellow, late-afternoon sun, heat beating down, meat slathered with sauce tangy and sweet. “I guess Nashville was the roughest, but I know I’ve said the same about them all.” Following us down the highway in a ’72 Mercury Montego, a pillar-less hardtop ’66 Ford Galaxie 500, notes trailing out the open windows as the miles flew by, as the summer sun shone, as the stars twinkled above—just us and the road and the sky and whatever lay waiting. And as the towns came into view and then out of sight the radio waves kept us connected to the earth, it seemed; someone out there, spinning those discs. “We received our education in the cities of the nation, me and Paul.”
Sit with me a moment and feel with me the feeling of that first twang of guitar, that first sweet note of piano, that first hum of vocals, that sound that sets you back — plop — into your old self, back into your young self. There you are, somewhere else, sometime else; like it’s yesterday. It only takes a millisecond; you are back in time, and you can feel it, the feeling you felt when that’s what life was for you. This song, “Me and Paul,” is me in pigtails in the back of my dad’s car, squashed between my brothers, windows rolled down all the way with dad’s arm out the driver’s side, radio turned up, wind blowing, parents laughing and singing along. I was blessed with a wonderful childhood. We weren’t rich by any means. We lived in a small house with a big garden and a long driveway in a river city on the plains; we didn’t have nice clothes or cool stuff like a lot of my friends. But these things my friends would later tell me they envied: my parents were always home when it counted, they talked to me and listened to us, we sat by the fireplace nights cozy with apples and popcorn and homemade goodies and told stories and played records. Yep, as a family. There was wholesomeness and love at the core. Those were the truly valuable things. At the time, I didn’t think we were poor, and I believe it’s because we weren’t — we just didn’t have a lot of money and that money we did have, my parents saved and paid outright for things. Therefore, we had not so much in material possessions, but a lot in peace of mind, resolve, resourcefulness. And it showed. My family also traveled. A lot. Not the make a giant expensive yearly stressful vacation somewhere like Disney World kind of trip, but the pack your stuff the night before, hop in the car and roll; the head-out-before-dawn-while-the-stars-still-shine-and-the-moon-is-setting kind of trip. My dad was a dreamer and my mom kept his feet on the ground, but wheels touch the ground, don’t they? And that was our vehicle to his dreams, to the world, to our escape. “On the road again, just can’t wait to get on the road, again. The life I love is makin’ music with my friends, and I can’t wait to get on the road again.” More Willie. With family in Texas and Colorado and Oregon, that’s where we’d go most times. Missouri, too, driving into the warm and sweet-smelling hills covered with trees and flowers, hidden from the windy plains. We took different routes, circuitous paths, sometimes decisions were made up on the spot. There was a lot of silliness that rode with us. Spontaneity and joy was the name of the game. That feeling of going and seeing what- comes-next was contagious, it made us giddy. What will we see today? Well, we’ll know when we get there, keep your eyes peeled.