Abilene was before Amarillo, but we didn’t do much in Abilene. Remember, in spelling Abilene, it's like most other English words; it is "i" before "e". It was a late landing in Abilene for Debra and me, having spent the morning at the impeachment march in Austin. We more or less set up, had dinner, and called it quits. I worked on some blog posts and poked around with the guitar while Debra plotted our next moves.
I am in the middle of writing a song about one man’s American experience through the lens of his time in Vietnam. It is a real John Mellencamp kind of ballad, with unapologetic patriotism, faith and love in the lyric, and I have what I think is a pretty usable melody were I to find a good singer for the demo. I have one in mind. I had one verse, B section and hook line complete, and I had tried several second verses, none of which I liked. Here’s the first part:
He’s a hero to his country and his family.
He did his time in Vietnam, came home to start anew,
And when the factory took him on, he worked harder than anyone,
Promoted through the ranks with the respect of all the crew.
She’s the stuff of patriotic anthems.
A girl the likes of which her town had never seen before.
The first to go to college from a working family,
She came back home to help her town with healing from the war.
Together they have raised three now-grown children.
Their love for one another sets the other free
They’re the backbone of this land, one woman and one man,
They’re Moms and Dads to folks like you and me…
Before I had even begun playing, I started chatting with my immediate neighbor, and the more he told me, the more I kept thinking this song was about him. I showed him the song and he appreciated it a lot, and as we spoke further, he told me one of the most wonderful stories I have ever heard.
He was in a particularly terrible firefight right around Christmastime, and unlike many of his buddies that day, he made it back to a promised hot Christmas meal. In addition to the hot meal, the GIs were welcome to pick out a random letter that had been sent to any soldier, part of some morale program someone was running stateside. It was a nice thing, and my new friend appreciated it, so he reached in deep and routed around a bit, then picked up one of the letters.
The rare hot meal was of a more pressing nature than was the letter, and he sat down to enjoy it. When he was done, he read a letter from a Texas girl about his age, wishing him as merry a Christmas as he might be able to have, and they began a correspondence. To make a long story short, as he said, they have been married for 42 years. I was moved to write a second verse.
The way they met’s a story for the ages
She sent a random Christmas letter halfway ‘round the world
They lost so many men that day when hell rained down in Cam Ranh Bay
After evening prayers he read that letter from the girl
And so began a year’s long correspondence
The envelopes they opened up were sealed in honesty
Their love was born of tears, and it’s lasted forty years
They’re Moms and Dads to folks like you and me
I wrote a bridge and a last verse as well, and I look forward to sending him a copy of the song once I get it recorded. That’s it for Abilene. We didn’t do much there, but I thank Mr. Lloyd Rose for his service and for the story he told me, because as I try to put a great marriage together for my wife and me, the humility and inspiration I derived from our meeting was a perfect fit for the kind of learning I seek right now.
I played Taps when the sun set, and he and his grandchildren gathered around. It was July 3rd, so I followed up with the Star-Spangled Banner to a very appreciative young audience of three along with Mr. Rose. It has been one of my favorite performances on the whole trip.