Tag Archives: Grace

Jamming with Chet Atkins

(excerpt from upcoming novel Grace and Dreamer by Jeffery Kirkendall,  — also author of Without Consent and Indians & Aliens)

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Jack and his grandson Joshua jammed with Chet Atkins in Nashville. It was on the grassy

The Man
The Man

banks of what migrating Europeans named the Cumberland River. It was near a place where, in ancient times, herds of bison congregated to replenish themselves at a salt-lick. It was near a village that was the birthplace of the mother of the Shawnee prophet Tecumseh.

Near that same place, on that same river, over two centuries later, just down the asphalt street from the birthplace of the Grand Ole Opry, guitar worshipers gathered en-mass at Riverfront Park, in tribes one might say.

At that time in their life, Jack and Grace lived on the edge of a small Tennessee town with two stop-signs and a broken traffic signal. Lightning killed the traffic signal. No one complained or missed it, and it was never repaired.

During those eight years, Jack worked his job during the day and evenings and wrote songs late at night, in the middle of the night, and on weekends before dawn. Some of Jack’s songs seemed important, and provocative to Grace and their family and friends, but the established music community judged them “non-commercial,” or “not exactly what we’re looking for right now.”

Jack and Grace had a single-wide Jack’s family helped them buy. It was on two acres and surrounded by forest on three sides. There was a spring on the hill out back, and it fed a stream that went for miles winding through dense forest and sparse habitation.

Over the ensuing years, Jack and Grace often reflected on their life in Tennessee. As they looked back from old age, it was clear to them that those times and those places were sacred in significance.

The greatest joy of Jack and Grace’s time in those guitar years was when school let out, and Joshua came to visit for his summer vacation. He was a boy, longing to be a teenager, and his grandparents took him fishing, canoeing, visiting friends, to county fairs, and Civil War battlefields.

Joshua loved their English Tick Hound named Shiloh. Joshua loved riding his Uncle Redhorse’s horse, and teasing his Aunt Fawn. Joshua held in reverence the backgammon board his uncle gave him and the stones of the medicine wheel his Grandpa Jack had taught him to use.

During their Tennessee summers, the family food supply was abundant with red ripe Ripley tomatoes, deep green sweetly-red “black-diamond” watermelons, and buttered ears of corn as fine as frog hair. An old farmer friend sold freshly-slaughtered and barbequed chickens. Heavenly meals my friends. Heavenly meals.

It was warm, but not muggy. A light breeze. Jack picked up Joshua from the Nashville airport and explained they were going to the river. Josh thought it sounded great. That’s how they came to be walking a Nashville alley towards River Front Park, a buzzing bee-hive, river-bank crowd of string musicians of every faith, little faith, and no faith at all.

Josh whispered to Grandpa Jack that they were either hundreds of guitar players or hundreds of gangsters. He pointed out that everybody carried a dark case which could conceal a weapon. A coincidence I am sure, but after college, Joshua entered the police academy.

Men and women, young and old and in between, of every color and race, of every degree of musical proficiency, and a few eccentric souls strumming tunes which existed only in their unique musician minds.

On that historic afternoon, maybe a thousand guitar pickers gathered to play one song baby! . . “Heartbreak Hotel,” with the man who did the original guitar work for Elvis himself.

The jam would last an hour-and-a-half, and make Nashville the world record holder for the greatest number of guitars playing one song for the longest period of time.

Jack and Joshua were there with Jack’s two guitars. He had a classically-aged and country-played Martin D-28 that Bob Dylan would envy. Joshua played Jack’s back-up, a respectable knock-off of a Martin. Chet played a Gretsch 6120, but Jack knew Chet would approve of his Martin, just as Stradivarius would approve of Steinway.

The hillside was, as Julie Andrews might have sung, “alive with the sound of music.” Highly-regarded musical artists took turns walking out onto the floating stage on that Cumberland River. Each led the guitar-worshipers on the hill rising up before them.

Somewhere late in that sustained joyful sound, the man himself, Chet Atkins, took the stage and played as only a spiritual master and musical devotee’ could play. Jack strummed and watched and listened to Chet and remembered hearing Mr. Atkins on the radio and phonograph records when he was a boy. He was awed by the virtuoso’s talent.

Jack’s father was a gifted musician, and Jack loved guitars. As he listened to Chet Atkins play that day, it sounded of effortless beauty and fingers that live for the soul. At Joshua’s age, Jack had fantasies of playing the guitar in such a fashion. But while Jack had the passion and imagination, he did not have the gifts for playing at such a level.

That day it did not matter. That day, Jack had the gift of a guitar jam with his grandson Joshua and the legendary Chet Atkins. Somehow, somewhere, some decades back, he must have dreamed this scene, because it felt like some mysterious circle, he could never have before imagined, was complete.

Jack looked at Joshua, and Josh looked back questioningly.

“You having a good time?” Grandpa Jack asked.

Joshua smiled and said he was.

“Me too.” Jack replied and then continued in his most respectful Elvis voice,

Since my baby left me, I found a new place to dwell,

down at the end of Lonely Street, at the Heartbreak Hotel.

I’m so lonely baby, I’m so lonely, . . I could cry.

Author Jeffery Kirkendall
Author Jeffery Kirkendall

Joshua joined in.

So did Chet.

*

Hear Heartbreak Hotel solo guitar by Chet Atkins

*

 

 

Marriage-Decision-Vision

(excerpt from the forthcoming novel Grace and Dreamer by Jeffery Kirkendall)

Jack was considering asking Grace to marry him.

Photo by Winged Photography
Photo by Winged Photography

During this time of great contemplation, he was driving his truck to the cabin he and Grace were staying in for a couple of weeks of writing. On a little-traveled two-lane blacktop, among the springtime Ponderosa pines, he was startled by a large hawk flying dangerously close in front of him. He put the brakes on and watched as the bird soared up onto a nearby hill and landed at the top of a bare dead tree.

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Jack pulled off the road, and stopped. The hawk was beckoning to him. He deftly eased out of the truck, walked over and slipped through a fence, and then he strode towards the crest of the hill and the old tree and the great bird. As he came close to the bird’s perch, his winged brother tilted his head for a last look, nodded, and lifted off to the east.

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Jack stood still in the light breeze and scanned the valley below, much as the winged one had appeared to do. Then before him he noticed a distinct depression in the earth. It was long and narrow and strangely looked just the size for a human to lay in. Jack had read of an Indian that went on a vision quest, fasting for days while lying in just such a hole on top of a hill. So Jack laid down in the earth.

As he laid there and looked about, he thought the soft natural bed was deliberately located on the hill so that someone lying in it was positioned in an offertory fashion before the sky above and earth below.  So he closed his eyes and opened himself up to a prayer, asking God to guide him in his important life decision.

He was suddenly taken with the image and sense of an old man standing still before him, a man who appeared peaceful and carried a staff. He looked at Jack until Jack realized he had just asked in his prayer, “Should I marry Grace?”  The old man had come with lightning  response.

The old man made a slight gesture with his staff, and Jack had an amazing vision of many attractive and sensual women surrounding him in a public venue.  They showered him with attention and adulation for his many worldly accomplishments. Jack felt some of the  sensations of that vision as it lingered, and then instantly it was gone.

Before him again was the old man. Jack understood him to say. . .

or you can marry this woman and live a life of greatness.

The vision vanished.  The gentle sounds of the birds in the meadow returned.
Alone on the hill, lying in the grass and sunshine and a gentle breeze, Jack sat up and looked across the valley.

He knew . . .

It was true.

*

*

Redbone Puppy Heals Woman

Joe & Shiloh in a barrel The following is an excerpt from Jeff’s novel scheduled for an autumn release. It is the sequel to Indians & Aliens and unexpected short stories. This second book of his Dreamer Series is titled Grace & Dreamer – extreme love stories.  Be aware, there is in this piece direct reference to brutal violence.  There is also a happy ending.

*

. . . During that pause, Buddy spoke up. “Do I remember you sayin’ that your wife has a fondness for Redbone Hounds?”

“Yes,” Jack answered.

Then Buddy explained that his dog Big Joe had drug his doghouse across the back of their property to mate with their female, and they had an unexpected litter of puppies. He told Jack that if he brought Grace out in a couple weeks, he would give her the pick of the litter. He gave Jack their phone number and Jack wrote down the directions to finding their place.

Jack told Buddy that he would talk it over with Grace and see what she thought.

*

This was a big issue for Grace, and Jack knew it. Her beloved dog Napoleon was the Redbone Hound of her adolescence, a gift she cherished and found joy in during some of the hardest times of her life. She walked with that dog and talked with that dog and slept with that dog.  Her stepfather decapitated Napoleon in front of Grace with one swing of an axe . . to teach the girl a lesson.

Grace was not sure she could open the doors to that painful memory.
She was not sure she wanted a living, breathing daily reminder of her early life. Eventually she decided they could just go look at the puppies with no intention of picking one out. She figured they could not compare with the famous bloodline that her dog had come from. “I’ll know a good hound when I look them all over,” she said.

When they arrived at Buddy and June’s that day, Jack turned off the engine and was the first to speak. “Don’t be afraid to hear it.” “What? What did you say Honey?” “I said don’t be afraid to hear it.”

“Hear what?” she asked.

He replied, “Your own spirit voice. Don’t be afraid to hear your calling.”

“Oh,” she responded when she recognized what Jack meant. Even from the truck, she could see, “Yeah, they’re good looking dogs.”

“Well,” he went on, “take some time with them. See how it feels to you. If you want one, we’ll take one home. If not, that’s all right too. Really Hun, whatever feels right to you.”

Then Jack backed away and left her alone with the litter of six Redbone  puppies. At that moment, time went wild in her mind. It had been forty years since she last touched a hound like those. The smell took her back to the day she fell in love with Napoleon.

The moment was surreal, and she became lightheaded and had to steady herself by grabbing the corner of the puppy’s pen. New Hampshire, New York, Connecticut, and Vermont.  Live free or die country was another lifetime ago. Suddenly it was like yesterday. Deep woods and French Canadian accents, dancing on wood floor houses that shook under the weight of people partying , long walks along the creeks, hiding under the fallen leaves to feel safe, fanciful images of racing the wind as she stared out the window on long train rides, beaches, clambakes, hurricanes, Central Park, Sheepshead Bay, The Brooklyn Dodgers, writers and artists, made men, prize fighters, limousines and staying alive.

Her mind reeled as she was in Tennessee, home of Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Lefty Frizzell, Johnny Cash, namesake of Tennessee Williams, home to young Cormac McCarthy. She lived an easy drive north of that place she read about as a girl in Junior High history class. She remembered a Civil War battlefield called Shiloh, and she thought it meant “place of peace.”

*

Jack passed the time with Buddy. “Jack I’ve loved my wife a little, loved my children a little, and well . . I’ve loved my dogs a lot.” He paused for Jack’s smile. “It’s been a good life over all.” Then he looked off towards the woods, like a man at peace, like the list of life decisions he had made was complete and satisfactory.

Jack looked down at the earth and kicked the dusty clay soil. “Yeah, Buddy. What else can we ask for?”

Just then Grace looked his way, and he decided it was time to join her. By the time he started in her direction, Buddy was walking with him quiet, the way two men do when they are comfortable with each other, like they know how the other thinks, and they respect each other. Grace was still staring at the puppies when the two men arrived next to her.

She excused herself, and the two men and June watched Grace make her way down to the back part of the property to meet Big Joe and Daisy, the momma of the brood. Grace talked with them a long time before slowly starting uphill to the people and pups of the present.

She was spinning with thoughts of her early years in Arizona. The rape ordered by Liam, the pregnancy, the bikers, card sharks, front men, hustlers, sisterhoods, battles fought, battles lost.

Growing up in New England sexually abused was her first lifetime. Her first marriage was her second lifetime. Children raised, children abused and children healing. Her sons and daughter struggling to find their ways in life. The church she found. The minister who inspired her. Her personal therapy. Divorced after twenty-five years. Two graduate degrees wile working her way through college. Clinical Director of a prestigious organization.

Then she met Jack.

As she strolled up the hill to the puppy pen where the others gathered, her mind caught up with real time and she gazed at the man of her third lifetime, her precious husband and partner. She walked up to him gracefully and put her arms around him. “I love you Jack Goodman.”

He put his arms around her. “I love you Gracie Ann.  What you gonna name that pup you were holdin’?”

“Rachel.”

“Perfect.”

 

Answered Prayer Found

Carol Ann & Merlin, Tennessee Autumn
Carol Ann & Merlin, Tennessee Autumn

While sorting through the creative mess of my desk, I found something I wrote two years and eight months before Carol’s passing. I prayed this prayer in one form and another countless times. To all who contributed to this answered prayer. . .

my deepest gratitude.

 

PRAYING FOR GRACE

Let children gather at her bedside asking questions of her life.

Let women who know who she is

tend to her every need

bring her nutritious foods

comfortable pillows

pick her favorite book

read to her aloud

as she rests her eyes

and safely falls asleep

 

Let spiritual brothers and sisters soothe her

waking from a childhood nightmare,

identify themselves and talk with her,

assuring her she is with someone she loves.

 

Help me

Help her

Help us all

 

Let there be no harm

Only kindness

 

Amen

Me-tauk-we-ah-seh
(Phonetic Lakota blessing)

AUTHOR SUNDAY

It is hard to write The Great American Novel . . . fifteen-minutes-at-a-time.

I provide 24/7 care-taking for a disabled seventy-five-year-old woman who has been my best friend, lover, wife, and the most influential woman in my life for thirty years.  It is the only paying job I have had for the last four years.  Medicade nets me two-hundred-and-forty-five dollars a week to care for my wife, and that will soon be cut to about two-hundred.  We live and love in our vintage thirty-foot Holiday Rambler travel trailer that my cousin bought us a year ago after we lost our home.

My life-style is close to that of a single mom with a disabled child at home.  Every hour of every day has a list of things that need attention, and I know that I will not get to them all.  What is important?

On Sundays I practice a role-playing routine.  I pretend that I am a noteworthy writer, that writing is my forte’, my profession, my Calling, if you will.  I put on my New York City writer’s hat, dress like an author going to meet his agent, and act like I would imagine someone would act who has something to contribute to the world, even a  legacy to leave.

I still get my sweetheart her meds on time, food on time, exercise, reading, resting, getting to the bathroom on time.  But I do not sweat the small stuff on Sunday.  No rent, utilities, leaking faucet, laundry, dirty floors, or creditors.  I have to work at blocking these things out of my mind while washing the dishes.

While my partner sleeps, I write, or think about writing, meditate, pray, and attempt to discern what is most important to get down.  Then I do it.  I never know how long I will have to finish before I have to move on to my critical responsibilities.  Will I get to complete my thoughts?

So this is what I have done this Author Sunday. . . . Excuse me, she has pulled off her oxygen hose.

Okay, I’m back, but she will need to get to the bathroom soon, so let me say this before the day takes off in another  direction.

The long-term effects on aging victims of childhood torture and terrorism are profound, even mind-boggling.  Being beaten, choked, shocked, kicked, burned, sexually-impaled, over years, . . leaves damaged spines, brain trauma, organ-tissue damage, deformed joints, hearing and sight impairment, and then there are the nightmares, flashbacks, and the relentless, soul-challenging physical pain.

And all this suffering, all of it, is for the sins of others.

That has to make it one of the most tragic scenarios Life can deal a human being, don’t you think?

I have to go now and put my arms around the love of my life and slow-dance with her to the commode.  She laughs when I whisper in her ear the way I did when we were newly weds.

Younger Days
Younger Days

So here is my finale’.

Make a difference where you can. 

Love the one you’re with. 

          And remember, . . .

                    Living Gracefully

                                is the best revenge.

J. Kirkendall