They Called My Mama Sister


Anyone who’s been hanging in there waiting for more tech and music posts knows that I’ve been going through some sort of metaphysical reconciliation lately.  When your older friends start looking like you imagine your parents would look if they hadn’t smoked themselves to death, you start thinking about time and distance and what matters and what doesn’t.  It’s hard to tell in any given moment, when your perspective is clouded by the Orwellian fog and awkward interactions that life entails, but over time patterns start to emerge.

Numbers, math, cards, music in a minor key.  Commonly approximated as 3.14159.

Don’t you push me baby, ’cause I’m all alone.
Well I know a little something you won’t ever know.

Speaking of awkward interactions, Ricky, who works for me at the farm sometimes, came by yesterday.  He needed some gas, and another friend’s phone number.  He got the gas, while I looked up the number.  I gave it to him, “Ricky, don’t lose that number. You don’t want to call nobody else.”  He shook his head, and turned and run.  You just can’t pass up those once in a lifetime opportunities.

Back in the day I used to respond to this one friend’s chat messages with song titles. He never figured it out, but my manifest inability to stay on topic annoyed him.

Latently, I was right there.  There was a pattern.  He just missed it.  Like almost everyone else.  Or maybe I did. It’s been a while.

I think Ryan Adams was channeling primordial patterns when he wrote Dancing with the Women at the Bar.  The up-tempo version from ACL a decade or so ago captured the futility of trying to escape preordained trajectories.  It’s not on YouTube, so this will have to do.

My daddy saw the moon, heard the sound of the strip 
Yeah, it called out his name 
Yeah, it called out his name 
My daddy saw the moon, and heard the sound of the strip 
Yeah, it called out his name 
And it called his son’s name too

I barely remember my dad, but I think he would like that song.  He took a lot of pictures.  I think he understood patterns.


I’m all about patterns.  Look out mama, there’s a red boat coming down the river, and all that.  Maybe I’m on the wrong trail, like those coon hounds I keep finding on my game cameras out in the back woods.  Or maybe we’re the only ones who understand what we’re chasing. Hard to tell.

But I’ve figured out a few things.

Like that this song reminds me of my mom.  There are reasons why.  I wrote a short story about it.  A time of great sadness.  I’m trying hard to give less shits these days, but that’s a work in progress.  Aren’t we all?

I can’t think of a song, conversation or thought that couldn’t be made better with an accordion.  The G-man and I used to debate the proper use of horns in country music.  Horns can make a song, or destroy it.  Accordions are always accretive.

A hundred thousand Robins landed in my yard the other day.  Someone said they were on their way to Michigan.  Maybe all the way to the big lake they call gitche gumee.

And all that remains is the faces and the names,
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters.

Like those hounds, whatever I’m chasing or think I am originates in nature.  The wilderness.  I don’t have accompaniment by accordion out there, but I have wildlife.  A Kestrel landed on a low branch maybe ten feet away from me yesterday.  I was sort of expecting him.  I don’t think he was expecting me, but we shared a moment.  I was probably a villain in his story.  He was a hero in mine.  Together, we’re a Beach Boy’s record.  Al Jardine called the G-man once.  They talked about horses, not birds or horns.

De Duk Mon carved a Kestrel for me a long time ago.  It resides on the bookshelf in my study.  The ducks reside at the farm.  Narratives and whatnot.

I mistakenly tried to tell some friends about that Kestrel.  The real one.  They were as bored listening as I was in the telling.  Some things can’t be shared verbally.  Most things, actually.  I continue trying to master the art of silence.  It’s not going all that well so far.  My communist friend Amos would understand what I’m talking about, but not because he’s a communist.  Because he’s unfettered, deeply troubled by the state of things, and curious.

Curiosity may or may not kill the communist, but it is a major factor in the leaving of the herd.  For young people and old people.  People in the middle, not so much.  My dog’s in the middle of his life, and he rarely leaves the porch.

When you think you’ve finally crossed the grown-up line, one of the first impulses is to set off on your own.  Blaze a trail.  Make your mark.  Problem is, that grown-up line is a mirage that can set you on a course to one imaginary oasis after another.  Like that old man in Kamloops told me one drunken night: when in doubt, sit perfectly still.  I didn’t do that.  I have memories of that sweat lodge.  Some of them are real.

Speaking of an oasis, to this day the best hamburger I’ve ever had was served by a dude named Carlisle at the Oasis, a long-gone, ramshackle bar in my hometown.  The second best is the special at the Bellaire Broiler Burger, in Bellaire, Texas.


My grandparents and my uncles called my mom Sister.  She was the only daughter, with three brothers.  Uncle C.J., the older, stalwart brother.  Who called me Hunkcules and gave me Cokes, lemon pie and two cousins I wish I saw more.  People scattered by time and distance.  Uncle Lollie, who taught me how to shoot pool and how to resist the burden of expectation.  The first time he let me have a sip of his moonshine, I knew two things: it tasted terrible, and he believed I was cool enough not to tell my mom or his wife.  He was right.

Johnny Law followed me up the road, then he turned off and he let me go.

My friend Diana gave me some Mexican moonshine recently.  It still tastes terrible, but you don’t drink it for the taste.  You drink it because of its pedigree.  An uncle’s still, a friend’s grandmother.  And uncle Ken, the federal agent with a cool job he couldn’t talk about, who I think of tragically and was sort of named for.  His daughters and I were very close once.  We played Blind Man’s Bluff.  Now we’re just Facebook friends.

I never felt more free than I did wandering around in the middle of that familial herd.  Andrews, SC.  Georgetown County, in South Carolina.

Most of those folks are long gone.  On the days I believe in heaven, I imagine them up there, sitting on some celestial porch.  Amazed at how badly we’re bungling things down here on Earth.


I’ve written a lot of songs about my mama’s tribe.

Georgetown County, about swimming in the Black River and driving on railroad tracks.

Rosemary Avenue, about my mom’s family, and a girl named Melissa.

When we all crossed those state lines, we were burning bridges we didn’t even know we had crossed.  The world was expanding then.  I don’t think it is anymore.  I think it’s time to circle the wagons, dry our eyes, and rethink our plans.

If there’s a silver lining to crossing lines and burning bridges, it’s that I ended up in Texas.  Saw Freddy Fender, Steve Fromholz, Townes Van Zandt, Flaco Jiménez and Doug Sahm before they died.  Made friends with a guy who walked on the moon.

I may lack a herd, but at least I ended up in the most important state in the union.

That song is so frickin’ good.  Freddy Fender.  I feel like God smiled every time Freddy sang a country song in Spanish.  Oh, yeah, and there’s an accordion, but not just any accordion.  Flaco.

If you’re in the middle of a herd, huddle up.  The road is long and sometimes scary.  There’s safety there.  And more, if you know where to look.