Keepsakes: Earth Stars and Sky Stars
We have a bookcase in my upstairs office full of our most precious books. There’s a five volume collection of Jane Austen from 1833 that spent more than a century in Stoneleigh Abbey ( a house associated with Austen’s family and thought to be a model for Northanger Abbey; oddly, Caroline’s first close English friend, Pip, grew up in a house on the Stoneleigh property) and there’s an eight volume collection of Trollop’s Barchester Chronicles given to me by Bob Glynn and Joan Bok; there’s Taylor Ewing Junior’s copy of the Souls of Black Folk and two of Prince Albert Ewing’s law books. On top of the bookshelf are precious objects. Here photographer Bob Delevante has captured a close up of a teacup from my friend Ann, an early American mug from a surrogate mother, and the medallion ASCAP gave me when they inducted me into the Silver Circle along with Reba McEntire and Lyle Lovett in 2008.
My favorite Ann story is also a favorite story about me, my daddy, and stars. After three or four months of not being conscious, my father, George Stanley Randall, the man who I dedicated Pushkin and the Queen of Spades to, died. I was thirty-five or thirty six; my daughter was in the second grade. The day after daddy’s death Ann can by to take me to lunch. I was in the shower preparing to get ready to go, when I realized that I wanted to see the place where my father was born. I came downstairs and told Ann. She was dressed for a consolation lunch at a nice restaurant nearby. She said, “Of course you do.” An hour later we were headed to Selma.
There was a picture of my Daddy up on the dashboard (it would be stolen with the car when the car was stolen during my bridesmaids lunch but that’s a different story) as we crossed the Tennessee State line.
Moments into Alabama we saw men on a chain gang. We drove a little further and saw kids riding a horse for transportation. Barefoot. I shuddered and wondered if this pilgrimage to my father’s birthplace was a good idea. We kept rolling.
We blasted past Birmingham, where Ann had, two decades before, attended Samford University as an outsider from Tampa, and found our way into Selma just after dark.
Though I would later cross the Edmund Pettus bridge on foot and in the company of then Senator Obama, former President Clinton, and Senator Clinton, the first time and most significant time I ever crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge was with Ann in my black Jeep.
It wasn’t long before we found some land that felt like it was the place my father had been born. I looked up at the stars and was struck with an understanding that the great advantage of being poor in a rural place over being pour in an urban environment—and it is a very great advantage-- is that in a rural environment your world is naturally intellectually stimulating.
Seeing the stars in that sky I wanted to count and I wanted to predict pattern. Instead I pulled out some hair from my head and I buried a bit of my father by burying a bit of me. Then I prayed.
When I looked up from my prayer I saw Ann in the woods in the dark gathering wildflowers and wild tall grasses. I knew if George were looking down from heaven he would well appreciate the sight of pretty women doing sweet things for him. Beneath those stars I felt myself and Ann to be the answer to an audacious prayer. The day my father was born, not one person gathered around his crib could have even imagined a white woman, to the country club born, would one day run down the road to see after him in the hours of his death.
That's the sky star story, now for a few earth stars. A very long time ago I had an opportunity to eat dinner with Lyle Lovett at my friend and co-writer (“Baby’s Blue Lullaby,” and “Get the Hell Out of Dodge) Walter Hyatt’s house.
Lyle loved Walter and his music. So did I. At the time Lyle had just produced or was about to produce a solo Walter album called King Tears. This particular night Willis Alan Ramsey, Champ Hood, Lyle, Walter, and me were sitting around Walter’s apartment (an apartment where Heidi had literally given birth to Walter’s second daughter and third child) on an alley off Music Row, talking about old times and the magic of Uncle Walt’s Band, South Carolina’s greatest claim to alt country fame, when the conversation turned to dirt eating and elemental sustenance.
It was strange and unforgettable and it was something to hold onto when Walter died when a Value Jet crashed into the Florida Everglades May of 1996.
My favorite Reba story should be the time I wrote the treatment for her video of the year “Is There Life Out There.” It isn't. My favorite Reba story is from a time before she got famous. My friend Diana Haig was driving Reba somewhere. Reba was all made up and gorgeous with hair teased ‘Jacked up to Jesus.” Unfortunately, Diana drove a fifties Chevy with the windows rolled down, on hot summer days, because it didn’t have air conditioning. The day Diana was to drive Reba was a very hot summer day. Reba, at least when the story was passed down to me, made Diana drive with the windows rolled up. That's earth star discipline.