Country music, it is said, tells the stories of the common man.
And, as I can tell you, of a young woman searching for her way in an unknown world much bigger than the one that raised her.
I have a playlist named “The South”. It has 62 of my favorite country music songs. The other night, I was mixing up a meat loaf and listening to that playlist when a song came up that was so true to my experience that I could remember the night in the Dallas airport.
Over and over, I played it as I remembered that long distance call, collect, I made to Mama in Georgia. I loved the exciting life I had on the stock car circuit but, back home, Mama was stringing green beans from her garden and getting ready to can them.
It was a melancholy call and Mama knew it. Mamas can always tell.
We had raced that day in Riverside, Calif., and I was headed back to my office in Indianapolis. In those days, it was virtually impossible to fly to Indy direct from anywhere other than Dallas, New York and Atlanta.
We had a layover in Dallas, and I was kicking around, thinking that summer revivals were about to start and that fireflies were lighting the Southern summer with orangey, yellow glows.
“Mama,” I began sadly. “Pray for me. I’m so homesick. I know I’m doing good and making good money, but it’s lonely without y’all.”
This was typical of a Sunday night when I was flying back to Indianapolis. It was the loneliest time. I loved the days when I was at the race track with my friends who had become like family. So close were the bonds that formed in those days that, all these years later, eight or nine of those folks are among my dearest friends.
Last Christmas Eve, Tink and I were visiting Graceland as is now our tradition. Because of a sudden uptick in the pandemic, we were two of only 30 or so people who visited that day. I stood alone – completely – at Elvis’ grave when I saw Tink hurrying across from the meditation garden, talking on my phone.
“Hold on just a minute,” he said, “here she is.” Handing the phone to me, he said, “It’s Childress.”
Richard Childress, one of racing’s greatest warriors, is a dear friend and mentor.
“I’m callin’ some of my special friends to wish them a Merry Christmas, and you’re at the top of the list,” he said.
“I’m standin’ here at Elvis’ grave,” I chuckled. “In the midst of two American icons.”
So it was in those days, that I built strong friendships that remain steadfast 30 years later. It is one of the most wonderful blessings of my years on earth. But going back to that little one-bedroom, second-story apartment in Indy on Sunday nights was painful. Miserable. Almost unbearable. It was particularly hard if we had the next weekend off from racing so I’d have to go 10 days without seeing my second family.
The memories of those Sunday nights and that particular night in the Dallas airport are rendered more powerful when I listen to a song by the 1980s country group, Diamond Rio.
“Mama, Don’t Forget to Pray for Me” was written by Larry Cordle and Larry Shell, but every word sounds like my experience that night in Dallas. Scattered lines include:
“It’s good to hear your voice. I hate to call so late but I didn’t have a choice…
“I’m calling you from Dallas…
“I wish I had more time to talk. There’s so much to say…
“I should be happy but somehow I’m not…
“I just thought of you and home and got a little sad…
These days, when I hear that song, it makes me sadder than how I felt then.
Because I wish I still had Mama to pray for me.