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In 1963, when news broke that country music superstars Patsy Cline, Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas, along with Cline’s manager Randy Hughes, had died in a tragic plane crash, radio personality Paul Harvey took to the airwaves: “Somebody will write a cow-classic about this night ride to nowhere. Because hill folks are a sentimental lot. But, the highest compliment their eulogies are likely to include is that the somber citizens who converged this day on that ugly scar in the woodland where pieces of four bodies lay, that there are real tears in their whispered words. And, that they refer to each of the suddenly deceased by his or her first name. For none of them ever thought of Randy and the Cowboy, Hawkshaw and Patsy, any other way as homefolks, kinfolks, friends.”
Since hearing the news of George Jones‘ death, I’ve been reminded of Harvey’s consolable words, “Homefolks, kinfolks, friends.”
I don’t remember anything I got that Christmas in 1995. I’m sure there was a doll and maybe even a teddy bear, but if there was that memory has fallen off the books.
What I do remember was a cassette tape – George Jones’ Super Hits – given to my brother by our aunt and uncle.
We spent that Christmas night huddled around a black stereo, almost as if we were waiting for it to produce some sort of magic from its tiny black speakers.
We were just little bright-eyed country kids. We didn’t know anything about sorrow, we’d never heard of white lightnin’ and we weren’t even sure if we’d seen a Corvette in town. But man, there was something about that voice.
“Rewind it! Play that ‘Why Baby Why’ song one more time!”
Within an hour, we had the words down pat and my brother, five years older than me, was already practicing an imitation.
As my brother and I grew, George started to drag and the tape wore out. A CD player made its way into our home and Super Hits was back – this time on compact disc.
My brother would say, “The Possum, that’s what they call him.” We didn’t know why, but we thought that was a pretty cool nickname.
He went everywhere we went.
In the summertime, my brother would sing his songs on the tobacco setter.
In the wintertime, George would ease our minds from a stereo that hung from a nail in the barn’s stripping room.
We felt like we were really ridin’ in style in my brother’s Chevy S-10. He’d drop me off in the middle school parking lot blaring “The Window Up Above” and I’d beam with pride as he took off for the neighboring high school.
As I began to come of age, George’s music stuck with me, like an old pair of shoes his music was familiar and comfortable. Hearing his voice or seeing him on TV would bring back a flood of memories – just like the sight of homefolks, kinfolks, friends always does.
When the news broke that George Jones had died at 81-years-old Friday morning, I texted my brother: “George is gone … George was like family.”
But really I gained an entire extended family that Christmas night in 1995.
In that single moment, sitting around that stereo with my big brother, I became a lifelong country music fan.
I have George Jones to thank for it.
Molly Haines is a staff writer for the New-Herald.