Thursday, November 30, 2006


The little girl just sat down and whimpered.

One of the best groups of acoustic singer-songwriters to ever gather in Van Zandt County, I have no doubt, was in the greenhouse at Rancho Frijole just outside Wills Point. Jay Johnson. Michael O’Neal. Annie Benjamin. Several more. It was really a fine show although I didn’t stay until the end.

Because it was cool outside, and was going to be cold as the sun fell, the show had been moved into the big greenhouse – maybe 40 yards long, with a lit area at one end for the musicians and a lit kitchen at the other end. A whole lot of nice plants were squeezed into the middle and to one side while the audience – not nearly as big as it should have been – sat in chairs mostly in the dark.

As I stood on the concrete sidewalk down the middle of the greenhouse, the little girl – maybe four, maybe a young five – walked quietly past me, then suddenly sat on the gravel off the edge of the sidewalk between a couple of tall plants and began to whimper in the big, dark place filled with strangers. She tried to be brave.

I bent over and asked her if she needed some help.

Her name was – is – Jessica. Quietly, not quite crying, she said she wanted her mother, Ruth, and her father, Russell, and she wanted a flashlight. Nobody else heard us talk.

Between two of Michael O’Neal’s songs, I walked up to him, turned, and asked if anybody knew Ruth and Russell, because Jessica missed them very much. A couple of people leaped to the rescue and, in a few minutes, Jessica was okay. (One of her parents was up at the house asleep, the other was on the campgrounds, and there were several people in the crowd who knew and comforted Jessica.)

Sometimes, a flashlight is a wonderful thing to hold. A flashlight can feel as good as a full tank of gas or freshly washed hands. My parents with their music and books have always been flashlights.

When I was a child, Betty Boop was a flashlight for me because she was the first “woman” I ever really noticed. My first girlfriend-from-a-distance, in first grade, looked kinda like Betty Boop without the curves.

The fifth or sixth graders who laughed at me were flashlights of a sort. They didn’t really laugh at me; they laughed at the supposed-to-be-funny stories I wrote about a character named Conrad Bugsnatcher.

The spinster freshman English teacher in high school was a flashlight when she came to life reciting “Bells” and the now politically incorrect, certainly questionable “Congo.” Not for the words of either poem, but for the sounds of the words strung together. At the dawn of the 1960s, “Congo,” which came from a different time, already made me a little squeamish.

The person, now gone, who suggested I might consider living in a cave in the Big Bend was a flashlight.

The muses, of course, are flashlights as are many mere mortals.


Here’s a contest. I’ll burn a free copy of the CD with my favorite songs (in combination) to the first person who can name what album each of the 18 songs came from. This is mostly a virtual CD in my RealPlayer; it’s certainly not something to sell, and I certainly hope no one who’s on it minds if I make a copy because it promotes good music that some of you probably haven’t heard. The collection (from Texas-related artists; it’s an arbitrary thing) in 2006 sorta fits my mood for the year. I see it as a CD in 2 or 3 acts, in this order:

1. “Utopia” (Eden Automatic)
2. “Dark Stranger” (Kristy Kruger)
3. “105” (Guy Forsyth)
4. “Country Town” (Guthrie Kennard)
5. “Swept Away” (Jon Dee Graham)
6. “Spirit Bird” (The McKay Brothers)
7. “7 Angels on a Bicycle” (Carrie Rodriguez)
8. “Pilgrim’s Progress” (Kris Kristofferson)
9. “Bury Me with Soldiers” (Michael O’Neal)
10. “I Hope” (The Dixie Chicks)
11. “Beautiful Trouble” (Tom Russell)
12. “Picture in a Frame” (Seth Walker; yes, it’s the Tom Waits song)
13. “Lie to Me” (Jeff Talmadge)
14. “Depend on Me” (Randy Hopper)
15. “Comfort” (Sara Hickman)
16. “Pour Me” (Beth Garner)
17. “Rocky Shore” (Albert & Gage)
18. “Hearts Are Breakin’” (Amanda Shires)

Sometime in the next week or two I’ll email my list of 25 favorite Texas-related CDs for 2006. Yeah, I know the year’s not over yet but publications that will reprint the list insist on sharing them before the year actually ends. Maybe the list will help with your Christmas shopping.