Not only to fly, but to bring the world's eyes...skyward.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Good-Hearted Woman

One of the few little joys of getting old as a parent has to be watching your kids trying to conceal their newfound enjoyment of the music they couldn't stand when they were too young for it to hold any meaning for them: that is, your music.

Music was a pervasive part of my childhood home. A former school band director, Dad could play a little of everything, but the bass guitar was his baby, and he found his way into a few truly good bands over the years. One was the Rocky Ford Ramblers, a five-piece that would consistently pack the Findlay, Ohio Eagles' club (among other "smaller" venues) every Saturday night, covering a lot of 1950's-1970's country and rockabilly.

Dad wasn't the best singer in the band, but what he lacked in range and genuine twang, he made up for in the sheer joy he clearly got out of performing. I couldn't really understand why yet, but for some reason the song that seemed to get him going like no other was Waylon Jennings' Good Hearted Woman. Now I understand, though, and the song will always make me think of his bride.

For those who didn't grow up "under the influence" of Waylon, the lyrics:

A long time forgotten the dreams that just fell by the way
The good life he promised ain't what she's livin' today
But she never complains of the bad times
Or the bad things he's done, lord
She just talks about the good times they've had
And all the good times to come

She's a good hearted woman in love with a good timin' man
She loves him in spite of his ways she don't understand
With teardrops & laughter they pass through this world hand in hand
A good hearted woman, lovin' a good timin' man

He likes the bright lights and night life and good time friends
And when the party's all over she'll welcome him back home again
Lord knows she don't understand him but she does the best that she can
This good hearted woman, lovin' a good timin' man

She's a good hearted woman in love with a good timin' man
She loves him in spite of his ways she don't understand
With teardrops & laughter they pass through this world hand in hand
A good hearted woman, lovin' a good timin' man

Without ever meeting my folks, you'd have a pretty good picture of their relationship if you just knew that song: who would rationalize what became mistakes, and who would support then forgive; who'd take unreasonable risks, and who'd heal the wounds they left; who was almost always the taker, and who the giver.

And if you think Dad got the royal treatment, you should have been this woman's kid. Really—you should have. I don't care who you are or what you do, you'd have been better off, I guarantee it. Actually, considering how many of us she had, chances are fairly good you're one of us. Just kidding, Mom.

One thing my mom doesn't do much is read. Somehow, in the midst of being Dad's wife (a job entailing nearly-constant housework not quite offset by the "opportunity" to pack up and move every two to five years) and raising five kids between 1958 and 1986 (none of whom have yet been in rehab, prison, or a Girls Gone Wild DVD), she just never got into the groove of curling up with a good book on a quiet night.

So it's not a surprise or disappointment to me that she hasn't yet read my Incredible Shrinking Novel, A Silver Ring. But it is a little sad—especially considering I'm cutting it nearly in half in hopes of making it more attractive to publishers. Anything that doesn't advance the plot, create tension, or illustrate a critical nuance of my characters, few of whom are total fabrications, must go—including an embarrassing number of long stretches of superfluous background narrative successful writers deride as "info dumps."

One such piece of fat thrown to the butcher's dogs just this week is a little scene I channeled from one of my darkest childhood nightmares to show how soul-wrenchingly conflicted a certain airline-pilot-to-be named Paul Hutchinson felt the day he heard his parents were going to divorce. It's not important to my novel, but it's an integral part of me, which I know makes it precious to Mom.

I'm not going to make her read the whole book until it has some big New York publisher's ISBN number on the back, but since this almost certainly won't be part of it if and when it does, I want her, and you, to read it.

I never really had to choose who I'd live with, thank God. And thank Mom. A "Gooder-Hearted Woman" my Dad, my siblings, and I will never know.

The divorce presented an agonizing dilemma to young Paul, who loved both his parents dearly and took great comfort from Gloria's abiding presence through all the upheaval over the years. He couldn't ignore that he had much more in common with his father, just as many boys do, but there was much more between them than the usual father/son stuff. The two were inseparable whenever and wherever the subject of flying was about, which their obsession guaranteed to be virtually all the time. Paul had been so enamored with his father's flying expertise that his influence was galvanized by association in many other arenas, ranging from tinkering with the family cars and household projects, to sports, fishing, camping, and the like, to the primeval urge to sit around a fire and talk, or not, as men have done together for eons.

Paul, now a sophomore at Marion's Harding High School, had finally made some good friends, despite yet another of many rocky starts as "the new kid" in junior high, and for the first time in his turbulent little life felt like a real part of the school landscape. He had even secretly developed an agonizingly intense crush on a girl in his class. He wanted nothing more than to stay in Marion and graduate from that high school, but he wanted nearly as much to stay with his father, where his love for flying would be welcome. When his parents told him of the divorce, they offered him the choice of with whom he would stay, and the stress of the decision, added to all the other adolescent turmoil, made the intense boy nearly suicidal.

In the end, his mother saw the incredible tizzy he had worked himself into and took pity on him, saying as she tucked him into bed one night, "I know you're having a hard time with this, Paul, and I think I know why. You and your dad have a relationship that any boy would envy, and you do love your airplanes, don't you?"

Looking up at his mom from his pillow, his eyes instantly glassed full, and huge tears cascaded from them as he pursed his lips tightly and nodded his head, sniffing a little.

"Oh, honey, it's okay, it really is. I wish I had something like that that just took me into another place whenever I thought about it, but I don't. You're very lucky."

"Yeah, right. Great. Now what?"

"Listen. Look at me." He brought his eyes up from the P-51 Mustang model sitting on the dresser by the foot of his bed to the face of the woman who had brought him into the world, in whose eyes he could see nothing but vulnerable, invincible, selfless love.

"If you want to stay with him, I understand. You two are peas in a pod, and as angry as I am with him, I love what he does for you, and you don't do him anything but favors, either. I'm not going to be mad at you or feel like you abandoned me or anything if you go with him."

Paul's flushed face broke into a hurt, angry look as he said, "Oh, ok, that's nice. Been nice knowing you. Bye!"

"Paul Prator you know good and well that's not what I'm saying," Gloria was crying now, and reached her arms around her son to pull him up to her.

"I just know your father's never happier than when he's flying those damned planes, and you're just like him, maybe even worse, and I don't want you feeling guilty for my sake if you go with him. I know you love me, and I hope you know how much I love you, and none of that's ever going to change no matter who lives where or with whom, ok?"

The two of them sat there in his bed holding each other and crying for a few minutes, until Paul had cried enough to compose himself again.

"Mom, it's not just that. I don't want to change schools again. I'm so sick of being the new kid, and now I'm finally not. I go to school and people actually go out of their way to talk to me. I pass notes with people between classes, I sit with the same people at lunch every day. It's like I'm one of the gang for once. I can't stand thinking about losing all that again - it takes two years to get my bearings every time we move, and that's all I've got left in school now!"

"I know, Paul, I know. The moving's been hard on all of us, and that's why I just can't do it any more, as much as I love your dad, I just can't. So, I know what you're saying, believe me."

"If I stayed with you, would you, like, get mad every time I talk about flying, or would you try to keep me from doing it? You know how I couldn't wait to be old enough to solo and everything, and now I'm doing it."

He was staring at the tail of the shirt he wore on his first solo flight the month before, bearing the inscription "1st SOLO MARCH 12, 1980 N9572Y RUNWAY 22" and a bad cartoon of a pilot in a Cessna reaching his hand down below the plane, feeling uncertainly for the ground, which was tacked up prominently on the back of his bedroom door, where he could easily see it. It had been, by far, the best day of his life, but was less than a week before the day his dad identified himself as an alcoholic and was fired.

"As much as I hate what your father's love for flying did to our marriage and our lives, I can't tell you that I'm not proud of what you're doing with it. You've got what he never had - you know what you want to do with your life before it even starts. If that's what makes you happy, I say go for it, and I'm behind you all the way."

He hugged her hard, and asked how she thought he could tell Justin. She said nothing at first, and then, when his raised eyebrows and sad eyes made his question unavoidable, said "I don't know" as she looked through him.


  1. Behind every tax-paying productive member of society is the mom who made him or the person he or she is -- good luck on chopping that novel, and thanks for sharing about your mom.

  2. Nathan,thank you for the beautiful commentary on me. It was very humbling. That was one of my favorite Country songs in those days - music carried me through some tough times. You poor thing - you had to cut quite a lot out of your book, but maybe it really didn't need to be in there, hm? I don't know if I was a heroine or just a coward - but I always heard the Bible quotation from Ruth - "I will go where you go......... your people will be my people" in my head, so we moved a lot. But it all worked out well, anyway, thank God.

    Anyway, I was very touched by your Mother's Day letter to me - if you get time, I'd like to have a hard copy to keep. That's quite some book you're writing - can't wait to read the completed copy. I love you and am very proud of you. Love, Mom


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