Track One: “Forever and Ever, Amen,” Randy Travis, 1987.
My baby was conceived in the hot tub of the hot tub suite at the AmericInn across the highway from the Walmart and nearer the only mall in my hometown on the South Dakota prairie. Only mall if you don’t count the original, the Super City Mall, built in 1964 and holding distinction as the state’s first shopping mall. Today, the Super City Mall is a pretty sad hunk of masonry in the town’s center, anchored by a grocery store, an antique coin dealer, and a lonely Laundromat that’s been around longer than I have, nary a Fashion Bug nor even a Radio Shack, J.C. Penney or pretzel stand within its sleepy, run-down walls. I feel great affection for the places of my childhood, and it pains me even now to describe this mall as being sad and run-down, but so it is.
My mom told me once during a visit to the antique coin dealer and grocery store that she used to haul me every week to that Laundromat when I was a baby.
“It was so depressing,” she exhaled with a perceptible shudder as we shuffled past its darkened glass doors.
She was a single mom then and we lived alone, sans washing machine. But for over thirty years now she’s been the proud owner of her very own washing machine. Several of them, in fact. She’s got a husband now, too, and two more kids, one of whom has kids of her own, all of whom are also proud owners of washing machines, and dryers, too.
Alex, my soon-to-be baby daddy, and I were visiting the hot tub suite from out of town, from our home in Minneapolis. I’d moved away to the city while still a teenager some fourteen years earlier, and would return once or twice a year to visit the family.
It was Father’s Day weekend, which in my hometown coincides with the arts and crafts festival in the city park. By the end of the visit, I had packed up the Prius we’d driven from the city with a metal cactus, a metal donkey, a tall metal squirrel feeder shaped like a stalk of corn, a wind chime constructed out of a hand mixer and some old spoons, and a tin bird house. I suppose at the time I was trying to make my urban Minneapolis home look like it doesn’t belong there, probably because I didn’t much feel like I did. That Prius would a month or so later get smashed by a giant oak tree in a windstorm; I would help my neighbor cut and haul heavy loads of lumber, only to find out that night and on the eve of my honeymoon that I was doing so while newly pregnant. Oops! I thought I was being good, taking a pregnancy test before laying into the liquor for the evening after an afternoon of hard labor. Turns out I also should’ve taken one before playing lumberjack.
This particular AmericInn had a small bar in it, connected via ordering window to a banquet room.
“I didn’t know AmericInns had bars in ‘em,” I marveled to Alex as we sat sipping our whiskeys and vodkas. “And the pool’s open late – for adults only.” I wiggled my eyebrows. “We could totally go for a drunk swim.” But instead, we continued to sit watching a late-night sports program on the television mounted in the corner above the bar. Neither of us much liked sports, but not much else to do in a small town AmericInn just before bar close.
There was a wedding reception underway in the attached banquet room, which we could see and hear through a little open window. A group of men in camouflage vests and ladies in low-cut, floofy satin dresses poked their heads through the window, flagging down the bartender.
“Umm…” whined one of the women. “This doesn’t taste right?”
We watched as they complained that their assorted Buttery Nipples and Irish Car Bombs and Red Headed Sluts and Scooby Snacks didn’t pass muster.
“What exactly do they expect?” I muttered to Alex. One mustn’t ask too much of an AmericInn bartender in Aberdeen, South Dakota.
We returned to our room, and Alex ordered a frozen pizza from the front desk. We ate it in the hot tub while a rerun of Knight Rider played on the flat screen TV above the suite’s flickering gas fireplace.
Oh, and a baby was conceived! Maybe you want to hear the details on that, maybe you don’t. If you don’t want to hear about hot pizza hot tub sex in South Dakota, skip ahead to the next paragraph, and for the rest of you, I’ll in-between it on the finer points: We fucked in the hot tub, and I guess you can get pregnant in a hot tub! High school girls, beware: Just the tip can knock you up. Pull-out, knock you up. In a hot tub, also. And also? Fuckin’ after eatin’ a frozen pizza is sexy as H-E-Double Hockey Sticks. Just ask my kid. No don’t, this will all someday mortify him, no doubt.
We’d chosen to operate the fireplace despite the dogged heat of summer because, come on, we’d rented the hot tub suite, and doing so is not inexpensive. Onscreen, David Hasselhoff and his glorious locks of curly hair were having a super serious conversation with two blondes in varying states of undress, one suffering amnesia. Any television show worth its salt has an amnesia episode. My personal favorite is that episode of Bonanza where Hoss succumbs to it after being bushwacked by bandits. He wanders away from his Cartwright brethren, and is very nearly kidnapped by an elderly Dutch couple missing their own dead son when they try to abscond with the poor old bastard to Michigan.
Hot tub suite and Hasselhoff. I had definitely arrived. Arrived somewhere. I never figured I’d grow up to be the kind of woman who associates with men who don’t wear camo vests and don’t have snuff rings permanently imprinted into the denim of their back pockets, yet here I am. Neither describes my baby’s daddy, though I also never expected my baby’s daddy would turn out to be more attracted probably to Hasselhoff than the amnesiac blonde, but that’s a story for another time. I wasn’t one of those floofy-dressed bridesmaids. My baby’s daddy and I spring for the hot tub suite, and he doesn’t chew chaw, he smokes American Spirits like a real respectable hipster from the city.
I drive a nice car, sans Yosemite Sam mud flaps. I never hanged my ‘Class of ‘99’ graduation tassel from my rear-view mirror. I vote for Democrats when I have to, much farther left candidates when I can get away with it. I donate money to progressive causes, not to, say, the gun lobby or anti-abortion extremists. I’ve spent very little time at the gun range, and have never protested an abortion clinic; to the contrary, I’ve worked in one. I have a favorite cheese from Spain, a favorite wine, also from Spain, and a favorite prosciutto from Iowa, free-range and organic, for when I don’t have the funds to spring for Spanish jamón ibérico de bellota. My horizons aren’t vast, but they’ve grown beyond my small and fairly conservative hometown. I’ve been to Spain, see, and know how to pronounce – and translate! – jamón ibérico de bellota. It’s the meat from a type of pig that free roams specific oak forests and eats certain kinds of acorns and it’s fucking delicious. Did I just spend an inordinate amount of time trying to remember how to type the accents over those letters? Yes. See, I’m a little fancy and worldly, but not all that much.
When I moved to St. Paul on the cusp of the new millennium to attend school at a private liberal arts college, most of my classmates were also from small towns, but those small towns were located in Minnesota and Wisconsin. I was one of only three in my class from South Dakota, despite the state’s proximity to this college. The other small town classmates from the Midwest seemed to be trying hard to fit in with the college’s next largest demographic group – kids from well-heeled and well-connected families on the coasts or international students raised in European boarding schools. I on the other hand struggled to understand cilantro and vegan meats and eating with chopsticks, because I was a fucking rube, and kinda still am when it comes down to it.
Like seriously don’t feel bad for me because I’m so sick of the woe-are-we attitude of small town conservative folk who pit themselves against urban progressives, but my college classmates gave me endless grief. They’d quip about my living in a tipi amongst the buffalo – no really, though they touted themselves as ‘multicultural’ before ‘woke’ was a word we used, the campus had work to do – perusing my high school yearbooks and deeming my classmates inbred. Yeah okay, in retrospect some, probably, but come on, have some sensitivity.
The teasing was fine by me. I mean, I was hardly being persecuted. I understand my privilege. And I liked my relative outsider status at the college, the chip I cultivated on my stupid bumpkin shoulder. I didn’t want to fit in with them. I didn’t then and still haven’t today forgotten where I came from, though my family origins were more colonizer than colonized, of course, and I grew up in a house outside town near ranched not wild bison. A decade post-graduation, and here I am, sitting at home watching antenna TV, a two-dollar avocado and clay mask from CVS on my face, eating miniature Almond Joys that, let’s face it, ain’t never gonna see Halloween as was intended upon purchase. But do I give a shit? No, because I’m knocked up, and as women in this condition are wont to preach on the antenna TV talk shows, “You don’t know me.”
I feel a little stuck between these two places, these two states of being. It reminds me of a Randy Travis song.
Randy was one of my favorite singers growing up in South Dakota. Randy’s most definitely arrived, somewhere. He might own fancy houses and fancy pickup trucks, but I don’t think I’d describe him as high class. He’s sung a song that I think does a fair job of explaining that place in-between, in the borderlands between country and urban, high- and low-class, called “Better Class of Losers.” I can’t quote it here, because that would require I cut a check to ASCAP or BMI, I reckon. I can afford a hot tub suite, but I certainly can’t afford a lawsuit, so I’ll attempt to explain it.
In the song, Randy’s all, “You’re too fancy for me, with your high society! I’m gonna go hang with the folks I know back home, they drink beer and shoot pool. I’m fed up with your pearls and wine tastin’s and country clubs and stuuuufffff…”
I’ve never been much of a music lyricist, but for a spell I worked as a music critic in Minneapolis. Several years back, I was sitting in the Grandstand of the Minnesota State Fair on the evening of the first of September, and wrote a review for a local newspaper. At the time, I was drunk. I felt like I could walk on water – that’s another Randy Travis song, if you didn’t know, but I figure I can quote it because it’s something people do, sometimes. I was sent to review Randy Travis’ Tuesday night performance, and while Randy seemed sober that night, I’d drunk a smuggled jug of mimosas, a glass of red wine, and who knows how many Miller Lites.
Even at the fair, be it county or state, I drink champagne, should you ever still question what a fancy fucker I’ve become. Thus the smuggled mimosas. They don’t sell champagne at most fairs – not at any, far as I know – so I fill up one of those fancy-fucker BPA-free jugs with a bottle of champagne and top it off with a splash of OJ. And when the mimosa jug runs dry, I’ll opt for wine should it be available. The Minnesota State Fair does have wine, wine smoothies even, though I don’t fuck with that shit. Wine on a stick? Not sure, but it could be a winning idea. And the Miller Lites are a solid third choice once you’ve entered the Grandstand and have few other options. The affinity for that drink was inherited from my dear mother.
“Howdy,” the review began. “I’m at the state fair and I’m SHITFACED! And I’m at the randty travuis show. (Don’ bother editing this, editor.)
“Lookat that asshole. All comin’ out in his blazer. Randy trabis thinks he’sd lyle lovett. No, reverse that. Lyle lovett thinks he’s randy travis. Randy’s got a better voice. Neither’s better looking than the orher. First song us scuse me is ‘better class of losers.’ That’s me. I’m a fuckin’ classy loser. Or a classy individual who is no winner.
“God. GOD! He’s on to his gospel hits now,” the review continued, later still. “He’s singing so low. I’m pooping my pants for jesus, randyt. $
And on and on. To my surprise, my editor “din’ bother” editing that; it was posted then reposted in various corners of the Internet, and a lot of people learned I had a drinking problem, albeit a humorous, maybe even charming one.
No one offered an intervention. My mother didn’t ask if I was okay. She scolded me for smoking, after seeing the photo I’d posted at the bottom of the article featuring myself, cigarette in hand, posing in front of the post-Randy Travis fireworks display, a smirking inebriate mugging for the camera with my ex-boyfriend’s then ex-girlfriend, now wife. Because of course I’d gone to see Randy Travis with my ex-boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend-though-now-wife. So mom never asked about the drinking, and neither did any of my friends, because, I suppose, my friends, my family, we all drink like this. Bottle of champagne and glass of wine topped off by countless Solo cups of beer? Average weeknight, man.
My friends thought the review was funny. I thought it was funny, too, and still do, I suppose. It’s the kind of thing I think a writer can get away with maybe once or twice, this unserious drunken bullshit, and only while they’re still young, and have the qualities of soft skin and great legs and waistline distinguishable from ribcage and hips to redeem them. Going full-Bukowski is a privilege only enjoyed by white men, unfortunately. Unfortunately? In any case it’s unfair. Full disclosure, though? This self-examination happening right now is because early editors of this writing urged me to explore here my drinking problem. Drinking problem?
I’ve found that with each year I age, my drinking becomes a little less charming, and I start to regret it more, physically and emotionally. And all that other stuff, like my figure? Shit. All gone.
I am, after all, pregnant, so that’s one excuse. But before I found myself in this condition, I’d begun to slow down significantly. I didn’t drink in the morning, though I sometimes thought about it, and okay, brunch and mimosas are a thing. I stopped drinking ‘til I puked a long time ago, though that may have said more about my estimable tolerance than any attempts at temperance. Where I would once swig Wild Turkey to start off and end the night, by my late twenties I had learned to steer entirely clear of shots, provided I bee-lined for the door the moment someone ordered a round.
The thing I’ve never managed to lose, though, has been my appreciation for a dry champagne, a dry red wine, and that’s about as fancy as I get. That’s the only vice that ever managed to stick, in any case, until I fell pregnant and switched to Almond Joys.
After a rough holiday with my family, everyone drinking too much, I had decided to give it all up, even the wine and champagne. On and off, off and on. Hank Williams, Jr., another popular country singer, boasts his alcoholism and genetics in the song, “Family Tradition.” His father, after all, died of some combination of drugs and alcohol and bad heart and maybe bad liver in the back of his baby blue Cadillac, when Jr. was but a wee baby himself. It’s a family tradition, for sure. But Hank Williams, Jr. is kinda an asshole so let’s not look on him for inspiration. I quit! The booze, the drugs, the cigarettes. I quit it all. For now. In any case, you’ll never find me in the buff demanding cigarettes at a gas station, like my friend Randy. Never, ever, ever, Amen.
Randy Travis has been having a rough few years. He’s a multi-platinum traditional country and gospel singer. People really like him. I like him. His career’s proved a successful one, and no doubt will be for some time into the future.
But he’s crashed a couple cars, had a few run-ins with the law, gotten into a fight or two, and even got in a big argument with a convenience store clerk. That’s my favorite story, and why I like Randy so much.
Randy supposedly got in a fight with a convenience store clerk after he demanded that the clerk fork over a pack of cigs. But Randy didn’t want to have to pay for them. It’s not that Randy’s cheap, or thinks he’s entitled; the problem was that Randy didn’t have any money on him. Randy didn’t have any money on him because, at the time, he also didn’t have any clothes on.
Randy’s also well-known for singing wholesome tunes: “Forever and Ever, Amen,” “He Walked on Water,” “Three Wooden Crosses,” and the like. His most recent troubles started a few Februarys back, when he got arrested for public intoxication dozing off a drunk after the Super Bowl, sitting in his car outside a Baptist church in Sanger, Texas.
You’re not supposed to get in your car when you’re drunk, but maybe we’ve all done it. And at least he didn’t drive all the way home. At least he stopped for a nap.
But his problems didn’t end there. A few months later and elsewhere in Texas, somebody called the police. They had found a man lying naked in the road. When a squad arrived on the scene, officers discovered that the naked man was the wholesome country singer Randy Travis, again dozing off a drunk, this time after crashing his ‘98 Trans Am in a construction zone.
Naked Randy Travis allegedly threatened to kill the officers when they arrested him. It turns out earlier that night was when he’d attempted to purchase those cigarettes at the convenience store – already naked – but he left when he realized he didn’t have his wallet on him, and the clerk did not feel nudity entitled a person to free cigs. I don’t know what they teach you in Texas, but per my South Dakota upbringing, when naked Randy Travis asks for cigarettes, you give naked Randy Travis his cigarettes.
After apprehending him, the officers gave Randy a paper suit and booked him in the county jail, and he was released after a fan paid his bail. But just a few weeks later he was in trouble again, this time cited for simple assault after allegedly fighting with his new girlfriend’s estranged husband in the parking lot of the Baptist church in Plano. And the very next day, a pickup truck registered to Randy’s name was found wrecked and abandoned in a field behind a Walmart twenty minutes away in Frisco.
So what’s new with Randy Travis? He’s got too many vehicles if he thinks he can go around crashin’ ‘em all willy-nilly like that, for one thing. And more importantly, it would seem he’s got a bit of a drinking problem. It seems a lot of us do.
“But I walk on water,” I imagine he might argue.
“You’re drunk, Randy,” I’d reply. “That’s Jesus who done that.”
That night at the Fair, the first song Randy sang was one of my favorites, “Better Class of Losers.” The 1991 tune isn’t a far cry from the Garth Brooks hit, “Friends in Low Places,” a song we all know and will likely all sing along with whenever we hear it played in a karaoke bar or at a wedding reception. Both are country songs wherein a dude bemoans his high-falutin’ lady and her high society, and explains his desire to return to his low country roots of folks who wear boots, imbibe too much cheap liquor and don’t spend money on coffee grinders or home computers. You may not remember a time when these were considered luxuries, but consider 1991 and the type of folks for whom shopping at The Walmarts was considered a luxury, then realize that coffee grinders and home computer were most certainly high-falutin’.
Randy Travis and Garth Brooks both remind me of drinking too much. Not so much because of my lush evening at the State Fair with Randy Travis, a jug of mimosas, a glass of red wine, and who knows how many Miller Lites, but because of weddings. Garth Brooks and Randy Travis got played at weddings when I was growing up in South Dakota, and weddings were a place where people got incredibly drunk. It was our own Family Tradition.
In fact, when the song “Friends in Low Places” first came out, I was pretty sure Garth Brooks sang it with a South Dakota wedding in mind. When I was a kid, I thought everything was about me and my life. I didn’t necessarily think Garth and Randy were, like, spying on me, but rather that they had in some mystical way channeled my essence, my life story. God was probably involved in some way shape or form. I was a Catholic, and totally into that magical, made-up, delusional kind of thinking. A superstitious little Catholic narcissist, but not yet a drunk.
I went to plenty of Catholic weddings in my mom’s hometown, a spot with a population of under two thousand located in the middle of the South Dakota prairie. I grew up with more cousins than I could count, most of whom still lived in that town, and most of whom married when I was still very young. Though I doubt a hired wedding planner was involved, the weddings all looked pretty much about the same. A ceremony at St. Ann’s Catholic Church followed by reception and dinner in the adjoining building with those leaf-shaped cream cheese mints, guests dipping plastic dippers into big fountains with punch-flavored frozen rings and 7 Up, the kids getting a good pink moustache started and sugar buzz goin’ just as the bride and groom finish mashing cake in one another’s faces for the camera. Then we’d run outside to help decorate someone’s sweet Olds Toronado in crepe paper and shaving cream and beer cans and balloons and the bride and groom would come out and probably already be drunk and would drive off to a secret place, probably a barbed wire-lined county road, where they’d drink some more before heading to the dance at the Legion Hall.
Ah, the Legion Hall, where everyone young and old gets good and drunk, but the bride ends up not quite drunk enough and gets mad at her new husband for being hands-down the drunkest one in the room, high on a table singing “Johnny B. Goode.” The Legion Hall, where you vie with your cousins for the attention of and chance to dance with cousin Billy, because you all obviously have a major crush on him – hey, it’s harmless, you’re not a teenager yet, and it’ll be years before he does a stint in you-know-where. The Legion Hall, kinfolk playing that variation of “the dollar dance” where you end up kissing your other cousin for the pleasure of giving him five bucks, or where your uncle shoves a twenty in his niece’s thigh-high garter belt – hey, it’s tradition, and they need the money for their honeymoon. And no one here has been to the pen yet.
Toss in for variety the bride’s over-the-top chiffon veil getting too close to the church’s over-the-top candelabra and catching fire, the occasional born-out-of-wedlock flower girl, lectures from the the parish priest on how a marriage outside the Church is no marriage at all, and my dad (who married my mom in a Denver apartment, not at St. Ann’s, the damned dirty Lutheran) wearing his camouflage suspenders because “he’s dressed up,” and you’ve got a small-town South Dakota wedding. This is to say nothing of catching your cousin’s baby daddy sneaking her new baby a few nips of Bud to get the kid to take a nap during the Legion dance. “It’s okay, man – it’ll make him sleep,” you overhear him assure a concerned pal as you walk by. I’ll say it again; no one here has been to the pen yet.
Of all my memories of cousins’ weddings, one of my favorites was when one of the twins married her high school sweetheart, Bob. It was either Darcy, or Dara. They’re identical, so really, who can tell.
All but three of my countless cousins are older than I am, some nearly my mother’s age, so an assortment of cousins and their moms helped care for me when I was a kid, my single mom otherwise raising me alone ‘til she got married when I was nearly four. My uncle Billy Jack had four skinny, long-haired daughters – eldest twins Darcy and Dara, over a decade my senior, their younger sister Jan, and youngest sister Tessa, two years ahead of me.
When I was five or six, I’d spend summer days at Billy Jack’s house playing with Tessa. We’d play “Little House on the Prairie” in the basement, obsessed as we were with either the television show or the book series. My guess is Tessa was reading the books, but I was not yet literate and instead taking in a daily dose of Walnut Grove via Michael Landon and Melissa Gilbert. She’d be Mary, I’d be Laura, and my chubby good-natured toddler sister, Jenny, she’d be Carrie, as it should chronologically be so.
We’d also play “Heathcliff,” another favorite TV show. Tessa was Heathcliff, the orange, good-for-nothing alley cat, and I was Sonja, his fluffy white-furred girlfriend with the Marilyn Monroe mole and pink bow. Tessa’s Heathcliff would save my Sonja from any number of made-up situations we’d find ourselves in around the house and in the yard.
Billy Jack was a very cool uncle. He fixed up classic cars, took me to my first rod run, and looked enough like Willie Nelson that I figured they must be one and the same. Narcissistic kid. The world of pop culture revolved around me. I was likely related to all the celebrities I saw on television, and my grandpa was George Burns. It’s true.
The coolest part was that Uncle Billy Jack had a job driving a candy truck. A candy truck! Who even does that? Sometimes, he’d come home with treats for us. My favorite was the Garbage Pail Kids trading cards, with their gross-out-your-mom stickers and rock hard, cracked-in-three-places chewing gum. Tessa once ate half a gummy rat, then caught hell from her older sisters when she refused to eat its butt. Billy Jack would bring us Pop Rocks, which we’d pour into the backyard birdbath hoping either to watch them zip zap around in the water, or make whatever bird consumed them explode; though we were well-behaved kids most of the time and not burgeoning psychopaths, I assume our intentions were set on the latter. Then after preparing to bear witness to the birdie carnage, I mean, the poppy water, we’d come back inside and wrestle Billy Jack to the ground in an aggressive display of tickle torture. It didn’t seem like a cumbersome feat, maybe because he’s not a large man, but probably because he didn’t attempt to struggle against the scrawny duo he referred to as “Nickle Nikki and Ten-Cent Tessa.”
Usually my cousin Jan would babysit us, but occasionally it was one of the older twins. As I mentioned, they were identical, but even at my young age, I had adopted a clever method for telling them apart. Dara was pleasant, kind, and easy to deal with. But Darcy, Darcy was fucking evil. In my five-year-old mind, anyway, she was evil. I know now she was probably not, but at the time, she was always poking fun and smart-alecking and generally making me feel picked-on and miserable. I think I’d developed a bit of a persecution complex early on, and it’s followed me like a dedicated friend well into adulthood. You might notice this about me, it’s simply one of my most charming attributes.
It was important I keep track of the twin who persecuted me, and so I came up with a mnemonic device. Since Darcy was a smartass, she was Smarty, a near-rhyme with her name. And Dara, the nice twin, was Smarta, a word that didn’t make sense and so always served to remind me that it was the evil one who was Smarty. Darcy. I pity the adult or precocious cousin who may or may not have taught me that mnemonic if I did not indeed come up with it on my own, because it’s dumb. But effective! Hell, I remember it today, and am relying on it rather than my own memory to search out who in the hell was married to Bob so I can finish telling you this longass fucking story about Randy Travis and we can all get on with our lives.
Smarta. It was Smarta who later married Bob, her high school sweetheart, a guy who played in a rock ‘n’ roll band with the orchestra teacher from my elementary school and a rotating cast of other local musicians. They were initially called “Black Velvet,” but if memory serves me correct and it always does they had to change their name to “Velvet Touch” because of Canadian singer Alannah Myles’ popular song of the same name. Velvet Touch, if you please. “Velvet Touch” played the winter ball at the Catholic school, as well as the county fair each summer. They were hot stuff. Locally. They didn’t just have a magic touch, they had a Velvet… oh nevermind. I don’t even now what Velvet Touch means. It makes me think of running your fingers across tacky Jessica McClintock dresses with lace trim. Jessica McClintock dresses had a Velvet Touch.
It was Bob and the guys from Velvet Touch who made Smarta’s wedding my favorite of all my cousins’ nuptials. No, they didn’t get too drunk and give beer to babies. They didn’t kiss their cousins or snap dad’s camo suspenders.
Bob and Smarta’s wedding must have taken place soon after Randy Travis made it big with his third Number One single “Forever and Ever, Amen,” which earned him a Grammy for Best Country & Western Song as well as an Academy of Country Music award for Song of the Year in 1987. The song is easily explained by its title when you consider the lyrics that precede it in the chorus – “I’m gonna love you.” The music video features Randy Travis performing at his sister’s wedding while a collection of family members, young and old, bald-headed, gray and otherwise all dance after the ceremony, pose for photographs, and in general show that their love will go on, as the chorus explains, “just ‘bout as long as the water tower is high, I reckon pert’near so long as the Good Lord’s Redemption is nigh.” Again, those are not the actual lyrics, and again, I’m no lyricist, but you get the gist.
The song is characterized by the fact that Randy Travis sings the words forever and ever numerous times, punctuated by the occasional “Amen.” You know when the song’s nearing its conclusion because the forever and evers get longer, and the “Amen” turns into one final “Aaaaa-haaaaay-haaay-haaay… mennnnnnnn.”
Bob and the guys from Velvet Touch sang that song for Smarta at her wedding, but they took that characteristic “Forever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever…” and dragged it on… forever and ever.
Sitting in the church, listening to Velvet Touch, I remember it like this. Folks are sitting around, smiling to the nice Randy Travis tune. We loves us some Randy Travis! But then the end (*modifications mine):
I’m gonna have affection for ya,*
Forever and always,*
Forever and always!
Forever and always,
Forever and always!
Forever and always,
Forever and always! Forever and always and ever and always and ever and always and ever and always and ever and always and ever and always and ever and always and ever and always and ever and always…
(Come on, guys, wrap it up.)
Forever and always…
Aaaaa-haaaaay-haaay-haaay… mennnnnnnn. (And scene.)
Oh my gosh. I thought it was the funniest thing. Ever. Done. By anyone. Ever. And ever and always Amen. I get breathless still now even thinking about it.
I went back to school and regaled my friends with the story of the funniest wedding singers ever. If only that Bob Saget home video show had existed at the time – the bridal-veil-on-fire thing was way overplayed in the 80s but these wedding jokesters, these funny guy tricksters would’ve made themselves like a thousand dollars and a chance to compete for a Grand Prize Vacation valued at over yeah I don’t remember the rest of the details.
My friends were unimpressed.
See, I think my South Dakota friends just didn’t get it. My friends today think my Randy Travis review at the State Fair was a stroke of pure artistic genius. “It was like you were really drunk! In fact, I felt drunk reading it!” Uh yeah, do you know me? Like I was drunk? Like?
And I’ve since regaled my adult friends with tales of drunken wedding babies, illicit cousin crushes, and my dad’s awesome camouflage suspenders, which I later requested he wear to my own wedding but which my mom sadly disallowed. Of note, my wedding was pre-baby so that Catholic upbringing super duper kicked in and I did not make myself a bastard necessitating that whole shotgun thing. Because these days, we’re fancier than camo at shotgun weddings, I guess.
These stories are a hit with my newer, older, more urban audience. These folks love hick tales, and they love a good story about a good drunk, whether it’s told from the front rows of a Randy Travis show, slamming smuggled champagne, or reported in the tabloids, the tale of a country gospel singer gone bad. I think these stories appeal not only because they’re humorous – I mean, naked Randy Travis, that shit’s gold! – but because their humor is dark. They’re more melancholy than they are funny. They teach us something about the human condition. William Faulker meets the Three Stooges? Shit. And for those of us who think we’ve somehow outgrown our country roots, they provide us a connection, a sense of home, a feeling that we’re still grounded. A reminder not to get above our raising, even if along the way it’s best to leave some of our roots behind.
In retrospect, it’s entirely possible the boys of “Velvet Touch” had ended their song with precisely four forever and evers – the same number as in Randy’s original song. But I suppose that’s the nature of memory, and of childhood. Of drinking too much as an adult, and of just maybe once or twice being that baby on the sipping end of a slipped nip of Bud.