Marshall and Etta were married sixty-five years. Etta told me that every morning of their lives, when they woke, they asked each other, “What’s the temperature, darlin’?” It was a solid, practical way to start the day. They saved everything. Everything. Ticket stubs, concert programs, early reel-to-reel tapes, instruments and amplifiers, kitschy gifts from the road, letters, itineraries, set lists, receipts, photographs, and more. In their old age, they would drive from Hernando to Memphis just to sit in the living room and reminisce—and Etta, in her late 80s, still talks about moving back to Nakomis permanently. They weren’t necessarily happy memories, in their old age, in the Nakomis living room. Marshall called me every couple of months in the last few years of his life to tell me the old stories, over and over again, and he invariably began to cry before we got to the end of the conversation. He tortured himself over his inability to keep my dad off drugs. He agonized over the lawsuit. He couldn’t bear to live with his memories of the best years of his life, those years of playing music with the man he loved more than a brother, in some ways more than himself, and know the good times were gone forever. He told me secrets, gave me an objective view of my parents I never could have had otherwise, and loved me like a daughter. He never got over my dad’s death, not for a second.
My second Tennessee began in 1967, when I was twelve years old. My parents had just separated the previous winter, and that first summer my mom let my sisters and me go to Tennessee to spend several weeks with my dad. He had just bought the big house on Old Hickory Lake in Hendersonville, about twenty miles from Nashville.
Dad had a farm in Bon Aqua, Tennessee, about sixty-five miles from Nashville, which my brother owns now, and we spent part of the summers there, picking wild blackberries and playing music on the porch. My sisters and I, once we learned to drive, would sneak off to the country psychic, an ancient woman way out in the sticks who had a card table set up inside her rustic cabin, just off an empty highway. Cars were lined up on the shoulder of the road, and you were expected to wait in your car. As soon as one middle-aged housewife came out of the cabin, the one in the next car went inside. Carlene, Kathy, Rosie, and I were by far her youngest clients. She read regular playing cards. When I was seventeen, she told me I was going to win something that fall, and that my grandfather would die. Sure enough, I was elected homecoming princess that November at school and my mom’s dad died very unexpectedly. I didn’t go back to her the following summer.
In 1981, after making a record in Germany, and making another record in California with Rodney Crowell, I married Rodney and we started a family. We bought a house in Malibu Canyon. One morning our friend Hank DeVito, who lived near us in Los Angeles, got up and on a whim flew to Nashville. He looked at an expansive and beautiful log house in Franklin, twenty miles from Nashville and the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, and impulsively bought it. When he came home to gather his belongings, he walked into our kitchen and tossed a real estate guide on the counter. I opened it up to a picture of another beautiful log house, a few miles from Hank’s, in a suburb of Nashville called Brentwood, and I said, “If I were going to move to Nashville, that’s the house I’d want.”
I’ve been a New Yorker for more than twenty years, but my memories of the South are potent. Some are truly mine, and some I have borrowed. Tutwiler Street and Nakomis Avenue, the corner candy store and the tired shoulder of a big man. The shining dark-blond wood of the trolley buses, the big silver ribbon microphones in Sun Studios, the marquee of radio station WDIA. The dollar bills that floated over Old Hickory Lake, the old country psychic who scared me because she saw my real life, the whispered voices in the movie line, and the dark green fence on Franklin Road. These are what I have, along with the unchanging verdant landscape, sprinkled with lightning bugs. These memories form a backdrop to a stand-up bass and an acoustic guitar, an image that evokes both the past and the future.