Yesterday, I was riding to Hampton Elementary School in the front seat of my father’s new red Ford Granada. My brother and I got to skip the bus and hitch a ride with Daddy on his way to work at the Department of Children’s Services in Elizabethton.
On the radio, Glen Campbell was singing that same old song, “Rhinestone Cowboy.” My Daddy sang along with Glen, and it was a marvelous duet.
“I’m gonna be where the lights are shinin’ on me,” they both sang. “Like a rhinestone cowboy/ Riding out on a horse in a star-spangled rodeo.”
I didn’t know — and I still don’t know — what a rhinestone cowboy was, but because Daddy loved that song so much, I loved it, too.
It wasn’t yesterday, of course. It was almost 40 years ago, in fact, but I can remember it so well.
A lot of people know my father, Amos Stevens Jr., and, over the years, people have told me what a great man he is. When someone tells me that, I shake my head and wonder how they know that.
Did he drive them to school, too? Did he introduce them to Tanya Tucker, Peter, Paul and Mary, Simon and Garfunkel and The Statler Brothers like he had me? Did he take them to see Sylvia in concert at the Appalachian Fair? Did they know that we both had a secret crush on the pretty singer?
Did he sit on the front porch with them, like he did me, and point out the call of the lonely whip-poor-will?
In the field in front of our house, did they see him hide his frustration and pat me on the back when I couldn’t really master hitting that baseball?
Did he tell them the story of the ghostly Brown Mountain Lights in North Carolina? Did they see them, like I did, when Daddy said, “There’s one! Did you see it?”
Did he lift them up on his shoulders, like he did me, so the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean didn’t wash us all away?
Did he sing them a song about a little bear, like he did when I was boy and even last week from his hospital bed at Johnson City Medical Center? Did it go something like, “Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear/ Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair/ Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn’t fuzzy, was he?”
Maybe they were one of the kids huddled under blankets with me in the back of Daddy’s pickup truck as we traveled to a high school basketball game in some distant city?
Did he teach all these people who say my father is a super guy how to be patient and wait for the fish to bite? Maybe. He probably helped them reel in their first bluegill, too.
Were they there when, in the middle of the night, he had to go out with a deputy to help a family in need? As a social worker, he had to help a lot of other kids. I never knew those boys and girls, but sometimes he cried for them. I didn’t know why. Just that he knew they just needed a little love, like he gave me and my brother.
Were they there many years later when my father, still a social worker, asked my Rotary Club to host a Christmas party for local foster children?
Did they get to see him when he completed a road race in Pigeon Forge? Did they see him when he ran the Washington, D.C., marathon?
Were they there four years ago when I showed him my time from a 5k race in Johnson City? You’d thought I’d been elected president, he was so proud.
Were they by his side when he won election as a Carter County commissioner? Did they hear me be the first to tell him that not only had he won but that he led the ticket? And as a Democrat in Carter County, at that!
They may have overheard me say I thought Ronald Reagan seemed to be a pretty good guy only to get a stern lecture on the faults of the Republican president. They may have heard him shout out with joy when Bill Clinton was elected president.
After I flipped the family’s Jeep Wagoneer over on a Simerly Creek curve, did they see him hug me instead of demanding to know what went wrong?
Were they there when I graduated from Hampton High School, as a member of the 50th graduating class? Daddy was a member of the 25th graduating class. Did they know that?
Were they there when I graduated from East Tennessee State University, Daddy’s alma mater?
It’s possible they were in the congregation when Daddy taught Sunday school and explained about God’s love.
Maybe some of those people were invited guests at my wedding. Daddy was my best man.
They were probably some of the folks he proudly told about me being a newspaper publisher. He liked to tell people that.
I don’t know how people know my Daddy is such a special man, but I’ve known it for 45 years.
I wish all you readers could join him in a duet of “Rhinestone Cowboy.” You’d love it. Just like I did. No, it wasn’t yesterday, but I’ll never forget it.