Words

You Are a Songwriter/Candy Ass/the Picture 

I posted one of the songs included with this blog, 'Candy Ass', the other day. It's a kind of backhanded swipe at 'modern country music'. The second song on the video is 'The Picture', a song I wrote in hardcore, classic country style.

Look, I really don't begrudge the new acts their 'thang'. Hell, when I was doing the urban cowboy bit, I could be seen walkin' the boardwalk of Ocean City, MD in full cowboy regalia, headed to my gig.

You do what you gotta do.

But I grew up listening to great songs by Tom T. Hall. Harlan Howard. Curly Putman. You know, 'Green, Green Grass of Home' and 'He Stopped Lovin' Her Today.'

Shit, son. 

Those songs about real life are what drew me to Nashville to become a FAMOUS SONGWRITER!

Well, we all kinda know how that worked out...

But, I went there. I wrote a lot of songs. Ate a lot of lunch.

I’m remember sitting in a bar in Nashville with some fellow struggling songwriters. 

We were broke off our asses, eating hot wings because they were a quarter each and we could get 8 for two bucks. 

I was living-in-my-car sometimes poor. 

No prospects, no job, just temp work spraying out dumpsters with a hose. 

In Nashville. In July. 

My ass actually hurt sitting on the wooden barroom chair because I was so skinny. 

All I could think was, 

“I am in Nashville. 

I am writing songs. 

I am in the game. 

And I have never been happier than I am at this moment."

It kinda goes like this ...

You are a songwriter. 

Like a master craftsman you have shaped your every dream, every broken heart, every triumph, and every failure into heartfelt words and set them to music.  Maybe you’ve told touching stories of the old home place.  Perhaps you’ve spun wistful tales of Grandpa, Momma, the long, winding road, those whisky-soaked nights, and of course, that one true love that got away. 

You are a songwriter. 

You want the whole world (well, at least Blake Shelton) to hear and know and sing your songs.  You know in your heart of hearts you are ready…so what do you do now? 

 Like so many before you, you are thinking, 

“Well, I’m goin’ to Nashville, dude” 

Before you give your notice, sell the house and load up the Ryder, take a moment and listen to someone who has been there. 

There are libraries full of books about songwriting. The problem is, for the most part, they have been written by very nice people that don’t have a freakin’ clue as to what they are talking about. People that, while they may have written a song or two, maybe even had a hit or two, have never actually lived (or have, after decades of therapy) forgotten) the realities of a Nashville songwriter’s life. 

These are people that have never scrounged through the pockets of every single pair of jeans they own, every shirt, and every old jacket, hoping to dig up enough change to buy a White Castle single. 

People that have never sat at a writers night on a snowy Tuesday in February waiting to sing an original song to an audience made up of the blue-Mohawked bartender, who is busy hitting on a bored 40-year-old waitress (well, she’s actually a singer of course, she’s only waitressin’ ‘til her deal at SonyDreamworksAristaCurbMCA is final). 

They have never experienced that sublime writers night joy of waiting wall-eyed (and eared) through sixty-seven songs in the key of G about “That Ol’ Pick‘em Up Truck” for a chance to sing one song at six past midnight. Well, you’re supposed to get three songs, but, hey, they’re almost out of time, and “y’all can come back again next week”. If you are lucky, the host of the writers night will still be there with his drunk buddies (the host gets free liquor), all of whom snicker while you sing your song, “What the hell kinda song is that…there ain’t even no truck in there!” 

I have done all of these things…and so many more.  I am qualified to tell you the best thing you can do with your songs, the truly best way to handle your life’s work. 

Really Hot Songs 

So here goes. 

First, make a demo of all of your best stuff.  It’s all good, isn’t it?  Hell, tell ya what, go ahead, demo it all!  A simple voice/guitar, voice/piano recording will do at this stage.  These days you’ll want to put all of your songs on a CD, not a tape, for reasons I’ll get into later.  Now get all of your lyrics typed up. Very neatly.  Make sure you put the correct contact and copywrite info on everything. Make yourself up a nice folder; you might even want to design a fancy logo.  C’mon, you’ve read all the books…you know what to do. 

Finished?  Good, you are almost ready. 

First, start a cozy fire in the fireplace.  Even if it is the middle of August, get a good, rolling conflagration going. If you don’t have a fireplace, get a 55-gallon drum and start a nice blaze out in the yard.  The point is; you NEED a fire. Now, relax and pour yourself a glass of fine wine.  Or beer if you prefer.  A good whiskey never hurts.  Ever.  Check your fire. Nice and hot?  Now, very carefully, very lovingly, take out your CD’s, your folders and your lyrics…look them over.  There it is. Your life’s work. Your very blood, sweat and tears… 

…NOW, THROW EVERY LAST PIECE OF IT INTO THE DAMN FIRE!!! 

Then call your boss and your spouse and everyone else in your life and beg for forgiveness for every moment you’ve wasted on this idiocy!  What are you, freakin’ crazy? Come to your senses!!! Did you really think you had a chance?  There are about 2 million people now living in the Nashville metro area, and as of the last census 13 million of those people listed their occupation as “songwriter”. Every waiter, waitress, cop, banker, stripper, hooker, lawyer, preacher, car-parker, dog-walker, Wal-Mart greeter, car-jacker, butcher, baker, candlestick maker…Hell, every living, breathing man, woman or child in Nashville is a songwriter. Of those 13 million people, exactly 7 (seven) are actually making any kind of decent living writing songs.  And 3 of those 7 are Thomas Rhett.  Your friends, your spouse, your dad…they’re all right!  You are completely and totally delusional.  The cluebird of common sense is pounding on your window, begging to get in…listen…. 

 GIVE IT UP!!! 

…you didn’t listen, did you? 

No, you’ve got the bug, the itch, why; you can feel it burning in your very marrow.  You’ve read all the magazines, all the biographies; you know every word to “16th Avenue”. You’ve not only watched “Heartworn Highways” sixty two times, you’ve forced your friends and family to watch it with you. Ever wonder why people don’t drop by any more?  Hell, you have a subscription to Music Row. You even know who Tony Brown is. You’re not gonna quit, not you.  You’re gonna make it! 

You are a songwriter. 

You sad, wretched, condemned soul. 

Well, I tried to warn you, but if you insist on ruining what is probably a pretty good life, far be it from me to stand in your way. 

So, let’s get on with it. But first, a little Nashville songwriting joke, 

An aspiring songwriter pounding on doors along Music Row is surprised to run into an old buddy from his hometown, 

“Hey dude, great to see you, what are you doing in town?” 

His pal looked down his nose a little and pronounced, 

“I am a songwriter.” 

“Really!! Me too!  Which restaurant are you waiting at?” 

Getting in Shape for Nashville 

Before you are ready to take on Nashville, there are a few things you need to do to get in shape.  Nashville is a tough town, so you gotta be ready. Let’s start with a simple exercise. A little Nashville yoga, if you will. 

First, find a good, solid brick wall.  If you can find one with concrete nails hanging out of it, more’s the better.  Now, violently bang your head against the wall.  Hard.  A lot.  Let those nails really dig in there.  Can you still read this sentence?  Hey, you’re not banging hard enough!  Harder!  Get that blood a-flowin’! Hey, you want to be a songwriter, doncha? 

 When these words start to look like, 

 “ Adfs yuiox 2efshb, tre gty?” 

Then, and only then, will you truly understand what it is like to try to get a break in Nashville. 

The Volunteer State 

The first thing you’ll need to do when you move to Nashville is find a job. That makes the summer the best time to get to town. Not because there is anything going on in the music business in the summer. In fact, it is so stinking hot in Nashville in August that Music Row looks like a ghost town from a Clint Eastwood western, complete with Mexicans taking siestas on the streets.The music biz upper crust won’t want to risk getting their Banana Republic duds sweaty going from their climate-controlled SUV’s into their climate-controlled offices, so they’ll be at their climate controlled homes by the lake sipping mint juleps. Whatever they are. The only thing stirring on the Row are desperate songwriters and sweaty, heat-strokingly fat tourists in cowboy hats, Old Navy khaki shorts and flip-flops wondering where in the hell Garth is. 

The real reason it is wise for the budding songscribe to hit Nashville in summer is indeed the aforementioned teeming mass of tubby tourists. This influx of breathless music lovers creates a myriad of opportunities for the budding songwriter in the always-rewarding service industry. 

In other words, Krispy Kreme is hiring. 

So are Wendys, McDonalds, Taco Bell, White Castle, Backyard Burgers, the Colonel, and Bar-b-Cutie…(God, I wish I had made up that last one!) 

You should also check out Wal-Mart, Walgreen’s, Servicestar, Western Auto…you get the picture. There is however, intense competition for these jobs.

Remember, you are but one of 4.2 million aspiring songwriters that have arrived since Thursday, all looking for work. I hear that McDonalds is now accepting no less than a Masters to work the drive-thru. 

I am not kidding. 

I know lawyers that have chucked their practices and are now parking cars waiting to catch a break writing songs. 

If you have some sort of typing or secretarial skill (and I know so many songwriters that took typing and shorthand classes in high school, don’t you?) you can apply at one of the 17,000 temporary employment agencies in Music City. Even if you have no apparent marketable skills whatsoever (which applies to most of the songwriters in my circle at least), the temp agencies will still be happy to see you. “Tennessee” is apparently an old Native American word that means “Land of many temporary employment agencies”. 

They love ya, them temp folks! 

They will find you a gig in minutes…really! 

Many of these jobs even provide transportation.

You’ll get to ride to work on a truck surrounded by huge men with tattoos, gold teeth and wool caps. They have the amazing jailhouse ability to talk without moving their lips, and thus are able to communicate quite clearly that they “really like what’n y’all got there in y’alls lunch box”…if you get my drift.

The starting wage will suck, and there will be no benefits at first, well, except for that free ride to work and sharing good fellowship (and your food) with your comrades, but if you hang on for just sixty days, the company will then take you on at full salary and all benefits. 

Just sixty days.  Two short months.  1/6th of a year. 

I worked jobs in Nashville that ranged from building guitars to spraying out fetid dumpsters with garden hoses, and not a single one of them has ever lasted more than 58 days. I was always fired, downsized, let go, laid-off, made redundant; whatever euphemism you like, just before that magical 60-day mark. 

And why not? 

Why should they take me on at full pay and bennies when there is another would-be Kristofferson at the gate willing to do my job for 6 bucks an hour. 

How do you think Tennessee got the nickname, “The Volunteer State”?  Nobody gets any real money for doing anything. 

Singing for Your Supper 

Some of you are thinking, 

“Hey man, I am the hottest guitarbasskeyboardsteelbanjo (banjo? Get real!) pickin’ singerdrummer in my town.  I’ll be giggin’ inside of a week once I hit Broadway.” 

That sound you hear is me, rollin’ on the floor, laughing my ass off. 

Oh, you’ll be giggin’ alright, Bubba. 

That is if you like playing for tips. 

On Monday morning.

At 10 AM. 

Since Tootsies and Roberts are all booked up, you’ll likely be plying your trade at one of the towns, shall we say, “lesser” musical emporiums. In a “real honky-tonk” that bears a strong resemblance to an Alabama prison toilet circa 1953, only without the charm and nowhere near as clean. Your audience will be two homeless drunks getting in out of the weather, a lost German tourist group looking for Webb Pierce’s swimming pool and a bunch of egg-sucking weasels drinking water at the bar and trying to convince the stoned bartender that they are 50 times better than you, and if they had your gig, “this freakin’ place would be packed, man.” 

You know, the same thing you did to the loser that had the gig before you. 

None of these people tip. 

You are working for tips, and you have five other desperate folks pickin’ with you.  After your 4-hour shift is over, you’ll have $1.77, two sweaty German cigarettes and a used ticket stub to the Hall of Fame in the jar…and that’s a good day. 

Don’t bother thinking if you hold on that you’ll get a better spot in the evening or on the weekends. The people with those spots haven’t changed since 1975.  Those spots are like NFL season tickets. They are passed on from family member to family member when someone dies. 

Takin’ it to the Streets 

You’ll see a lot of people in Nashville standing in full cowboy regalia on street corners, singing with their guitars or to backing tracks, just knowing that Carrie Underwood is going to peer out of the tinted windows of her fan-proof limo and say, “Wow, Mike, listen at that.  We should help that’n get a deal.” 

Have some pride. 

DO NOT DO THIS. 

THE PEOPLE IN THE INDUSTRY ARE LAUGHING AT YOU. 

Besides…I checked…all of the good corners are taken…

Here is a link to two songs that sorta reflect this story: 'Candy Ass' and 'the Picture'.

Pap's Shotgun/Grandma's Place 

Everybody called my grandfather Pap. He was a typical Maryland man of a certain age. He farmed, hunted, fished, crabbed, smoked, cussed… 

Pap was what they called a ‘man’s man’ in those days. And like all men’s men, he was a hunter. 

Me, I wasn’t much of a hunter. For various reasons, not the least of which being that a lot of hunting is done in the winter and I hate cold weather, the whole thing just didn’t take with me. By the time I was in my teens I had given up any pretense of even faking it. 

The fact that I did not hunt in no way meant that I wanted to miss the annual day-after-Thanksgiving deer hunting trip to Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Sleeping crammed in a tiny, ancient metal camper with Pap, my dad and his brothers gave me a chance to see these men away from wives, sisters, daughters and my Grandma. I saw a flash of the wild boys these rough hewn men used to be. 

I was supposed to cook to earn my keep, until I nearly burned down the trailer trying to make hamburgers. After that, it was decided that maybe I should just “take care of Pap”. 

The problem with that plan was that Pap didn’t want any goddamn part of being taken care of. 

Deer hunting was probably the safest thing for Pap and I to do together when I was a teenager. No one talks much when while they’re hunting and Pap and I had reached a point where we didn’t have much to say to each other. As my hair got longer and my clothes got weirder, he basically viewed me as an alien creature not part of his world. 

I didn’t hunt, I hated the farm, I only worked on cars when I absolutely had to, I played the guitar in a rock and roll band and generally seemed to be on the opposite side of whatever he stood for. He didn’t have much use for me and had no problem letting me know it. 

Just a week before one hunting trip, I was walking home from school in the pouring November rain when I saw Pap coming up the road in his old Chevy truck and tried to wave him down. 

He drove right by me. 

When I finally got to the house, soaked to the skin and freezing, I asked, 

“Hey Pap, didn’t you see me?” 

“I saw you just fine.” 

“Well, why did’t you stop? It’s pouring out there.” 

“I told you last week to get a goddamn haircut. You ain’t got one yet. I can’t have somethin’ that looks like you in my truck. I gotta live in this neighbourhood.” 

We didn’t have much to talk about, Pap and me. 

As the years wore on, I started to have to give Pap a boost to get him up into his tree stand. The years, miles and Camels were riding him down. The year finally came when it was clear that he wasn’t going to be able to get up into his stand, or even walk too far into the woods at all. 

I walked with him to the edge of a winter cornfield, where we sat in a shallow trench that had been turned up by tractor tires and plows. It was freezing and Pap was old. He wrapped himself up in some blankets and a sleeping bag. If a deer had actually wandered by, it would have had to wait patiently for its chance to become venison while Pap sat up, unwrapped himself, grabbed his old shotgun and finally fired off a shot. 

I guess maybe he realised that there was little chance that he was going to bag his limit, because, wonder of wonders, Pap actually spoke to me. 

“Heard you playing that banjer of yours with them boys up the hill t’other night.” 

I didn’t play the banjo then or now. It was a Fender Mustang and I was playing a Grand Funk Railroad song with a very loud - and very lousy - rock trio. 

“Sorry Pap. Was it too loud? Couldn’t you hear the ballgame?” 

“Nah. That music you play ain’t to my taste for sure, but it sounded like you might know what you’re doin’.” 

I have had a few successes in my life, but I don’t remember ever having a greater sense of accomplishment than I did at that moment on that frigid morning sitting with my grandfather in that nameless Eastern Shore cornfield. 

That was November. Pap was dead by Christmas. I was his oldest grandson, so his ancient but perfectly kept old shotgun came to me. 

A lot of deer seasons have come and gone since my grandma handed me that old 12 gauge, and I haven’t shot it once. I hate it when things that once had a purpose start to gather dust or wind up as decorations on the wall of some lousy Americana-themed chain restaurant. Everything and everyone should be allowed to work as long as they can and then retire with dignity and not become some sort of bullshit sideshow. 

When my mother gently suggested that one of my cousins that hunts would love to have my grandfather’s shotgun, well, it just felt right. I knew he would clean it, oil it up, shoot it and give it back the purpose it was made for. 

I think Pap would be pleased. He might even say, “Boy, you just might know what you’re doin’.”

Here is a nice, simple video of me doing Grandma's Place with just my Martin.

Here is a link to the version that is on my 'What You Wish For' lp

A Junkyard Christmas/Half the Man 

My old man was not much on plumbers, electricians, garages or repair shops of any kind. As long as it was even close to possible and for as long as he could, dad fixed things himself. He was pretty good with cars, but his expertise did not extend very far into the interior of our old house. Chez Weaver was often soggy with leaky elbow joints and electrical wiring that would scare a county code inspector to death. The rig he created to get extension phones into every room of our house looked like Medusa on a bad hair day. 

Like I said, dad was good with cars, but he always had his own special way of getting a repair job done; never, ever the way you or I may have done it and God forbid he actually look into the owner’s manual. I am not sure the old man even knew that cars came with an owner's manual. I sure as hell never saw him look at one. 

One of his greatest automotive moments came on Christmas I was 17 and we spent Christmas Eve putting a new transmission in my old car. The tranny in my ’68 Chevy station wagon had finally ground itself to death and I was in complete freak-out mode that I was going to be carless at Christmas. The equation was pretty simple; 

Carless = Girlfriendless = No fun under the mistletoe. 

I certainly didn’t have the money for a new automatic transmission, so my Christmas was looking pretty blue. Enter dad, the blue-collar Santa. 

“I’ll drive you to the junkyard and get you a transmission and you can help me put it in on Saturday…we’ll call it your Christmas present.” 

“But Saturday is Christmas Eve, Dad!” 

“That’s the deal, take it or leave it.” 

A junkyard transmission for Christmas - and I get to put it in on Christmas Eve. 

I don’t believe Bing  - or even Elvis - has a song about that one. 

Saturday dawned very, very early and good, old-fashioned east coast, Chesapeake Bay, sleet-in-your-face-in December cold. We went to the junkyard and Dad haggled his best deal on my oily Christmas present and we hauled it to our backyard to put it in my Chevy. 

Of course we didn't own the proper jacks or lifts. Oh, I’m sure we could have borrowed them somewhere, but dad was never one to stop in the middle of a job for a little thing like not having the right tools. 

"Get me those old books from the shed, son," he said. 

"What books?" 

"That old set of A&P encyclopaedias we're gonna burn this winter." 

Like I said, the old man never even looked at an owner’s manual. What was he going to do? Look up “T” for transmission? 

"What do you need encyclopaedias for, Dad?" 

“Ray, just do what I say and get me the damn books." 

Now, you are going to have to try and picture this - 

December on the Chesapeake. Colder than your wife's feet in the middle of your back. My mission, with no choice at all as to whether I accepted it or not, was to lay upon the frozen earth, underneath my Chevy station wagon, and wedge volumes of the A&P Supermarket Illustrated Encyclopaedia, one by one, under the transmission my father was lifting by throwing all of his weight on a 6 foot long two-by-four. We had already dropped the old transmission to the ground and were using it as a fulcrum. Enough leverage (and books) would "lift that sucker up to where we can just bolt her right on. Nothin’ to it, son.” 

It worked like a charm. 

No earth science class ever gave a better demonstration of the principals of leverage, and no set of crummy supermarket encyclopaedias were ever put to better use. They also got pretty soaked with transmission fluid, so they "burned real good" too. We used them as kindling all winter. 

I do not, in these more enlightened times, recommend automatic transmission fluid as a fire starter. But it was a different world then, and my old man didn't waste anything. 

My dad was still alive when I wrote 'Half the Man' and I’m glad he had the chance to hear it. I have tried over the years to rewrite it so it would be shorter and perhaps more commercial and maybe find a nice lucrative home with a Nashville artist. In the end, it always wanted to be just what it is; a somewhat corny but honest and heartfelt declaration of love from a son to his father.

Watch a live performance of 'Half the Man' 

Get the book, 'A Father's Heart'

An acoustic recording of 'Half the Man'

Mirror Image/Lately Linda 

So, this is my face now. 

The age spots are beginning to connect up in such a way that I soon won’t need to go outside “to get a little color” - it'll be built in. 

The lines on my face are not merely lines any longer. They are a series of crevasses and fissures, each one as deep and real as the years that put then there. 

Some of them deepened through joy and laughter, some of them carved by loss and unfathomable sadness, but each one honest. 

And some new ones, thanks to Covid 19. 

There is not trace of the brown-haired boy I used to be left in what passes for my my beard now. 

Gray, white and something in between appear when I skip shaving for a day or two. I guess it makes me look older, but I really can’t tell. 

The eyelids are drooping and the riot of cracks and lines surrounding my eyes look like a road map of a poorly-planned city; or, perhaps the tangled story of my life. 

But the eyes themselves, they still smile. 

They are as young as they ever were and as old as they are. They still burn with the white hot intensity of youth and promise, now tempered with the wisdom of age and promises broken. 

Countless advertisements tell me that these things can be fixed; lines smoothed, jaw-line tucked, colors adjusted, eyelids tightened. 

But ... who would I be then? 

Because this is my face now. 

My face. 

Mine.

 

See the 'Lately Linda' video.

Get the 'A Father's Heart' book

 

Chesapeake Son 

The Crab Feast 

“Do they bite, Pap?” 

My grandfather smiled brightly at my 6 year-old cousin Ricky and said, 

“Stick your finger there in the basket and see for y'self, son.” 

It was the same answer he had given me a few years before.  Pap was a big believer in “learning by doing”. 

It was a dumb question. Of course they bit. Hard. Why else would Pap be wearing heavy black rubber gloves in the soggy heat of a way-down-in-August Maryland Saturday afternoon? Even the ever-present Camel stuck to his lower lip looked sweaty as he pulled the Chesapeake Bay blue crabs from a wooden bushel basket and threw them into our stained old steaming pot.  Every once in a while, a sharp claw would work its way through Pap’s glove, and he would refer to the crab in question’s parentage in language little boys probably shouldn’t hear. Some would have doused the crabs in cold water or stabbed them through the shell with an ice pick to slow them down. Not Pap. Pap was particular about crabs, and saw to them his way. Cussin’ and all. 

Before tossing in the crabs, Pap had placed a wire rack in the bottom of the pot and poured in just enough water and apple-cider vinegar to reach the bottom of the rack. 

“We don't boil crabs in Merlin', Raymie…we steam’em,” Pap said. “Boil ‘em down in Virginny…ain’t worth eatin’…goddamn waste of a good crab.” 

Each time he got a layer of crabs in the pot, he would sprinkle in “about half-a-coffecupful” of spicy Old Bay Seafood Seasoning mixed with rock salt, then another layer of crabs, more Old Bay, on up to the top. Pap liked his crabs spicy. Your lips should burn while you were eating them. Before putting on the lid, he looked around slyly and said, 

” Now, don’t tell your Grandma.” Then he dumped in “half-a-bottle” of National Beer. 

“Secret ingredient,” he winked. 

 “Now, get that on into the kitchen. We got two more pots left t’ do”. 

A pot filled with big hard crabs is a heavy load for a twelve-year-old boy, but I wasn’t about to let Pap know, so I wrestled it as best I could up the back steps. 

When my grandmother saw me coming, she yelled through the screen, 

“Herb, are you tryin’ to give the boy a hernia? Here, Raymie, just sit it up on the stove. Did Pappy remember the beer?  Makes ‘em taste better, so they say.” 

Pap, my dad, his brothers and I had crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge before dawn to “go crabbin’”on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. At daybreak, we found we had hit the weather and tides just right and managed to catch over two and a half bushels of “keepers” in a few hours.  Some people did their crabbing from piers, with traps or hand lines using old chicken necks and eels as bait. To us, that was crabbing for sissified city folk. We rowed our old wooden boat out to where the crabs lived, and then walked knee-deep in the briny bay water with bushel baskets floating in inner tubes tied to our belts. We flushed the crabs out of the seaweed with long-handled nets and dipped them up into the baskets behind us. 

While the men were busy wallowing in Chesapeake mud, the women had been busy at home covering the two long wooden picnic tables under the oak tree in the backyard with the last week’s editions of the Baltimore News American. They had also carried the small breakfast table out of the kitchen and covered it up. That was the “kid’s table”. A pile of mismatched butter knives lay on each table. They were for cracking and picking the crabs. Some folks had actual crab mallets with little knives built into the handle, but we weren’t quite that uptown. 

When the blue crabs were steamed to a bright red, Pap put the kitchen radio up in the window and tuned to WBAL and the Orioles. They were, in those days, always just a game or two behind the Yankees. I hated the Yankees when I was a kid.  Still do. 

The steaming pots of crabs were dumped straight onto the newspaper, and I took my place along side my sisters and cousins at the kid’s table. Along with the crabs, there were oleo-drenched platters of late sweet corn pulled fresh from the rows behind the house that morning.  Some of the ears had gashes where corn worms had been cut out. There were Tupperware pitchers filled with sweet tea, and steel coolers packed with ice and Coca-Cola in little green glass bottles, the way God intended Coke to be. Some of the men had an icy brown bottle of National at their place, and us kids were always trying to sneak a taste. 

 Crabs are messy, so the women and girls wore sleeveless shirts and old shorts, and the men and boys got down to their cut-offs and t-shirts or no shirts at all.  Everybody had their own way of picking and eating.  Pap picked two or three crabs clean until he had a good pile of meat built up. Then he would butter a piece of Blue Ribbon bread and make a kind of crab sandwich. My mom liked hers with saltine crackers. I wasn’t that patient. I yanked off the shell, carefully scraped out the “Devil”, which is what we called the gills (and, as every Maryland kid knew, were instant death if eaten), cleaned out the innards, broke the crab in half, snapped off a back fin and stuck the clump of meat straight into my mouth. 

As with any great meal, it takes time to enjoy steamed crabs. We took all afternoon. Neighbors would slow down, honk and wave as they drove by on Mountain Road.  We all waved back, even if we couldn’t tell right off who was doing the honking; it was sure to be someone we knew. 

Around the kid’s table, the talk these days seemed to be less about baby dolls and BB guns, and more about make-up and cars, cute boys and pretty girls, and the Beatles. Rumor had it that my sister Sandy had been seen holding hands with a football player after Friday night’s game. I myself had been writing smoldering love notes to Kathy Williams. I tore them up as soon as they were finished, but I was writing them. Soon, nervous, silent boys would appear next to my sisters and girl cousins, and nervous, chatty girls would be perched next to me and the other boys at the table, and our family gatherings would start to feel different somehow. On this late summer’s day, though, it was still just “us kids”, together for a little while longer at the kid’s table, right next to and worlds away from our parents. 

The lazy sun drifted west, the Orioles discovered yet another way to lose to the Yanks, and everyone ate their fill. If they didn’t, it was their own darn fault, as my grandmother would say. We cleaned off the tables, took the garbage down to the pigpen, and collected the few leftover crabs for soup the next day. We washed our hands in the freezing water from the hand pump at the well, and washed the day’s feast down with a Popsicle. Soon, lightning bugs would appear, and we kids would run through the cornfields and catch them in Mason jars. The old house had no air-conditioning, so it was cooler outside, and even the grown ups would stay out for a while on this night, sitting and smoking and talking grownup talk, until the mosquitoes finally drove everyone inside.

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