I sang bits of it as I made some notes in my planner at the kitchen table with Alpha and Beta (my twins but not their real names), who were finishing their breakfast. “Dad, is this song a 10?” Alpha asked.
Sipping my coffee, I nodded as I set my cup down. Now, it’s hard for a song (or anything) to get a 10 from me. And for a song or album to get it… it has to be not only great but also tied to a particular memory. So some fantastic songs end up as favorites but only 9s. Alpha and Beta regularly grill me on those songs that are 10s. I always pause—to give them a sense of tension and expectation—and think about how to describe the experience that made the song a 10. I smiled seeing the expectant look on their faces:
“It is. I love this, and it’s my favorite one by the Eagles. I remember the first time I heard it when I was your age.” I finished my coffee and motioned for them to clear the table.
“It was early June 1975. I was fifteen years old—about the same age as you right now—and worked at an antique store (more of an antique barn actually), not far from my home, down Highway 7 South in Lake Hamilton. They—the owners—had been there for years and did quite the business with tourists and visitors, especially during racing season (thoroughbreds) in Hot Springs at Oaklawn. I still remember how I got hired. When I met with the owner and his wife (a couple in their early 60s, I believe, but hard to judge since anyone over 40 seemed ancient to me back then) they had just received a small flatbed-trailer load of sheets of marble. I learned that they would then cut down, shape and fit the marble as table, vanity or counter tops on wooden frames and furniture. Ann Davis told her husband, as she left us, to wait to unload them until he could get someone to help or better yet, someone to do it for him.
“I wanted the job so instead of standing there talking to him about it, I began to unload the trailer. ‘Where do these go, Mr. Davis?’ I asked and he motioned for me to follow him. I was strong and could carry a sheet by myself. The slabs were about 2 to 2 1/2 feet wide, 5 feet long and an inch thick; each weighed about 100 pounds. At that time, I weighed about 150. I unloaded the ten slabs and walked them about 40 feet into the work area where he had his saws and wet-sanders. Returning outside, he watched me without saying a word. I came back out after the last one, soaked with sweat and pulled my t-shirt up to wipe my face. “Ann,” he hollered toward his house, which was nearby—I had seen his wife moving around behind the kitchen window. She stuck her head out of it. “Get this boy a co-cola.” She brought me a coke, back then one of the pull-tab style cans that you always cussed when you happened to step barefoot on a tab some idiot had dropped on the ground instead of throwing in the trash. I put the tab from the can in my pocket, drank the coke in three gulps then had to smother a belch. Mr. Davis took a five-dollar bill out of his wallet gave it to me and said, ‘You’re hired.’
“I learned to cut and polish marble that summer and also to trace and carve designs in wood used for table tops and then fill with different grain wood-putty. Sanded down and refinished, they were very nice looking. They’d take a table they’d bought for $5 or $10, fix any shaky legs and put a new top on it and sell for anywhere from $50 to $100+. One week, the hottest one of the summer so far, Mr. Davis asked me if I could help him at an antique/flea market event that coming weekend in Quitman, Texas about a 4-hour drive away.
“That Friday we loaded and by late afternoon were on the road. Back then, as you traveled your radio reception went in and out, and it was sundown when I heard a station strengthening (signals grew stronger at night), and this song came through the crappy dashboard speaker of Mr. Davis’s old cargo van. I asked him if I could turn it up. A curt nod was my answer and I did. The singer’s voice was clear and pure and the melody haunting. The guitar riffs were unique and just as the sound steadied, it wandered into a static hiss. Damn it… it was a cool song and one I’d not heard before. My thoughts shifted, and I went back to watching the side of the road fly by. Not much to see.
“It was hot, and the van did not have air-conditioning. I had my window rolled down and the warm air flowing dried the sweat on my right arm and shoulder, but my back was sticking to the cracked vinyl seat as was my ass in my Levis. The heat came up off the floorboard and radiated through my black canvas Converse, and I could feel the same from the metal roof with its thin lining. Sweat ran down my chest, stinging where I had started to sprout chest hair, and coursed along my neck, through the V of my back muscles and right into the seat of my jeans. As uncomfortable as that sounds, and it was, it was also something—the lack of air-conditioning—I was used to. As I watched the roadside race by, in the distance was a bare edge of fading sun with the coming night above purpling into a dark blue. A sprinkling of stars quickly spread into a blanket of them as it became full dark. I saw a shooting star cut a path through the night sky as the static from the radio cleared, and I heard the DJ’s voice, swelling loud and steady, from the speaker, ‘Here’s something new for your Friday night… perfect for the start of your weekends. It’s One of These Nights by the Eagles.’
“And there it was. The song I’d heard part of 15 or 20 minutes earlier. That iconic opening by lead guitarist Don Felder and then Don Henley on vocals. I drank it in, every chord, every beat, and word. I didn’t feel the heat or the sweat. I didn’t feel tired at the long day which had started at 06:00 AM that morning and having done all the loading and knowing that when we arrived, I would do all the unloading. I looked out of the window, and the air streaming by carried a first hint of the coolness of evening. The sun was now down and just a narrow band of orange-yellow in the distant horizon to my right. I hand surfed to the beat of the song, idly enjoying the way the current of air buffeted the palm of my hand. As the song ended, I leaned out the window and let the cool air dry the sweat on my face and neck though I knew it would blow my hair into wild disarray. I was happy to be truly—kind of—on my own and headed somewhere I’d never been before. I smiled as I tested my memory of the song I’d just heard. The wind caught my singing and scattered it along the highway. It became one of those nights and moments I’d remember all my life.”
I sat back as Alpha and Beta grinned at me. I asked them, “Do you know why I tell you these little stories and memories from when I was young?”
“Because you want us to know why you liked the music.” Beta replied.
“Nope. Because maybe when you hear the song again… you’ll remember all the times we sat at the kitchen table and talked. And to know that they—these times like now just sitting and talking—mean an awful lot to your dad.” I stood, went over and gave each a kiss on top of their head. “Now,” I smiled. “You girls finish up getting ready for school.”