STORY NUMBER SEVEN
December 19, 2010
Since it is Christmas and all, I thought that I might share the story of one of the most interesting Christmas seasons that I ever spent. It is going to read like a crazy screenplay for a Coen Brothers movie or something. Unfortunately, I have no photos to corroborate my story but it's the truth as I recall it. I think I will call it.....
This Christmas season that I am speaking of is the year 1974. I was eleven, turning twelve the next February. My Grandfather, my Dad's Dad, passed away on December 19, 1974. Exactly, I might add, 36 years ago, TODAY. He was a wonderful man whom you will hear a lot more about later. A lot more about him and a lot more about his amazing voice. He could sing and croon like nobody you have ever heard. He mostly sang hymns at his church where he was the choir director and soloist for many years. I promise to share some of that music with you someday....
So, let me go back a little bit now and give you some more co-ordinates. At this time in my life, my Dad had met and become engaged to a lady named Sharon. It turned out that Sharon was the sister of Jessi Colter. It turned out that Jessi Colter was the wife of Waylon Jennings. So, if I did the math correctly, then after the wedding, Sharon would be my stepmother and Waylon and Jessi would be my Dad's In-Laws and MY Aunt and Uncle. That's a lot to take in, frankly. Not to mention the three new step-siblings that we're getting added to the mix. Sharon had a son and two daughters.
My Dad and Waylon were already great friends, of course, and musical comrades. Waylon and Jessi were just a couple of wonderful outlaws in love. There was staff and buses and hoopla and I loved it. As a kid, any big houses that you get to see and fancy cars are "big stuff". If you think about it, you can probably remember the first time you were ever in a mansion or in a limo, it's just cool. It kinda never quits being cool, if you ask me. They were really like any other family, they just happened to be genius, poetic, musically historical, everyday folks. We grilled out, we hung out, we played board games, we had movie night, it was a great time. Nobody was starstruck, we were just being part of an oddly thrown together family "stew", if you will.
Jessi has a daughter named Jennifer that was close in age to me and Waylon had a son named Terry and one named Buddy that were close in age to my brother, Niles. We had a lot of fun with our country cousins. My Dad and Waylon played music and probably planned the album that they recorded the following year. My Dad produced the DREAMING MY DREAMS album on Waylon in 1975.
It was an interesting time, plans were being made to go to Arizona where my Dad and Sharon would marry on Christmas Eve and we would spend Christmas there. Sharon and Jessi's parents owned, of all things, a turquoise mine in Arizona with lots of land and a big lodge style home. It was going to be a road trip of amazing proportions. Primarily because our mode of transportation was going to be Waylon's tour buses. Adults in the front bus, children and teens in the back bus, with supervision, of course. The supervision was the frazzled bus driver yelling "shut up" and the older kids claiming to be in charge. Whatever. That was the plan. In case you are wondering about the presents, they came along with us, and the sanctity of Santa Claus was protected because I never saw them get loaded. The presents, I mean.
On December 19th, a few days before we were scheduled to leave, my Grandfather passed away in Memphis. My Dad and Sharon went to Memphis for the funeral and we stayed with Jessi and Waylon and left on the bus with all of them a few days later. We picked my Dad and Sharon up in Memphis on our way to Arizona.
The bus was splendid. We all had a bunk and lots of yummy snacks and soft drinks and games and even an intercom system that allowed us to talk Bus to Bus. It was SO rockstar. It was chaos on that bus. Stepkids and stepcousins and siblings and fights and wrestling and well, chaos. But it was loads of fun. We would get a page from Bus One telling us that we were going to stop and get this or that and me and all the girls on the bus would fluff our hair and put on some more bubble gum flavored lip gloss and get all ready for our next port of call. We all had instamatic cameras and we were taking photos of ourselves in the bus, by the bus, on the bus and some of just the bus. We would arrive at a spot and come pouring out of the bus and go eat or whatever. The one thing that I have always thought I would dislike about being famous is the fascination that people have with you when you are doing mundane things. Like eating or washing your hands or blowing your nose. Poor Waylon and Jessi, all eyes were always on them. Watching them eat and walk and everything else. We must have looked like a great big circus to the onlookers. It was evident from their faces that they were trying to figure out who went with who and how we were all related. It was fun. I was glad I put on that extra lip gloss.
Speaking of lip gloss, that brings me to another highlight of this trip. Jessi is beautiful. At this time in her life she was so exotic and captivating looking that if you were a man, your heart probably stopped and if you were an eleven year old girl, you thought that if you could just look like her, then all of your dreams would come true. She was stunning. She wore a lot of turquoise indian jewelry and western wear with feathers and boots and big hair and lots of makeup. Since I have always been a bit on the flamboyant side, she was my personification of perfection. Pardon me if I seem to be rambling about it but you really had to see her to know what I mean. There are a few classic beauties that have graced our celebrity history and Jessi Colter is definitely one of them. Plus, she sings like a bird and plays the piano, my instrument of choice, and was married to Waylon, the rogue outlaw poet, I mean, come on.
So, speaking of lip gloss AND Jessi Colter, she had a signature makeup technique that was fantastic. She would outline her lips with her dark brown eyebrow pencil instead of a lip liner and then fill in her lips with lots of lightly tinted shiny lip gloss. They were the plump "Angelina lips", before it was even cool. She rocked it. All of us girls on the bus wanted the "Jessi" lips. So, right before we stopped for lunch one day, Bus One pulled over in front of us and we pulled over behind it. Jessi walked back to our bus with her cosmetic bag and got on. We headed on down the highway and while we did, Jessi did all of our makeup and gave us all the "Jessi" lips. We were breathtaking. All the little "Jessi's" filing off the bus to go into Stuckey's and eat cheeseburgers and let my Dad and Waylon stock up on pecan logs and salt water taffy, while strangers watched. I wore my lips like that all the way to High School and then it was the red lip. I can't imagine why. I forgot to mention that Tompall Glaser had come along for the ride and was also part of the BUS ONE group. He was a running buddy and fellow outlaw with Waylon and had also been introduced to and signed to MGM Records by way of a record produced by my Dad. They were all great friends. Waylon, Tompall and Jessi would all three later, in 1976, solidify their "outlawness" by recording the now famous WANTED-The Outlaws record.
After a few days of traveling and some inclement weather, we finally reached our destination. We settled into our lodge home and unpacked and got ready for our cozy Christmas celebration and oh yeah, the wedding. There was THAT. The wedding was scheduled for Christmas Eve Day. My Dad and Sharon had separate quarters for their "honeymoon" which was an airstream with power and all the amenities that an airstream offers, hooked up and running about 200 yards from the house. They would move in there for the remainder of their stay, after the wedding. Until then, we all bunked in the big house.
So, Sharon and Jessi are sleeping upstairs in their old rooms. Tompall, Waylon and my Dad hold court in the den, picking and singing and finally go to sleep in their respective rooms. Most of the kids were pretty settled in. I was sharing a room with Sharon's daughter and niece. We all got all snuggled in and all of the sudden, I was ill. Very cold chills, sick stomach, fever breaking, ill. I was not sure who to roust up to come to my aid. I got up and headed for Jessi's room and was met by Jessi's mother on the way. She took one look at me and began a litany of procedures. She took my temperature and put a rag on my forehead, gave me some Creomulsion and some of those orange baby aspirin that taste like orange tic tacs and was walking me back to bed so she could cover me up with 100 pounds of blankets, each with a story of how they were handsewn on a civil war plantation porch by her Hungarian family. This is where I just inserted Hungarian because I can't really be positive if it was Hungarian or Polish or what. I was only eleven. If I got that wrong, I'm sorry, but the point is, they were foreign. She even had a little accent. And, here comes the other big surprise, apparently she was also a VERY Charismatic and Ritualistic Pentecostal Minister. Have you ever had a Hungarian Pentecostal Minister pray over you in the middle of the desert in a place you have never been before? Yeah, well welcome to the club. It was horrifying. I couldn't believe that I was THAT sick. I mean, what is she saying? It wasn't Hungarian. It was Pentecostalarian. It was almighty. I did what any feverish, overmedicated, blanket smothered, anointed child would do. I screamed.
To my aid came Jessi and Sharon. They came in and corralled their mother and tried to bring her out of her Nirvana and back to earth and then sat by my bed assuring me that she was only trying to help. I spent a few minutes peeling off blankets and collecting myself and then it was hot chocolate in the kitchen and I felt better. Their mother even came to the kitchen for hot chocolate, all the time looking at me as though her work there, had been done. She had prayed me back to the living, out of the darkness and into the hot chocolate.
I guess somewhere between the epiphany and the cocoa, I must have gotten better. I went on to bed and woke up the next day, the wedding day, with nothing more than a faint memory of hungarian quilts and fervent prayer and chocolate. It was all good.
Well, we had all come all this way and It had been quite a journey. There were a few chairs set up out there in the desert, close to the house. Mostly only family was there, a total of about 20 people. The men looked very 1974 westernish with string ties, white shirts and vests and the women all looked lacy and demure. It kind of looked like a movie set for a western. A western, in this case, that starred Waylon as the Best Man, Jessi as the Maid of Honor and Tompall Glaser singing and playing a song on his guitar as my Dad and his bride walked toward each other. It was kind of nifty, really. I wore a flower in my hair and rocked my "Jessi" lips.
The rest of the trip was more of the same. The stuff that all family Christmas's are made of. Outlaws, poets, children, presents, bad colds, turquoise mines, tour buses, pecan logs and Airstreams. Right?
As you can probably guess, there will be more Waylon and Jessi stories. Some of them may be longer than the marriage between my Dad and Sharon. Did I say that out loud? Oh well, it's all good, they parted friends and still talk from time to time. But, what kind of a "step" daughter would I be if I didn't get in one little dig?