One of my ex husbands, can’t remember which one, once said, among other things, that I was like a dog with a bone when set on doing something I wanted to do. The postal department had nothing on me: neither rain nor snow nor dark of night would stop me. But now, after months of working on a childhood memoir, Peeing On Hot Coals, and nearing the finish line, I came to a stop. It’s as if I slipped on that proverbial banana peal and slid off to Lazy Land. Can’t get out of the hammock, as it were. My usual drive had left me like the aforesaid spouse.
Music usually gets me back where I should be, so I delved into an pile of old CD’S and pulled out a few golden oldies while fragments of tunes thumped around in my head. “Tote that barge, lift that bale,” “I’ve been working on the railroad all the livelong day” “Nine to Five” as belted out by Dolly Parton gets my feet tapping. It was written at the beginning of women’s struggle to be liberated, going into the workplace if we wished, and better treatment when we did. “What a way to make a living”, indeed. That was the time most husbands’ including my own, felt threatened by the radical idea of a married woman working. To allow your wife to work, and I do mean allow, was construed by some men as a threat to their masculinity and was at the very least a communist plot. “Don’t I provide for you? What more do you want?” they asked, like cooking and cleaning and caring for babies wasn’t work. In the workplace we were called Doll, Baby, pinched on the derrière and expected to fetch coffee.
In the late 60’s I was host of a TV show on an ABC affiliate. I had fun, but I also wanted to write and not be stuffed into the electronic box and labeled a blonde empty-headed girl. Making an appointment with the head of the studio I explained that my visit was a professional one. Well, Doll, when I arrived, script in hand, ready for a skilled presentation, I opened the door and there in the center of the room sitting in a barber chair was my boss. He was getting a haircut. Eventually, and with much joshing he moved to his desk. I outlined my ideas for a show and then handed him my script. Can you believe what he did? The man looked at me and grinned, told me to relax and then he asked a question. “Pat,” he said, leering, “is your skin as soft as it looks?”
Okay, I’m beginning to feel inspired.
How about Lee Dorsey’s lyric, “Cause I work every morning Hauling coal by the ton, But when Saturday rolls around I'm too tired to have any fun.”
Bruce Springsteen’s “The Promised Land" is great. "I've done my best to live the right way; I get up every morning and go to work each day; But your eyes go blind and your blood runs cold; Sometimes I feel so weak I just want to explode.”
Tennessee Ernie Ford was a favorite with my mom. Whenever Ernie appeared on the tube with his million dollar smile and country ways, twanging away on his guitar and singing in a voice as deep as a well, “Sixteen Tons and what do you get, another day older and deeper in debt”, my mother would turn the volume up so high it blasted through the walls and possible shattered eardrums. I would counter with "’Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, It's Off To Work We Go’" and pull a sock over my head in imitation of the Seven Dwarfs. Soon we would be dueling it out musically with mom going for gospel hymns. “Shall we gather at the river, the beautiful, beautiful river,” she sang, in a high quivery voice.
I countered with childhood hymns my parents taught me. “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, red, yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight.” And then “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
My eighty-four-year-old mother ratcheted up the competition by easing over to the pump organ, an antique Hamilton my brother Charles had given her. Tucking a wayward strand of silver hair back into its bun, she placed fuzzy house slippers on the wide red felt pedals and began to pump. In a few minutes a hymn emerged. It was one that stirred up dormant memories inside of me and brought nostalgic tears to my eyes. The tune was the one parishioners always sang when we moved away, off to yet another church that my dad felt the Call to reinvigorate.
With the congregation standing, singing, songbooks held in shaking hands, handkerchiefs held to eyes, tears flowing, we sang our goodbyes. God be with you till we meet again; By His counsels guide, uphold you, With His sheep securely fold you; God be with you till we meet again.
My nine-year-old self cried and grieved, as we loaded up a trailer with our few worldly possessions. I would climb in the back seat of our Model A Ford with my siblings, my cat Bluie and Rat-Dog, my brother’s Fox Terrier, pushing and shoving for room.
Bouncing along over rutted roads toward our new home, we kids were demoralized. But when Daddy promised to buy us a cold watermelon at the next fruit stand and Mama began to sing, we felt joyful in spite of ourselves. Our spirits soared. We sang with gusto: “Home, home on the range, Where the deer and the antelope play, Where seldom is heard a discouraging word, And the skies are not cloudy all day.”
Gotta go, Baby. My muse is banging on the computer.
Causes Pat Montandon Supports
PETA, Women for Women, Amnesty International, Children as the Peacemakers, Peace to The Planet