September 7, 2011
Grandma and June Carter
My grandmother has always been a writer and a photographer, having had several stories, poems and articles published in magazines and newspapers over the years. Like me, Grandma's not a particularly bold person, but she told me that she learned early on that if you just walk into certain places with confidence and a camera strung around your neck, folks generally don't question your presence. And in the late 70s, she did exactly that when Johnny and June Carter Cash came to Welch, Oklahoma to play a concert benefiting the new civic auditorium built by the local Lion's Club.
You see, a Lion and local coal producer, Bill Patch, had built the Cadillac dreamed up in the Johnny Cash hit "One Piece at a Time" on a whim, using parts dating from 1949 through 1973. From there, it's a pretty remarkable story: Bill's friends convince him to give the car to Johnny Cash. Johnny thinks Bill must be a nutjob to want to give him a car, no strings attached, and does his best to avoid accepting the gift on wheels. Finally, Bill just drives the damn thing to Tennessee and parks it in Johnny's front yard, where Johnny is forced to admit that yes, he really would like to have the car because it's the most awesome car, ever. As a thank you, Johnny and June say that they will come to Bill's tiny hometown in Northeastern Oklahoma and play a show to help pay off the note that The Lion's Club had taken out in order to build a desperately needed civic center.
Well, my otherwise reserved ranching wife of a grandmother decides she's just going to take her camera and march right in the back door of said civic auditorium and get the scoop, if she can. And who does she meet face to face when she walks in the door? Mrs. June Carter Cash, herself. June, along with some of the boys in the band, was bent over a rather dirty Autoharp, tuning and plucking. "My other one's busted, so I went and got this one out of the barn, but it needs tunin' and it's got chicken doo all over it," she told Grandma. (Leave it to Mother Maybelle's daughter to have a whole stack of Autoharps in the chicken coop!) They chatted for a while, and June told her how incredibly impressed they were at how the local country people had given them so much space and privacy. They were expecting to be mobbed, and had brought quite a bit of security, but instead were treated like just plain folks. During the concert, Grandma snapped some photos, and then went home and wrote an article about the production which, along with her photos, was published in the Lion's Club International Magazine. I've got one pretty cool grandma.