Old Hank: A Short Story

Tuesday, December 14, 2021 8:22:27 AM

Old Hank: A Short Story



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Tragic Details About Hank Williams

They began to tour around Alabama, charging 25 cents a show. The only problem was that Williams, still school age, had to arrange performance dates around his school schedule. In October of , he dropped out so he could tour with the band full time, per Lovesick Blues. His mother became the band manager, booking gigs in dance halls and honky-tonks, and collecting admission money. While Lillie worked hard for the band, she wasn't all too popular with the members. According to band member Sammy Pruett , "none of us dug her too damn much. The Drifting Cowboys were a popular act, but by the age of 16, Williams was already struggling to control his drinking. Booze was freely available at most of their gigs, and Williams took full advantage, which caused tension in the band.

Boots Harris, a former Drifting Cowboy, recalled Williams "was pretty bad into the drink I'd already quit him once because of the drinking I said, 'if you keep drinkin' ain't nobody in the business gonna pay us no attention," via I Saw the Light: The Story of Hank Williams. By , all the members of the band were drafted except for Hank Williams. Due to his bad back, he received a 4-F deferment from the draft, but there was no hope for continuing the band, per Lovesick Blues. Most young musicians were leaving to fight in the war, and any remaining potential replacements refused to work with Williams on account of his drunkenness and general unreliability.

Williams decided to leave the music business altogether. He responded to an ad from Kaiser Shipbuilding, a shipyard company in Portland, Oregon that promised a free one-way ticket, training, free rent, and a steady wage for anyone willing to work. But Williams wasn't cut out for shipyard work, and didn't last long in Oregon. As the end of World War II neared, Hank Williams returned to performing, but he had fallen far from his days as a star with his own radio show. He made ends meet performing in small medicine shows, pitching cure-alls to crowds from a flatbed trailer. It was at one of these medicine shows in Banks, Alabama in the summer of that he met Audrey Sheppard, a beautiful blonde with a figure that could "melt the wax off a Dixie cup," per Lovesick Blues.

She was a headstrong, recently divorced mother of a 2-year-old, six months his senior and also a musician. They hit it off, and Williams asked Sheppard to marry him almost immediately. But when they finally got hitched in , it wasn't officially legal. A Justice of the Peace married the couple outside of a Texaco Station in Andalusia, Alabama, before Sheppard completed the required day waiting period following her divorce from her first husband, per Sing a Sad Song. Regardless, they began touring together.

She played the bass and sang with the reformed Drifting Cowboys, per Biography. She was ambitious, and Williams began to see real success after his marriage, signing a contract first with Acuff-Rose Music and then with MGM Records and releasing many of his most famous hits. They had a son, Hank Williams, Jr. But their marriage was tumultuous, and provided much of the raw fodder for Williams' more lonesome melodies, most famously "Cold, Cold Heart. Hank Williams had suffered from back pain all his life. His spina bifida, never properly treated in childhood, was a chronic source of agony. In , he briefly joined a rodeo in Texas, where his condition worsened after he suffered a bad fall. The resulting operation marked the beginning of Williams' addiction to pain medication, per Sing a Sad Song.

In , Williams suffered another accident, this time while hunting. He underwent a spinal fusion operation at Vanderbilt University Hospital, according to the Guardian , but the difficult recovery only left Williams even more dependent on painkillers like morphine. All the while, Williams self-medicated with bouts of drinking binges. Although he attempted at various points in his life to get sober, it never lasted long. He checked into the North Louisiana Sanitarium at the fall of , but was unable to quit drinking for good.

Afterwards, he began to deteriorate physically, putting on weight and losing his hair. His long term substance abuse also began to put a strain on his body, and at the end of , he suffered a minor heart attack, according to Biography. By the end of , Williams was unable to continue touring. His mother flew him home to Montgomery so he could try to get well, according to Hank Williams, So Lonesome. In , Hank Williams had the bad luck of meeting a man who went by the name Doc Marshall. His real name was Horace "Toby" Marshall, and he was not a real doctor. Marshall was a skilled conman. He "knew a good 'patient' when he saw one and he hinted at a 'pleasant' way to handle the problems of exhaustion, depression, insomnia, and all the other assorted ills that tend to beset a harried man," according to Coronet magazine.

Under the name Dr. Lemon, Marshall wrote Williams a series of fraudulent prescriptions for drugs — including morphine, barbiturates, amphetamines, and chloral hydrate — that no doubt contributed to his failing health. Hank Williams first auditioned for the Grand Ole Opry in , but he did not make the cut. In , however, following the release of his hit "Lovesick Blues," it was a different story. The performance was so successful that the audience demanded six encores from Williams before the show could go on, according to History. He was also invited to perform on the Grand Ole Opry's first European tour, performing at military bases overseas at the end of Williams was living his dream, but it would only last three years. When he was sober, Williams was a great performer, but as Williams' drinking problem worsened, Opry executives began to lose patience.

According to station advertising head Irving Waugh, "It got to a point where he'd disappear for weeks at a time. Nobody would know where he was," via Sing a Sad Song. Despite his volatile first marriage, Hank Williams wasn't scared away from the institution entirely. In , Williams began performing with the Louisiana Hayride. While on tour in Shreveport, he met a young woman named Billie Jean Jones. A year-old high school dropout, Jones had recently separated from her husband when she met Williams. According to Jones, he told her, "If you ain't married, Ol' Hank's gonna marry you.

You're about the purtiest thing I ever saw," via Sing a Sad Song. The couple's relationship was stressful from the start. Jones tried her hardest to keep Williams sober, attempting to enforce a limit of two cans of beer, saying, "If he got more, I'd force milk and two raw eggs down him, then I'd call my brothers to pack him off to the hospital. Like his first marriage, Williams did not want to wait to marry Jones. The couple were married in Louisiana by a Justice of the Peace on October 18, , but Jones' divorce would not be officially finalized until October 28, , according to Hank Williams, So Lonesome.

This time, the legality of the marriage would cause real trouble for Jones. Following Williams' death, both Sheppard and Jones battled over his estate, each vying over the title of Hank Williams' widow. In January , Jones went to court, but the judge ruled that her marriage to Williams was illegal. Sweet sleep to you, and pleasant dreams. The great tree had once been small; indeed, in its cradle it had been an acorn. According to human computation, it was now in the fourth century of its existence.

It was the largest and best tree in the forest. Its summit towered above all the other trees, and could be seen far out at sea, so that it served as a landmark to the sailors. It had no idea how many eyes looked eagerly for it. In its topmost branches the wood-pigeon built her nest, and the cuckoo carried out his usual vocal performances, and his well-known notes echoed amid the boughs; and in autumn, when the leaves looked like beaten copper plates, the birds of passage would come and rest upon the branches before taking their flight across the sea.

But now it was winter, the tree stood leafless, so that every one could see how crooked and bent were the branches that sprang forth from the trunk. Crows and rooks came by turns and sat on them, and talked of the hard times which were beginning, and how difficult it was in winter to obtain food. It was just about holy Christmas time that the tree dreamed a dream. His mighty summits was crowned with spreading fresh green foliage; the sunbeams played among the leaves and branches, and the air was full of fragrance from herb and blossom; painted butterflies chased each other; the summer flies danced around him, as if the world had been created merely for them to dance and be merry in. All that had happened to the tree during every year of his life seemed to pass before him, as in a festive procession.

He saw the knights of olden times and noble ladies ride by through the wood on their gallant steeds, with plumes waving in their hats, and falcons on their wrists. The hunting horn sounded, and the dogs barked. He saw hostile warriors, in colored dresses and glittering armor, with spear and halberd, pitching their tents, and anon striking them. The watchfires again blazed, and men sang and slept under the hospitable shelter of the tree. He saw lovers meet in quiet happiness near him in the moonshine, and carve the initials of their names in the grayish-green bark on his trunk.

Once, but long years had intervened since then, guitars and Eolian harps had been hung on his boughs by merry travellers; now they seemed to hang there again, and he could hear their marvellous tones. The wood-pigeons cooed as if to explain the feelings of the tree, and the cuckoo called out to tell him how many summer days he had yet to live. Then it seemed as if new life was thrilling through every fibre of root and stem and leaf, rising even to the highest branches. The tree felt itself stretching and spreading out, while through the root beneath the earth ran the warm vigor of life.

As he grew higher and still higher, with increased strength, his topmost boughs became broader and fuller; and in proportion to his growth, so was his self-satisfaction increased, and with it arose a joyous longing to grow higher and higher, to reach even to the warm, bright sun itself. Already had his topmost branches pierced the clouds, which floated beneath them like troops of birds of passage, or large white swans; every leaf seemed gifted with sight, as if it possessed eyes to see. The stars became visible in broad daylight, large and sparkling, like clear and gentle eyes.

They recalled to the memory the well-known look in the eyes of a child, or in the eyes of lovers who had once met beneath the branches of the old oak. These were wonderful and happy moments for the old tree, full of peace and joy; and yet, amidst all this happiness, the tree felt a yearning, longing desire that all the other trees, bushes, herbs, and flowers beneath him, might be able also to rise higher, as he had done, and to see all this splendor, and experience the same happiness.

The grand, majestic oak could not be quite happy in the midst of his enjoyment, while all the rest, both great and small, were not with him. And this feeling of yearning trembled through every branch, through every leaf, as warmly and fervently as if they had been the fibres of a human heart. The summit of the tree waved to and fro, and bent downwards as if in his silent longing he sought for something. Then there came to him the fragrance of thyme, followed by the more powerful scent of honeysuckle and violets; and he fancied he heard the note of the cuckoo.

At length his longing was satisfied. Up through the clouds came the green summits of the forest trees, and beneath him, the oak saw them rising, and growing higher and higher. Bush and herb shot upward, and some even tore themselves up by the roots to rise more quickly. The birch-tree was the quickest of all. Like a lightning flash the slender stem shot upwards in a zigzag line, the branches spreading around it like green gauze and banners. Every native of the wood, even to the brown and feathery rushes, grew with the rest, while the birds ascended with the melody of song.

On a blade of grass, that fluttered in the air like a long, green ribbon, sat a grasshopper, cleaning his wings with his legs. May beetles hummed, the bees murmured, the birds sang, each in his own way; the air was filled with the sounds of song and gladness. Can such happiness be imagined? And the old tree, as it still grew upwards and onwards, felt that his roots were loosening themselves from the earth.

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