Monday, November 12, 2007

My Evening with June Carter

Being a small town youth and new to college in the now infamous 1960's, I was generally able to find a party or some activity to keep me from the books on the weekends. It was in the deadest part of winter of my freshman year, probably January or February of 1967, that my friend Mike (another small town kid) and I couldn't come up with a plan for Saturday night, and, at the last minute, decided to each invest the amazing sum of $5.00 to see Johnny Cash at the Shrine Mosque. (Five dollars was a significant amount of money when you consider that a semester's tuition at our school, Southwest Missouri State College, now Missouri State University, was just ninety-five dollars at that time!)

It was dark, and snow and rain were competing for dominance as we slogged through a mile or more of slush to reach the reach the famous Springfield landmark where The Man in Black was to perform. We had gotten seated and just started to shake off the wet cold when a man walked out on stage and announced that Johnny's plane couldn't land in Springfield due to the snow. He stood there through the groaning of the audience, and then continued saying that anyone who wanted a refund could collect their money at the door, but anyone who stayed would not be disappointed. Mike didn't have to think it over. He jumped up and entreated me to join him in leaving. Maybe it was the thought of facing that rotten weather again so soon, or the fact that I would still have nothing to do on a Saturday night if I left, but the decision seemed simple to me. While Mike and three-quarters of the audience hit the doors, I moved up to a better seat and settled in for the show.

June Carter, one of the stars of Johnny's traveling show, took that stage in much that same manner as Grant had taken Richmond in the previous century, full-throttle and never giving any quarter. She sang, and danced, and joked and told stories, and played music. Others shared the stage that night including June's sister, Anita, their mother, Maybelle Carter, and a relatively new singing act by the name of the Statler Brothers. But the show was June's from the first joyous note to the final curtain call.

One of the comedy highlights that night was June giving her impressions of ladies she said that she had seen navigating the slush puddles outside of the Mosque earlier in the evening. She did a stately take on a lady from St. Louis crossing a puddle, and a little less dainty version of a lady from Kansas City attempting the same crossing. She tried to close the skit with a hillbillyesque performance of a "gal from Neosho" hiking up her skirts and tromping through the mess. Just as her skirts raised above her knees, someone in the audience snapped a flash picture. June froze in mid-step and glared at the offender, while the rest of us sat in stunned silence waiting to see what would happen next. Finally June pulled her skirts above her head revealing a long, fetching pair of bloomers. When she dropped the skirts she once again glared at the offender and said, "You didn't get a thing with your Brownie Hawkeye, so there!" The timing and physicality were flawless, and the delivery cracked like lightening.

June Carter never left the stage that night. She introduced acts, laced her routines and musical numbers throughout the show, and joined in performances with her family. She even held the held court during the show's only intermission, sitting on the edge of the stage and signing programs, with the sweat literally rolling off of her throughout the break. It was as though she was personally thanking everyone who had stayed for the show and making sure that it was a night all would remember.

And I have always remembered that night, surprisingly well. But the memory became much more poignant a couple of years ago after I saw the film, "Walk the Line." The live show at the Shrine took place one year before Johnny and June were married, roughly the same time period that was reflected in the film. As I watched Reese Witherspoon on the screen, I was seeing the very same June Carter that had given me such a wonderful Saturday night those many years before. Reese rocked - and so did June!
"You didn't get a thing with your Brownie Hawkeye, so there!" --June Carter

1 comment:

molly. said...

That sounds like a great time! Did you ever get the chance to see Johnny Cash perform?