It still takes my breath away to think of the moment she stepped onto stage. This woman who has been such a part of the soundtrack of my life — my entire life. She’s always been there. And to be in the same room with her? I broke into tears.
I wasn’t expecting that. I should have though — because of Claudine.
I spent the summers of my childhood riding up and down the gravel roads of Kentucky in a faded blue VW Bug. Four of us kids and Claudine would pile into her car and try to outrun the heat trapped in her doublewide.
It was the same miserable route every day. Sweaty legs sticking to the seat and to each other, we’d ride down to the lake and past the Dairy Dip. We’d head along the river, then out over to the old abandoned Coke Plant where no one went but everyone knew about. A cloud of dust would trail out behind us and come into the car to plaster itself on our faces. We’d circle around at the dead end where the bridge had washed out way before I was even thought of.
We kept the windows rolled down and we’d drink our 16-ounce bottles of Coke and Claudine would sing to us.
Claudine was my mom’s age and lived next door to us. My dad always called her “ma’am” and would take off his work cap when he stepped into her place to pick us up. Claudine once told me he was the most polite man she’d ever met. My dad would tell us that we should be extra careful to not be a bother to Claudine on account of that husband and two kids of hers. We’d listen because we always listened to my dad and we’d listen to Claudine.
Because Claudine could sing.
She could sing “Coal Miner’s Daughter” better than Loretta could. She’d sing Patsy Cline so hard it’d make me cry for reasons I couldn’t figure out.
We’d go up and down every back road we could reach and we’d roll down the windows, throw our arms out to catch the wind and Claudine would sing.
Daddy loved and raised eight kids on a miner’s pay
Mommy scrubbed our clothes on a washboard every day
Well, I seen her fingers bleed, to complain there was no need,
She’d smile in mommy’s understanding way
Sometimes when the press of humanity is too much, when the emails keep coming and I’m tired of banging my head against too many questions without enough answers. When it gets too much, I find myself repeating over and over, “I want to go home. I want go home.”
I want to go home Ms Loretta. I want to hear Claudine singing across those gravel roads in her VW Bug. I want to feel the green heat of those humid summer days on the dusty backroads of a world hidden in Kentucky when we threw our arms out of the window of a VW Bug and we caught the wind.
For just a moment.