Introduction

Highway 80 is a stretch of road that ran at one time from California all through Georgia and was once part of the early auto trail known as the Dixie Overland Highway.

However, the entire segment west of Dallas, Texas, has been decommissioned in favor of various interstate and state highways. Currently, the highway’s western terminus is on the Dallas–Mesquite, Texas city line. Highway 80’s last stop is Tybee Island, Georgia, just past Savannah.

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My focus will be the stretch from Dallas to the other side of Macon, Georgia.  I will weave a fictional narrative revolving around nine families and many secondary characters going back to when they first came to America. More specifically, when and how they got to Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama or Georgia. In the process the vicissitudes of American history will be the context for the lives, the successes and losses, of the characters in these stories and songs.

Although the stories and songs are based on real events and typical experiences of the people who settled the southern United States, all the characters and stories are fictional.

“1951”

Luther Lee McLemore was Jake McLemore‘s older brother.  Born in 1951, Luther came of age during the turbulent period of the Sixties.  This song has him looking back on those times in 2019 as a retired mailman living in his hometown, Shreveport, Louisiana.

Luther’s most vivid memories are from his teenage years, living through the assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, and the Vietnam War.  However, Lyndon Johnson had created draft deferments for anyone in college, as well as a variety of minor medical conditions which could qualify as an exemption.  This policy ultimately meant that while most Middle Class young men eligible for the draft had several avenues to avoid service, those from less affluent families were caught up in the war.

Luther was just young enough that his four years in college effectively placed him out of range of the draft, since by 1973 the US was deescalating the war effort, bringing soldiers home instead of sending more over.

After he graduated, Luther worked a number of dead-end jobs, but eventually took and passed the civil service exam.  In 1976 he began working as a postman, which he did for the next forty years, retiring in 2016.  But those forty years seem like a blur, overshadowed by his formative years during the Sixties.

1951
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

My name is Luther McLemore
1951 is the year I was born
It made me who I am
I was taught to say, “no, sir” and “yes, ma’am”

Was eleven in ’63
Saw my mother cryin’ at the TV
Mama said someone shot the president
I didn’t know then what it meant

Was in high school in ’68
The streets were filled with so much hate
They killed Martin Luther King
Then Bobby Kennedy, and a dream

Graduated in ’69
A man from the army tried to get me to sign
I was lucky and got in a university
Plenty of others weren’t lucky like me

’76 I took the civil service exam
A post office in Bossier hired me as a mailman
Loved one woman, we had a couple of kids
But by ’88, we’d hit the skids

I’m retired now, back in Shreveport
Sipping a beer, sitting on my porch
Last forty years seem like a blur
Mostly I think about how things were
Last forty years seem like a blur
Mostly I think about how things were

© 2020 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). The songs and stories on the Highway 80 Stories website are works of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Highway 80 Families

I thought I’d make a list of the nine families and the generations within them in order to create a context for the stories and songs.  Eventually I plan on expanding this list into a narrative for each family line and ultimately merge them into a coherent book.

Under each family there will be their settlements in America, and the prominent members of the family.  Generally these will be successive generations, i.e. parent > child, etc.  However, in some cases there will be a brother and sister notated if that is important for a story or song.

Next to each name is the birth date and sometimes a death date.

Families 1Families 2Families 3

“Mike was a Soldier”

Michael James “Sarge” Broussard (1948-2014) was born and raised in Vivian, Louisiana.  He served in Vietnam (1966-1967) in a transport unit, keeping the vehicles running in the jungle, but on occasion, as necessary, he would go out on patrol.

D.W. Washington was from Detroit, African-American, and he and Mike became friends.  If not for D.W., Mike most likely would have died over there, as had his brother Luke (see songs, “Vivian, Louisiana” and “Shreveport, 1963“).

But they both made it back, and Mike returned to Vivian where he owned and operated a filling station and repair shop (see song, “Sarge“).  D.W. joined him and worked there with him (see song, “Mike and D.W.“).

Mike and his high school sweetheart, Marie, got married and had one child, a daughter Rosalie.

Mike was a Soldier
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Mike was a soldier
He’d just joined up
Off to Vietnam
To work on trucks
Nineteen sixty-six
Just turned eighteen,
Doing his duty
Like his brother done

Just a teenager
Nineteen sixty-five
Mike and Marie
Said their goodbyes
Made some promises
Like getting married
That is, if Mike made it
Back alive

Not like his brother
No, all too often
Families just have the flag
That draped the coffin
And some memories
Of him on a bus
Thumbs up, and laughin’
Just laughin’

Mike was a soldier
Barely breathin’
It was D.W. got him home
To Vivian
After forty years
They ‘re still friends
Down on Main
At the filling station

Mike was a soldier
And a husband
Was a good friend
To dozens
They called him Sarge
And said he was
A pretty good guy
Yeah, Mike, he sure was one

Mike was a soldier
He’d just joined up
Off to Vietnam
To work on trucks

© 2019 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). The songs and stories on the Highway 80 Stories website are works of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

“Vernon and Molly”

Vernon Raney was 49 years old when he met Molly Motts, and didn’t need to get married, but that is just what he ended up doing; to a girl more than half his age.

The Raney family were bootleggers, had been making clear whiskey for more than a century before Vernon took over the still (see song, “Lonsom Raney 1828“).  He made a change, though, from the family recipe, he began to age the distilled product in charred oak barrels, turning the clear shine to a golden tobacco color, and mellowing the taste considerably (see song, “’57 Fleetwood to Memphis“).

Molly Motts, from Delta, Louisiana, just across the river from Vicksburg, was a precocious young woman, who was looking for any way out of Delta when she met Vernon at a party on the Mississippi bank of the river, just outside Vicksburg (see song, “When Molly Motts Married Vernon Raney“).

Long story short, Vernon and Molly got married; Molly took over the moonshine business and turned it into a drug enterprise.  With the help of her two sons, they established a distribution network from Natchez to Memphis (see songs, “Louanne in Vicksburg” and “Molly on the Mountain“).

You could say that Vernon never knew what he was getting into when he married Molly, but then again, he was never known to say a cross word about Molly or their life together.

Vernon and Molly
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Vernon had his whiskey business
And his V-8 coupe
But he felt something was missing
He wasn’t sure just what to do
He wasn’t sure what to do

There was a party at the river
Vernon drove by real slow
Molly was tall and slender
He felt something inside let go
Something inside let go

Vernon was old enough to be her daddy
Molly was wiser than her years
She wanted more than what a small town could deliver
Vernon was her ticket out of there
Her ticket out of there

Once a month he went to Memphis
Delivering a load of shine
He did okay with his bootleg business
Could show Molly a good time
Show Molly a good time

They were always seen together
Then her belly began to show
Vernon said let’s put it on paper
She said I’m ready, let’s go
I’m ready, let’s go

Vernon was old enough to be her daddy …

Molly gave him three kids
Two sons and a daughter
She had plans beyond his
Vernon never fought her
He never fought her

Molly took over the business
Began selling pot and more
Vernon stopped going to Memphis
Spent his time down at the store
Spent his time down at the store

Vernon was old enough to be her daddy …

© 2019 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). The songs and stories on the Highway 80 Stories website are works of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

“Down 80 East”

Upon hearing of Lucy Cooper‘s death while in prison, Levi Hooper went on a bender.  Getting in his truck and driving through Mississippi: Greenwood, Greenville, Vicksburg and even into Louisiana.  He drank until drunk in small bars along the way (see songs, “When Louanne Met Lucy in Prison” and “Levi After Lucy“).

This behavior was certainly unusual for Levi, normally a down-to-earth, church-going man who spent much of his spare time helping his mother, Mildred Motts Hooper,  with her house and business.  She had turned her home into a thrift shop a year after her husband passed on (see song, “Mildred’s House of Values“).

This drinking road trip only lasted a little over a week, but it was enough for Levi’s mother, to become concerned.  So it was with relief that he finally came home, and things returned to normal without Levi offering up any explanation as to the reason for his absence.

Down 80 East
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Levi woke up on the wrong side of the road
Sitting on the side of 80 East
Last thing he remembered was stumbling out that old church
Pressing a wrinkled twenty on the priest

Time to go back, runnin’ wild has run its course
He can’t run away from the grief
He needs a shave, a strong cup of coffee
Time to go back, down 80 East

He don’t understand why Lucy did what she did
She was so close to getting her parole
But this drinking and running has gone on long enough
What he’s looking for ain’t down this road

Time to go back, runnin’ wild has run its course …

All along Levi thought it too good to be true
Doubted he and Lucy would last
But it looked like she was headed in the right direction
In the end she just ran out of gas

Time to go back, runnin’ wild has run its course …

© 2019 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). The songs and stories on the Highway 80 Stories website are works of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

“Ready for Change”

Lucy Cooper and Levi Hooper met in Jackson, Mississippi when they lived across the street from each other (see song “Levi and Lucy”). They became involved in a relationship, something of an attraction of opposites: Levi was a church-going, salt of the earth type, whereas Lucy was a hell-raising rebel, who was no stranger to a variety of mind-altering substances.

However, Lucy had begun to feel that she had reached a dead end with her life, and was looking, most likely subconsciously, for new direction, one which seemed to be provided by Levi.

Unfortunately, Levi came along too late for Lucy, who was overtaken by the momentum and trajectory of her past life. One of her marijuana customers offered her name as his dealer, in exchange for a suspended sentence for simple possession. Lucy was arrested and convicted for distribution and sent to prison, where after a year into her 18 month sentence, she succumbed to depression and committed suicide (see song, “When Louanne Met Lucy in Prison”).

Levi was left to pick up the pieces as best he could in the wake of this aborted relationship (see song, “Levi After Lucy”).

Ready for Change
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

When Lucy and Levi met
Lucy wasn’t ready yet
To turn over a new leaf
But she really wanted to
To do what she had to do
Her life had mostly brought her grief

The mirror Lucy looked in
Showed her where she had been
But not where she wanted to go to
Levi was steady, Levi was strong
Someone Lucy could rely upon
Change ain’t what you want but what you do

Lucy wasn’t sure how to start
But something was cooking in her heart
Pushing her past the life she had known
Levi was the catalyst
Even so it was hit or miss
All he could do was cheer Lucy on

The mirror Lucy looked in …

It’ll take some time
For Lucy to leave behind
The people and things holding her back

The mirror Lucy looked in …

© 2019 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). The songs and stories on the Highway 80 Stories website are works of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

“Love in the Afternoon”

Lillian Cobb’s marriage to Walter Murphy was not a happy one. It is not surprising since from the outset, Lillian reluctantly married Walter, her father’s choice, while at the time being in love with William MacLachlan, the prospective son-in-law her father would never accept (see song, “The Butterfly of Tyler”).

Walter Murphy was a successful businessman, parlaying his law degree into a series of successful business ventures with some of his clients. He had built a large mansion in Waxahachie, Texas, for his wife and children: Peter his oldest son born in 1917, Nora in 1920 and his youngest Andrew in 1928, following two miscarriages in between the last two.

Walter did not know that his wife Lillian, after ten faithful years, had ultimately been unfaithful to him, with William MacLachlan, with whom she had remained in love since the outset of their marriage.

Things got worse for Walter and Lillian when his fortune was devastated in the Great Depression. With their wealth gone, Lillian and Walter could no longer sustain the fiction of their marriage, and it happened that during one of their many arguments Lillian flung Willy MacLachlan in Walter’s face.  They were divorced in 1931, Lillian retaining custody of their three kids.

Lillian and Willy had a small private wedding without delay, but ironically, without the excitement that their illicit affair had produced, the routine of day-to-day married life had the effect of cooling their romance somewhat.  However, they remained married since there was always warm affection, and they had two children, in addition to Lillian’s three from her former marriage.

Love in the Afternoon
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

They’d meet in the house her husband built
But never in her bedroom
She didn’t second-guess, felt no guilt
Love in the afternoon

Told herself she’d earned this happiness
She didn’t choose her husband, he was her father’s groom
After ten faithful years she had a dalliance
Love in the afternoon

It happened by accident
On one of her trips back home they fell together
Eyebrows were raised, there were comments
But it was no surprise those two were lovers

Her marriage had grown cold over the years
The papers were drawn up very soon
Down the road for her it was crystal clear
Love in the afternoon

The lovers cast their lot in the marriage game
But sadly the blush was off the bloom
Their life became routine and was not the same
As love in the afternoon

It happened by accident
On one of her trips back home they fell together
Eyebrows were raised, there were comments
But it was no surprise those two were lovers

They’d meet in the house her husband built
But never in her bedroom
She didn’t second-guess, felt no guilt
Love in the afternoon

© 2019 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). The songs and stories on the Highway 80 Stories website are works of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.