“I Didn’t Know What Else to Do”

Jed Phelps is sixteen and dealing with, along with his sister Nellie, the death of his father.  The Phelps family were on Louanne Bowden‘s father’s side.

I Didn’t Know What Else to Do
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Got the lantern, walked out to the barn
Raised the axe, split a log in two
Much as I hated splitin’ wood
I didn’t know what else to do

Wasn’t that long ago that Pa could lift
Hunderd pound sack under each arm
He looked tiny now under all those quilts
Still, Nellie couldn’t keep him warm

[…]

Was about six when we lost Burch
Can’t hardly see his face at all
Ma went to bed and never got up
Now ten years later, looks like it’s Pa

The torn wood smelled green and sour
I started feelin’ pretty loose and relaxed
I’m sixteen and figure it’ll fall to me
Even if he got better Pa won’t ever be back

[…]

I looked up, Nellie was on the porch
Asked her, “How’s he?” She said, “Pa’s dead.”
We buried Pa next to Ma and Burch
I found a field stone and set it at th’ head

I swung the axe it stuck in the wood
Raised it again split that log in two
We had plenty wood already in the house
I didn’t know what else to do

© 2018 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP)

Waxahachie, Texas

Waxahachie was founded in August 1850 as the seat of the newly established Ellis County on a donated tract of land given by early settler Emory W. Rogers, a native of Lawrence County, Alabama, who migrated to Texas in 1839. It was incorporated on April 28, 1871, and in 1875 the state legislature granted investors the right to operate a rail line from Waxahachie Tap Railroad to Garrett, Texas, which greatly increased the population of Waxahachie.

From 1902 to 1942, Waxahachie was the 2nd home of Trinity University, which was a Presbyterian-affiliated institution founded in 1869. Then-Trinity’s main administration and classroom building is today the Farmer Administration Building of Southwestern Assemblies of God University. Trinity’s present-day location is San Antonio.

Waxahachie was the home of Constance Maddox Haynes (1928-2015), Louanne Borden‘s maternal grandmother, and the only member of her extended family to which she had a special closeness. Louanne’s release from prison coincided with Constance Haynes’s funeral in Waxahachie.

In the mid-1980s Waxahachie became popular with the movie industry.

The majority of Tender Mercies, a 1983 film about a country western singer, was filmed in Waxahachie. The 1984 film Places in the Heart starring Sally Field was also filmed in Waxahachie. The 1985 film The Trip to Bountiful starring Geraldine Page was also filmed in Waxahachie.

“A Waxahachie Funeral”

A Waxahachie Funeral
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

A call from that charity lawyer
Words like “justifiable homicide”
She heard him say the phrase “time served”
Then a thirty hour Greyhound ride

Twelve years in Louanne walked out of prison
In a blue dress and a brand new pair of shoes
Destination: a Waxahachie funeral
Her grandma dead at a hunderd ‘n’ two

Standin’ with her people among weathered stones
Stiff new shoes powdered with red dirt
Back home to witness a tough ol’ Texas woman
Laid into a plot of Texas earth

Her daddy died five years before
That was a funeral Louanne had to miss
It’s just her and her Neiman Marcus mother
Left behind to make some sense of this

They climb inside a shiny black Lincoln
Go back to that big old empty house
Their polite Highland Park friends
Don’t know how to talk to her now

Standin’ with her people among weathered stones …

Louanne and momma sit in the kitchen
Mute and surrounded by their ghosts
They stare across a walnut table
A cup of coffee and a slice of melba toast

Louanne remembers another August
That magic summer of eighteen
When her life seemed so full of promise
Magnolias and September dreams

Standin’ with her people among weathered stones …

© 2018 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP)

Jake McLemore (1959- )

An American historian in the 19th century described the frontier vanguard in the following words:

“Thus the backwoodsmen lived on the clearings they had hewed out of the everlasting forest; a grim, stern people, strong and simple, powerful for good and evil, swayed by gusts of stormy passion, the love of freedom rooted in their hearts’ core. Their lives were harsh and narrow; they gained their bread by their blood and sweat, in the unending struggle with the wild ruggedness of nature. They suffered terrible injuries at the hands of the red men, and on their foes they waged a terrible warfare in return. They were relentless, revengeful, suspicious, knowing neither ruth nor pity; they were also upright, resolute, and fearless, loyal to their friends, and devoted to their country. In spite of their many failings, they were of all men the best fitted to conquer the wilderness and hold it against all comers.

The Anglo-American 18th-century frontier, like that of the Spanish, was one of war. The word “Texan” was not yet part of the English language. But in the bloody hills of Kentucky and on the middle border of Tennessee the type of man was already made. ”

These were the McLemores who left Tennessee for Texas.

Owen McLemore was born in 1791 in Tennessee and married Annabel March in 1816.  Together they worked a sustenance farm in Tennessee and began to build a family outside of Nashville, seeing their first son Jacob McLemore come into the world on  Christmas Day 1818.  Annabel gave birth to six other sons before dying in 1838 at which time, Owen took his seven sons to West Texas (see song, “Blinkin’ Back a Tear“).

Jacob “Christmas” McLemore, as he was known his entire life, was Jake McLemore’s great-great-great-grandfather. There was another Jacob McLemore, “Christmas” McLemore’s grandson, Jacob Mac McLemore (1879-1977), who first got oil fever when he was 15 running off to the 1894 oil strike in Corsicana. Next was Oil City in 1906, where made a killing, lost it, made and lost other fortunes before ultimately dying at the ripe old age of 98 without a cent to his name, but rich in memories which was all he handed down to his great-grandson and namesake, Jake McLemore.

Jake McLemore’s father, Charlie McLemore, was small businessman at the J.M. Guffey Petroleum Company of Oil City, Louisiana where Jake was born in 1959 and where he spent his early life.  Charlie moved the family to Shreveport in 1968 after he got a job at United Gas Corporation.  Shreveport would be Jake’s home until he graduated high school, and went to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

Jake decided to stay in Nashville after graduating from Vandy with a degree in Business Adminstration.  After investing in several businesses, he came to own a bar, which he had won in a poker game.   He promptly changed the name and settled down as proprietor of McLemore’s Bar in 1985 (see song, “McLemore’s“).

By that time Jake had already married and had a son, Lee, in 1983 (Jake’s wife Amelia died in childbirth) who would go on to join the army and fight in Iraq.  On March 31, 2004, five U.S. soldiers were killed by a large IED on a road a few miles outside of Fallujah, one of the soldiers who died that day was Lee McLemore. But before he had gone to Iraq, Lee had a son himself in July 2003 (a child Jake knew nothing about) with Ellen Brewer whom he secretly married shortly before being shipped out in December 2003.

Jake kept the bar going for several years after Lee died but ended up selling it in 2007 and bought some land outside of Shreveport, Louisiana not far from Oil City.  He had fond memories of fishing on Caddo Lake with his father and settled into that kind of life again.

It didn’t take long for Jake to become bored with retirement, and he bought a diner in Shreveport where Pearl Robison happened to enter one day in January 2010 (see song, “Pearl + Jake“). For five years Jake and Pearl had a turbulent romantic relationship,  before Pearl took to the road again, heading west on U.S. 80, leaving Jake heart broken at 56  (see song, “The River and Jake“).

Unbeknownst to him Pearl was pregnant when she left, and gave birth to a daughter, Sadie Jones Robison.  Pearl had no intention of letting Jake know about this child, and it remains to be seen if Sadie will ever find her father.

Jake hired someone to run the diner and went back to a life of fishing and shooting the breeze with his friend Mike Broussard and other men from the area. Then one day in 2016 his grandson, Charles, walked into his life.

Jake is currently raising Charles outside Shreveport, Louisiana, to be a sturdy young man in the long line of McLemore men.

“McLemore’s”

McLemore’s
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Walked in there first time in aught-four
Took a stool by the pinball machine
Come to know the owner Jake McLemore
Dropping by each day became routine

He looked to be about my dad’s age
If my dad ain’t died in ninety-three
Jake was always adopting strays
Like a three-legged dog and me

Time seemed to pass a little slower
Behind soft country music and bumper pool
The world looked a whole lot better
From where I sat on that bar stool

Pickled eggs and pigs feet in a jar
Antique cash register, black dial phone
Scratches ‘n’ nicks in a hickory bar
Left by those who are never really gone

He pointed to a snapshot of some soldiers
Leaning on a tank in Iraq
“They call my son a hero,” Jake told me
“Would’ve preferred if he’d just made it back”

Time seemed to pass a little slower …

Jake sold out last year with a big payday
Bought 26 acres outside Shreveport
I don’t drink much anymore and anyway
Can’t find a bar like McLemore’s
No, there ain’t no place like McLemore’s

© 2017 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP)

Pearl Robison (1973- )

Pearl Robison comes from a fractured family line going back before the Civil War.  And her life resembles a jagged line.  She is related through her father, Jason Jones Robison (1946- ) to Ruby Robison (1843-1933), who was the sister of Marcus Walsh Robison (1936-1897) Pearl’s great-great-great-grandfather.  Ruby was a prostitute in Shreveport who gave birth to a Civil War soldier’s child, the first Pearl Robison (see songs, “Fannin Street” and “Levi Motts is My Name“).

In 1973 our Pearl was born in Conyers, Georgia but we meet Pearl when she is managing a dollar store in Macon.  One January day in 2010, sitting in her car before going opening up, she decides to just leave town and head west on U.S. 80 (see song, “Between Here and Gone“).

She ends up in Shreveport, Louisiana, when she stops at an all night diner and Jake McLemore enters her life.  They live together for five years before Pearl’s wanderlust overtakes her again and she leaves, this time heading for Dallas (see song, “Pearl + Jake“).  She does not know at the time that she is pregnant, but when she discovers this fact, she never tells Jake that he is going to be a father.

She gives birth in 2015 to a baby girl whom she names Sadie Jones Robison, after her parents, Jason Jones Robison and Sadie Boone.

“Between Here an Gone”

Between Here And Gone
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

No one dreams of bein’ manager at Dollar Town
But life happens, there’s worse around
A stick of spearmint’ll hide whiskey on her breath
Might as well open up she’s out of cigarettes

Snowed eight inches overnight the air is crystal clear
They’ll be buying extra bread and eggs and beer
Just sittin’ and thinkin’ in her car out there alone
She’s stranded between here and gone

She could just drive away free as the breeze
Start over somewhere, just leave
Don’t matter no more what’s right or wrong
She’s stranded between here and gone

Checking her makeup she sees a new grey hair
She don’ know that woman who returns her stare
The day’s first shopper pulls in the parking lot
She still has time for one more shot

There’s nothing in this town for her to stay
She used to find little things that kept that thought away
Like goin’ to the Blue Bonnet for a lemon custard cone
She’s stranded between here and gone

She could just drive away free as the breeze …

© 2017 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP)

Macon, Georgia

Macon, Georgia is important to the Highway 80 narrative as the place to which Pearl Robison moved after she graduated from Rockdale high school in Conyers, Georgia, the place of her birth. Once there she worked at number of jobs until becoming the store manager at Dollar Town.  After about 15 years in Macon, Pearl began to feel stranded and purposeless there, consequently Pearl just picks up and leaves, driving west on U.S. 80.

Macon lies on the site of the Ocmulgee Old Fields, where the Creek Indians lived in the 18th century. Their predecessors, the Mississippian culture, built a powerful chiefdom (950–1100 AD) based on an agricultural village and constructed earthwork mounds for ceremonial, burial, and religious purposes. The areas along the rivers in the Southeast had been inhabited by indigenous peoples for 13,000 years before Europeans arrived.

Macon developed at the site of Fort Benjamin Hawkins, built in 1809 at the fall line of the Ocmulgee River to protect the community and to establish a trading post with Native Americans. The fort was named in honor of Benjamin Hawkins, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Southeast territory south of the Ohio River for over 20 years. He lived among the Creek and was married to a Creek woman.

The fort served as a major military distribution point during the War of 1812 against Great Britain and also during the Creek War of 1813. Afterward, the fort was used as a trading post for several years and was garrisoned until 1821. It was decommissioned about 1828 and later burned to the ground. A replica of the southeast blockhouse was built in 1938 and still stands today on a hill in east Macon.

As many Europeans had already begun to move into the area, they renamed Fort Hawkins “Newtown.” After the organization of Bibb County in 1822, the city was chartered as the county seat in 1823 and officially named Macon. This was in honor of the North Carolina statesman Nathaniel Macon, because many of the early residents of Georgia hailed from North Carolina.

As of the official 2010 U.S. Census, the population of Macon was 91,351. The racial makeup of the city was 68% African American, 29% White.

In 2012, voters in Macon and Bibb County approved a new consolidated government between the city and county, making the city’s new boundary lines the same as the county’s and deannexing a small portion of the city that once lay in Jones County.

Conyers, Georgia

Conyers is the only city in Rockdale County, Georgia. The city is twenty-four miles east of Atlanta. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 15,195.

Between 1816 and 1821, the area known as Rockdale was open for settlement. John Holcomb, a blacksmith, was the first settler in what is now Conyers. He settled where the current Rockdale County Courthouse is located, in the middle of Conyers on Main Street.

Eventually, there was pressure for a railroad to cross Georgia; the railroad was intended to run from Augusta, through neighboring Covington to Marthasville (now known as Atlanta). John Holcomb was against the railroad and refused to sell his land, and threatened to shoot anyone from the railroad who came onto his property.

Dr. W. D. Conyers, a banker from Covington, eventually persuaded John Holcomb into selling his land for $700. Dr. Conyers then sold the land to the Georgia Railroad. What is now Conyers began as a watering post along this line, named after Dr. Conyers. By 1845, the railroad was in full operation. By 1854, nearly 400 residents lived around the watering post, and Conyers was incorporated.

Conyers has been nearly destroyed several times by fire. It is said that it survived Sherman’s March to the Sea thanks to a friend of Sherman’s who lived in the area between Conyers and Covington. The story goes that the houses were spared because Sherman was uncertain where his friend lived.

“Pearl + Jake”

Pearl + Jake
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Snowed all day in Macon
When Pearl left for the last time
Alabama Mi’sippy Louisiana
Georgia felt far enough behind
Creosote cottonseed Shreveport
Hit her like a cinder block
Lights of an all-night diner
Pearl coasted to a stop

Jake behind the counter
White apron, little paper hat
Slid some coffee before her
Quiet as an alley cat
Pearl pulled a pint from somewhere
Tipped it over her cup
Jake lit a cigarette
The sun came up

Loving’ her is what he meant to do
Even if it broke his heart in two
He played life like a game of horseshoes
Loving’ her is what he meant to do

Jake bought this diner
After selling McLemore’s
Pearl was stranded in Macon
Managing a dollar store
They met on Jewella Avenue
Both lookin’ for a new start
Jake gave her some food
And his hidden heart

Loving’ her is what he meant to do …

Jake didn’t want to come home
Stinkin’ of cigarettes, beer and perfume
Five years flash by
As he walks from room to empty room
Pearl was running away
That first day he met her
She’d been leavin’ ever since
Jake fin’ly found a way to let her

© 2018 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP)