Country Music Country

My eyes always relaxed and spread out a bit where the highway left the city and started its slow climb across the foothills. Highway 2 passes like a black plow mark through wide open fields of rippling yellow canola and wheat. Adrian seemed preoccupied, but I didn't dwell on it. With a bit of spiked coffee, some serious highway mileage, and some country tunes we'd both be fine, I figured. Nothing like country music to make you feel better. Patsy Cline, Maybelle Carter, Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys.

Our music, my mother used to say. Like the blues, feeling bad made you feel good. And what else can you do when you grow up in the home of one of the oldest country music radio stations in North America and the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede?

The voice of the announcer was nasal and perky when I turned on the radio.

"Coming up to the hour on C.W.B.Y - Voice of the Cowboy - in Country Music Country. Welcome to all you visitors out there, and for all of you at home or on the road, here's two in a row to put you in the mood from our own Wilf Carter, and from the great big wonderful U.S. of A., Hank Williams, Senior."

Deb can't stand me playing country. She likes David Bowie. Kenny never listened to anything but the Beatles and Stones. Adrian on the other hand is the only guy I know besides me who knows the words to "Ruby Don't Take Your Love To Town". And he still plays a fair banjo. One year we started a band and practised in his dad's garage. We only played a couple of gigs, once at the fall fair and at the community hall. Kenny was supposed to be our manager. People liked us, but then bluegrass and country went out of style.

"`Blue Canadian Rockies', I haven't heard that one in years," Adrian said. "Ever heard the number he does on `Old Shep'?"

"Yeah, there's a harp in the glove box," I said, relieved that Adrian seemed to be more talkative, "if you want to play along. Should be a C or G in there."

Driving was kind of healing too. I liked my job for that. Up at four, on the road by five. In the winter, I'd plow out the concession roads on my route. Breakfast by eight, off by two if there's no more snow and no call back. Cold and clear and alone, the way I like it. Turn the two-way down, so I can barely hear the dispatch, put the radio on the country station. In the summer we'd put the sidecutters on the tractors and cut the medians and sidehills, sometimes putting up signs or shovelling roadkill. On a good day, like the army ad says, there's no life like it.

Adrian says he envies me. A guy who makes sixty five grand and has summers off. Maybe. Though I wouldn't want to be in Toronto again. Too many people.

We passed the Thermos back and forth. I'd always liked Wilf Carter's yodel, but I never understood how yodelling became part of country music. Maybe the Swiss had something to do with it. Mountain music or something. We turned west off No. 2 onto 68, heading for 983. Out here the smaller the number, the bigger the road. When I'm not in a hurry I pick the road with the largest number.

"Mind if I turn it up? Wilf Carter's okay, but this is good." Adrian sang along in a good clear baritone with nasal in all the right places. I hummed harmony as the old and familiar voice crooned mournful and twangy as a dobro.

"Hank Williams," I said. "Senior."

"If country ever had a Shakespeare," Adrian nodded to me. "And you know something, we were all born the year Hank Williams died."

"Yeah and this one's called, `I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive.'"

"Isn't that the true thing?" Adrian turned quiet again and I wished I hadn't said anything. Even the coffee with its rye kicking in didn't seem to help him after that. He just tapped the harmonica end over end on the heel of his hand like a man worrying something. I didn't want to, but I just let it go.

© Bruce Hunter, 1996 -- unauthorized duplication prohibited