Hank Shepherd wrote a song that made him famous. When he was only 21 “Momma’s Eyes” Swept the charts and the hearts of the country-western world. His mother raised him on the values of honesty and faithfulness until he was 17 when cancer whittled her into the grave. And it was honesty and faithfulness that he was now known for.
The tabloids profited by painting Hank as overly ideal, ridiculously chivalrous, and unfashionably old fashioned. Hank seemed to take no notice and simply, daily strove to be the man his mom had raised him to be. His lyrics were never crude. He was considered a prude and a bore compared to the bands that he toured with. Though if you were to talk to any of them, they would each trust him more than they would their own band mates. When the girls offered themselves to him after each show, he quietly passed out a flower or a kiss on the cheek to each before he disappeared into his trailer to work on his music.
When they asked him why was he so different, Hank always said something like, “there was just something special I saw in my momma’s eyes.”
He said she taught him everything it is to be a real man. But the main thing he remembered from his mother was her patient endurance through a multitude of abusive men- all because she wanted to find him a good father. She had been used, abused and dumped over and over. And it had all been for him.
So you can see why it baffled everyone when Hank proposed. The tabloids made their millions but not one country-western heart was happy to hear that the impeccable gentleman, Hank Shepherd proposed to a smoking, drinking, loud mouthed bar whore who lived with her alcoholic grandmother.
He said it was love at first sight- even though she joked that she was wasted when he passed her at that small town country festival. She didn’t recognize his famous face. In fact she still says she doesn’t really follow country music.
The engagement was quick. He proposed to her on his mother’s birthday on top of a ferris wheel with a song that eventually raced up the charts as well. He courted her in the old fashioned way and insisted on nothing more than a kiss before they parted each night- although SHE usually went back to the bar after that.
And they married.
Hank was crazy about her, but it slowly splintered him. His ensuing album was heavy and morose, strained to the brink with deep, powerful songs of unrequited love. He never exactly suggested it in the songs, but everyone knew the sad truth; she was not being faithful. Every young cowgirl cursed her name whenever Hank’s songs played.
Hank stopped eating. He would not take advice if it told him to drop or disrespect his wife. He became a hermit. Waiting day and night for his wife to come home. He longed to save her from what she was doing to herself. He saw in her who she longed to be, behind the fractured facade of fears. He wrote song after song that he would play to her to try to win her back- when she would listen. When she did stop to listen to a song he begged to play for her, she usually responded with “It sounds alright. But you know I don’t really like the sound of country.”
Hank suggested they take her grandmother into their home when she got sick. But that made things more difficult. One day, on his way to his office to give a rare phone interview, Hank walked past the room in which she was helping her grandmother into bed. He overheard her say, “He’s just too boring. He never drinks or really gets crazy. Last night I saw this guy at the pub punch a guy with a cue ball. And I heard that he was in a movie. He said he’d be there tonight too –oh, gramma,” her tone became tender, “you can’t do that in the bed. C’mon let’s get you to the bathroom.”
As she burst out of the door into the hall she knocked his mug of tea all over his guitar. She stopped for a moment, noticing what she had done. A sorry look came across her face and she said, “Oh. . . I was gonna clean up something for gram. . . umm.” They met eyes for just a moment, but she quickly looked down at his wet guitar, concerned. Her fingers fumbled to wipe up the drips on the strings, scratching a discordant note. Hank reached for her hand, but she withdrew it and backed away, motioning she had to take care of her grandma.
Hank forgot his interview and escaped to his studio with a whiskey bottle for the first time in his life where he wrote a song called, “Look After her Lonely.” The song came out of him in one swift swing, with his heart in his hand. He put down more tears than he could put down whiskey in that half hour. Some people just don’t thirst to forget their love.
When he pulled himself together, he found the finest bedding in the house and brought it to her grandma’s room. When he opened the door her grandma avoided his eyes and said his wife had just left with her friends.
Every song that Hank wrote grew better than the last because of his ceaseless hunger for his wife’s love. Hank’s albums filled the airwaves with a love that built strong marriages by breaking hearts. Couples vowed to be faithful to each other as they sat in old pickup trucks listening to Hank’s emaciating heart. Men sang the songs of his uncompromising, undying love to their wives on their wedding days. Everyone knew that to love like Hank meant forever.
Hank’s love was undying, but his body was not.
There was a week where she didn’t come home and wouldn’t answer his calls. And for that week he couldn’t sleep, every breath lifting such a heavy, dreading heart. His dehydrated hands clenched closed as he scraped them up and down the wooden frets, only pulling himself from his chair to crawl to the windows.
Cowboys left their tractors in the fields and met their wives on porches on the day Hank’s body was found, bent over his guitar, fingers stiff on the lovesick A-minor chord.
The lyrics of his last and final song were weakly scribbled on a shred of wrapping paper found resting on his knee. it answered the question everyone had asked from the beginning- ‘why did he love her so much?’ The lyrics read:
So long i’ve sought the weary sound so desperate my guitar it tries to reach the one girl i found who has my momma’s eyes
Sometimes i think i can hear the lovesick chords that drove the God of the Jews to desperate measures. the ridiculous love that allowed itself to be hurt over and over for an unworthy bride, until it led to a lonely, lovesick death on a spike of wood for everyone to see. Jesus loved us to death- all because he wants us to have a father again and because he sees his image in us.
But we have our own excuses that keep us from listening to the song. Like Hank’s wife, we say we just don’t much like the sound of Country. We miss the eternal, aching love song of our creator, sometimes just because we don’t really like the sound. . .
. . . of the culture that sings it.
(Book of Hosea)