What’s a country girl to do when life is good… or when it turns bad? Write a song!
I called the first song on the album Small Town Girl because that’s what I am. I was raised in South Georgia in a li’l biddy place called Butcher’s Fork.
It’s not really even a town – just a fork in the road where the hunters and fishermen turn off down the dirt track through the woods to the lake.
On one side of the street there’s a Feed ‘n’ Seed depot and Ned’s filling station. On the other there’s the Ammo ’n’ Bait store.
That’s where Cole, who I wrote the song with, used to work.
Next to that is the U Need It We Got It general store and café, where I worked.
’Part from that, there’s a line of blue, yellow and white bungalows, a two-room school and a little clapboard church where just about everybody within a five-mile radius was christened, married and eventually buried in the shade of the magnolia trees out the back.
Like I say in the song, it’s a place where time moves slow and gossip moves fast.
The next song, Chasin’ Fireflies, is a bluegrass tune about growing up in Butcher’s Fork with my buddy Cole. The girls in school teased me for having a boyfriend but of course he was nothing of the sort – we were nine or ten years old.
Every day after class, he’d carry my books. I lived a quarter mile north of Butcher’s Fork and he’d walk home with me before carrying on another quarter mile to his house.
At weekends and all summer we’d chase fireflies in the woods, fish in the creek and swim in the lake. We didn’t need a towel – the Georgia sun would dry you.
Yep, Butcher’s Fork was a wonderful place to be a kid. It was only when I hit my teens that it lost its shine.
Heartbreak High is about the school we went to when we got a little older. It was five miles south in Clayton. We’d go on a yellow bus – and I hated every day I was there.
I must have been a disappointment to my mom and dad; they always said their high school years were the happiest of their lives. They wanted to relive all that through me.
But then, they’d been the popular kids.
Dad was captain of the football team. Mom was chief cheerleader, and Clayton High was the kind of school where if you weren’t on the team or cheering it, you weren’t anybody.
I was a skinny kid with glasses and a brace on my teeth. I had about as much chance of being a cheerleader as Cole had of being a quarterback – he wasn’t sporty at all.
Bucktooth and Loser, that’s what the other kids called us, and we were about the only friends each of us had.
We should have dated, but we were both too nerdy to make a move. We could only sit on the sidelines and watch while the – how can I put this? – precociously developed Shirley-Anne romanced Marshall, the football hero.
It was around then I began to write songs.
I’d sit on my back porch with Cole and his guitar and wish we were old enough to get out of town.
Georgia Dust is a song I wrote about Ned who ran the filling station. He’d taken it over from his dad and it was an old-fashioned place with two rusty pumps shimmering in the heat haze.
When I bought my first Jeep I used to pull in for gas. He’d shuffle out in his bib overalls and ball-cap, face like leather.
“How’s your mom?” he’d drawl. I always wondered why he’d ask, because Mom never filled up at Ned’s. She always topped up her tank in Clayton when she went to the supermarket.
It was only years later that I found out Ned had been in love with Mom in high school.
She turned him down to date Dad. But all those years later, Ned still held a torch for her.
I remember one time seeing the wistfulness in his eyes as he watched her cruise by in her Chevy Malibu, never giving him a glance. It made me shiver to think how time had stood still for Ned.
Still, that was how it was for a lot of folk in Butcher’s Fork. It was easy to get seized up in that Georgia dust.
I Wish I Was Twenty-five is a song about the year I spent wishing I wasn’t nineteen, because that was such a confusing time in my life.
It should have been a wonderful period – I’d swapped my glasses for contacts, lost the brace, and some of Mom’s prom queen genes had finally kicked in to give me a figure.
“You’re startin’ to blossom, Kasey,” Mom assured me, and I just wish she hadn’t sounded so relieved, as if she’d secretly feared I’d be an ugly duckling all my life. Like, thanks, Mom!
The truth was, I still felt like an ugly duckling and kinda awkward about the attention the boys were finally starting to pay me.
My heartache was that the one boy I wanted to take notice of me was Cole. And my lifelong buddy seemed to be going cold on me.
We were still friends, but I was starting to feel like he was getting uncomfortable with me hanging around like a memory from our less-than-happy school days.
Sometimes I wondered if I should just leave town and head up to Nashville to see if anyone was interested in my songs. But the thought of going without Cole was scary.
I’d barely even been to Atlanta, and Nashville was in another state.
Besides, I didn’t want to go without Cole.
It was a dream we’d shared – our dream of escaping Butcher’s Fork.
Unfortunately for me, it looked very much as though Cole had other plans. He was growing up, getting kinda handsome and I felt like he was itching to move on to a new life without his childhood chum.
Fire In The Night is where the album starts to get hot and funky.
The nearest bar to Butcher’s Fork was in Clayton. It was an old guys’ hang-out where the jukebox played only Merle Haggard, and quietly at that. The nearest nightclub was a two-hour drive away in Atlanta.
So the young folks around Butcher’s Fork had what we called tailgate parties.
The guys would pack some beer in their pick-up trucks and drive their gals down to the lake in the moonlight. They’d build a bonfire, crank up the country-rap and dance in the headlight beams or smooch on the tailgates.
I didn’t go to many. The parties could get rowdy and Dad said they were no place for a good girl.
But even Dad didn’t object when I was escorted by Marshall Kane, the richest, handsomest, most eligible bachelor in the county.
I knew I shouldn’t have gone with him.
Not after all the times Marshall had called me Bucktooth back in school, and not while Shirley-Anne, his regular date, was on vacation in Florida with her folks.
But maybe it was because of all those times Marshall and Shirley-Anne had put me down that being pursued by him behind her back felt like sweet revenge.
As we drove into the firelight at the lakeside in Marshall’s new Dodge Ram truck, every head turned my way. I felt like the queen of Butcher’s Fork.
The only time I felt a little queasy was when I caught sight of Cole, watching me from a huddle with his buddies on the far side of the bonfire.
Through the spitting flames, his face reminded me of Ned’s as he’d watched Mom drive by.
But hey, I was with Marshall, the catch of the county. Just as Mom had been with Dad all those years ago.
On The Water Tower is another of those songs about the way we do things down south. In Atlanta, I guess folks might make an announcement in the social pages.
But in Butcher’s Fork you climbed up the water tower, just behind the U Need It We Got It, and wrote your message in spray painted letters for the whole town to see: Marshall (heart sign) Kasey Forever.
I could’ve killed him! We’d been on two dates. We’d barely kissed.
Suddenly everybody in Butcher’s Fork was talking like we were about to be married.
Shirley-Anne, back from vacation, was after my blood. Mom was looking at wedding dresses and designing the invites.
Cole said I needn’t worry about writing country songs any more, because I was gonna be rich.
And me? Well, I know it sounds stupid. But with my name up there on the water tower next to Marshall’s it almost felt like I didn’t have a say in the matter.
Water Tower is a fun up-tempo song, but the next one, Dishes, is an old-school country weepie like Tammy Wynette might have sung.
It’s a difficult song for me to talk about – it’s about Mom and Dad and maybe not something they’d want the world to know.
But Cole always told me if you’re gonna write a country song, you’d better tell the truth.
You remember me saying how much they loved their high school years? Their wedding photos look like the end of a high school romance movie. All that confetti! The whole of Butcher’s Fork was there.
But what those movies never show you is what happens after the happy ending, when life no longer revolves around football and the prom.
I guess all the talk about me marrying Marshall had brought it home to Mom that the last twenty years hadn’t been the dream she’d imagined.
Out of the blue, she pointed at the dent in the couch where Dad would sit in front of the TV each evening.
She said, “If I left, do you think he’d even notice until he couldn’t get to the sink for dishes?”
I was dumbstruck.
It had never crossed my mind that Mom would even contemplate leaving Dad.
It scared me to think how easy it was to make a decision aged twenty that you’d have to live with for the rest of your life.
I even started to wonder what might have happened if Mom had married Ned, the guy who loved her, instead of Dad, just ’cos he was captain of the team.
From a country ballad to something rockier, Are You Askin’? is my anger issues song! I wrote it about the night I chewed Marshall out in Mom’s front yard.
I guess I was tired from working all week. I’d also been holding in a lot about the way everybody in Butcher’s Fork had more to say about my romance with Marshall than I did. The stuff about Mom and Dad was preying on my mind, too.
Anyway, I came home, Marshall was waiting and started telling me his big plan for the weekend – how I was gonna meet his folks at some fancy black tie party at the country club.
I should have been honoured, but I didn’t like the way he took it for granted I was ready for that.
I hit him with the line in the song: “Are you askin’ me or are you tellin’ me?” I told him I’d think about it and stormed into the house.
Marshall roared off in a dust cloud and I didn’t know whether to hit something or burst into tears.
Instead, I looked out at the back porch where me and Cole used to write our songs, and pulled out my cell phone.
“Hey Loser, it’s Bucktooth.
“How’d you feel about dropping everything and heading up to Nashville with me?”
“For the weekend?”
“For a year!” I laughed. “Forever! For as long as it takes!”
Cole’s pick-up was outside in half an hour. I guess he was afraid I’d change my mind. I threw my bags in the back and jumped in the cab before I could have second thoughts.
I must have broken Mom’s heart. As we drove off, I saw her watching tearfully – realising the wedding to Marshall was off and she wasn’t going to be related to the folks in the mansion on the hill.
Maybe she was wondering how she and Dad would fare without me to distract them.
But although it sounds selfish, I couldn’t worry about her. I had to get out of Butcher’s Fork while I could.
Moonlight On The Highway is about the first time Cole and I spent the night together – and that’s not what you’re thinking!
We’d set out a little late, so somewhere short of Nashville we pulled onto the side of the highway and decided we’d sleep in the truck till morning.
That was when I began to wonder if I was doing the right thing.
Although I knew I should be content to have Cole as a friend, I wanted him to be a lot more and I couldn’t help asking why he’d been so cool towards me since we left school.
It took him a while to answer, then he said, “Because you were getting so beautiful, Kasey. Too beautiful for a guy like me.
“I knew it wouldn’t be long before someone like Marshall swept you away.
“I guess I was trying to protect my heart before I lost you completely.”
I laid my head on his shoulder and whispered, “You’re never gonna lose me, Cole.”
He put his arm around me and that’s how we slept till morning.
I’m ashamed to say it was three weeks before I called Mom for a proper catch-up. Life had been so busy.
“I’ve got a job as a waitress. It’s almost like being back at the U Need It We Got It.
“But we’ve found a bar where Cole and I get to sing our songs in the evening.”
Mom told me Marshall had got back with Shirley-Anne. Then she said, “I’ve got to go, honey. My bags are packed.”
My blood ran cold.
“You’re leavin’ Dad?”
“No,” she said softly. “He said your leaving made him realise he’d been neglecting me. So we’re heading down to Florida for a few weeks to try and get back to the way we used to be.”
So that’s my album, apart from the final song, a cover of Georgia On My Mind.
Although I’m glad I got out of Butcher’s Fork, a piece of my heart will always live there.
Cole and I will probably move back when it’s time to start a family. It always was the best place to raise a kid.
We’re sharing another tender short story from our archives every Monday and Thursday during July. Look out for the next one!