Goodbye, Merle Haggard.

Every time I hear one of Merle Haggard’s songs, I am immediately transported to the first day of summer vacation between my junior and senior year of high school.

Back in the day, we recorded our own 8-track tapes. Though she was mostly a rock fan (Elvis!), my mother had made herself a bootleg tape of songs by Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, and Willie Nelson taken from the radio and a bunch of 45s. She would often play that tape, and others, while she did her housework.

Those of you who are familiar with 8 tracks know that the tapes would play themselves over and over and over and over and over, until you changed it out.

Like most teens, I slept until noon and stayed up until midnight. This particular morning was warm and sunny, and Merle Haggard’s “Fightin’ Side of Me” woke me well before I was ready to get up.

I listened to the entire tape three, four, five times before I shouted, “Mom!”

Nothing.

“Mom! Put something else in!”

Silence.

I rolled, put a pillow over my head to block out the immense pride one feels when one is an Okie from Muskogee, but I did NOT get out of bed to do something about it.

At least not right away.

I’ll bet I went to Luckenbach, Texas with Waylon and Willie and the boys at least fifteen times before I finally got up, stormed down the hallway, and pulled that damned tape out. (Mom was working outside. She wasn’t aware that I was slowly going insane in the house.)

If I didn’t know it before, it was burned into my brain that day: Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys. Cause they’ll never stay home and they’re always alone . . .

Rest easy, Merle Haggard. There isn’t one damned reason I should know the words to any of your songs, but I do.

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