An open letter to Barbara Mandrell


Dear Barbara,

I'm sorry I thought you were an evil cunt all these years. See, my Grandma Florence told me you were. Well, she didn't use the word cunt but you get the idea. Maybe I should have learned not to listen to Grandma Florence. She also used to show me pictures from The National Enquirer of aliens abducting humans from their beds and tell me that they take you up into their spaceships and probe your asshole while you sleep. If I hadn't'a believed her then I wouldn't still be sleeping with my eyes open after all these years (single, in a double bed).

My second grade teacher Mrs. Rieck, rest her soul, loved you. It was nothing short of an obsession. She spoke of you incessantly. She was one of the only teachers at May Overby Elementary with a piano in her classroom--she also was obsessed with the piano and told Josh and Jesse Heiden's parents, when consulted, to buy them one rather than a newfangled computer, much to Josh and Jesse's chagrin--and would tell us she was singin' like Barbara Mandrell as she pounded away on that thing. She also said one hundred and five was not a real number and that she'd always ignore her pastor when he instructed the congregation to turn to it in the hymnal. To this day I never insert unnecessary ands into numbers and also don't chop chop chop when cutting construction paper with scissors but rather make long, intentional cuts (so as not to sound like a choo-choo train. Mrs. Rieck hated that).

Barbara, I loved Mrs. Rieck. She was my favorite teacher, and so I decided I loved you too and that I was gonna learn how to play the piano (a very square-sounding "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu" was my favorite). I went home one day to Grandma Florence, just singing your praises. Barbara Mandrell this. Barbara Mandrell that.

Well Barbara, if Grandma had been a mean ol' lady she probably woulda washed my mouth out with soap. You'd think I'd been talking about them dirty Republican bastards Grandma hated so much. Grandma told me you were a mean, evil woman. A selfish woman. A hateful woman. That you'd been in a car accident and then, with all your riches, sued the poor family of the man who'd died in the other car. Forced to choose between my allegiance to Mrs. Rieck and Grandma Florence, I chose my grandma, Barbara.

Fast forward twenty years. Last night I was talking with my friend Jen (my partner in crime in clearing out Club Jager with our Hot Roxx country music night. Sigh. Guess we're no Transmission). We'd been drinking, and she brought up your name. Hold the damned train. Nearly a decade after Grandma Florence's passing, I still carried that torch of hatred for you, Barbara. Jen urged me to listen to "Sleeping Single in a Double Bed." To watch some episodes of the variety show you once shared with your sisters. She said I'd change my mind. I scoffed and harrumphed at the idea.


This morning I awoke to the news that you had just become the first woman to be inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame. It was like Mrs. Rieck was calling me from up in her piano-bangin' heaven - "Niiiiiiikkkkkkkkiiiiii... listen to Jennnnnnnnnnn... embrace Baaaarrrrrrrrrrrbara..."

So I read up on you a bit. I listened to "Sleeping Single in a Double Bed."

I watched some clips from your variety show--damn, y'all were cute in your feathered hair and matching ribbon chokers!

I found out that as a child you were already proficient in several instruments. Toured with Patsy Cline, George Jones and Johnny Cash as a teenage steel guitar prodigy.

And that this car accident incident was the result of an archaic Tennessee law requiring you to sue the accident victim's family before you could collect any insurance for your medical bills.

Well, I'll be damned. Here's to you, Barbara Mandrell.

Sorry Grandma. By the way, I think Willie's version of "Always on My Mind" is better than Elvis' DON'T HAUNT MY DREAMS TONIGHT, GRAMS!