Ah, such a paradox

Life is full of paradoxes. (Thankfully, we are spared pair-a-BOXES; I’m not sure we could stomach two crate stowaway stories’.) Americans are good at creating great gulfs between ‘superstars’ and us commoners. It requires more persuasion than can often be mustered to convince many ‘underlings’ that ‘overlings’ can be regular folks, too. Further, truly famous people’down deep’ spend a good deal of time in their galaxies wishing, oh so often, to be regular folks again. Ah, such a paradox’. * * * * * The only real ‘superstar’ I’ve known was Fred Lowery (1909-1984). He was arguably the finest whistler in the world for a half- century. A mainstay on the Horace Heidt network radio show after appearing regularly for years on Dallas Radio Station WFAA’s ‘Early Birds,’ he provided the haunting movie theme music for John Wayne’s High and the Mighty. He also and whistled his happy tune weekly on the ‘Andy Griffith Show.’ He appeared with show business stars like Bing Crosby and Bob Hope; Bing called him ‘king of the whistlers.’ Lowery, blind since a toddler, wanted no pity, no advantage and no ‘superstar’ status’. He once challenged Hope to a golf game, and it was accepted. ‘We’ll play at 12 midnight,’ Lowery insisted’. I knew him during the final two decades of his life. There was no pretense about him. More than anything, he was an encourager who happened to be a whistler. He whistled for royalty, presidents, major athletic events and in big coliseums’you name it. He appeared before more than 10,000 audiences’mostly at schools, churches, civic clubs, hospitals, retirement centers and jails’. * * * * * Gracie, his wife of 45 years, was ‘behind the wheel’ (mostly motor homes; they owned six of them), driving Fred to the next engagement. For four decades, she drove some two million miles (many career truckers don’t make it that far), without so much as a dented fender or a moving traffic violation. Oh, they survived a fire in one motor home, and another was heavily damaged when an Illinois tornado leveled buildings all around. Planes/trains/motor homes’it was always ‘life in a hurry’ for the Lowerys. ‘Many promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep’ fit them to a ‘T.’ One time, back in 1956, they were hurrying from Ohio down to Nashville. Fred, already a respected artist on Decca Records, had a studio date there to record another collection of tunes. It was to be in the afternoon, but they arrived early and ate breakfast near the studio. * * * * ‘We got to hear an affable young man sing, but he was so nervous,’ Gracie remembers. She said he was there for hours, doing take after take. ‘Fred was right there, trying to help him relax,’ Gracie added. The session paid off for the 24-year-old son of an Arkansas farmer. The song’ ‘I Walk the Line.’ The composer and vocalist’ Johnny Cash. (It became the #1 song on country charts, and ranks 26th among country hits of all time.) His career was off and running. The ‘man in black’ is one of the few vocalists in history to sell more than 50 million records. The rest, of course, is history. The country music icon experienced some rocky interludes, but received all the top awards, time and again. In failing health for several years and widowed when his beloved wife, June Carter Cash died some four months ago, he is dead at age 71. Those who knew him best say he never lost ‘the common touch’.’ * * * * * In 1964, a presidential inauguration was planned for the new Sul Ross State University president. We had $75 for a musician, and noticed that the Lowerys were appearing nearby in Fort Stockton the night before’. Fred thrilled the Alpine audience, and our friendship was ‘nailed down.’ During the next two decades, he and Gracie were guests in our home during stints in Fort Worth and Snyder, and again, he starred’ never losing ‘the common touch.’ Fred brightened places wherever he appeared. He yearned to be thought of as ‘an average, sighted ‘Joe.’ One night, we made hamburgers in the backyard. ‘Does Fred prefer mustard or mayonnaise’ I asked Gracie. ‘Ask me,’ he insisted, ‘I’m blind’not deaf!’ * * * * * Some statistical guru a while back claimed that in America, more than a third of us are no less related than eighth cousins. That boggles, doesn’t it’ I’ve been a commoner all my life, with just one famous relative. His name was Mickey Newbury. A respected composer, he visited the Metroplex several years ago. He called our home, asking if he could drop by to try to determine if we were related. It turned out that we were fourth cousins. He died last year, but not before writing a ton of songs about common folks. A lot of them were what Cash called ‘Newbury train songs’.’ A small world’ Indeed. Dr. Don Newbury, longtime Texas educator, is now an author/speaker/columnist in Burleson.

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