White Oak Mountain Ranger: Johnny Cash And Johnny Paycheck

  • Wednesday, February 7, 2024
“Go hard and fast enough so that when you hit the ditch you can pull out the other side.” - Johnny Paycheck

“Today will not be different than a hundred yesterdays.” - Johnny Cash

There was this character of questionable character I used to occasionally run around with up in Cookeville. This character used to tell a story about Johnny Cash. His tale unfolded in a country barbershop, a one chair affair, located somewhere in the outskirts of Nashville. He told it (the story) for the truth, as they used to say in the country.

So, my buddy was sitting in this tiny country barbershop, waiting his turn in the lineup, when none other than Mr. Johnny Cash strolled into the shop. The mega-star, the Music City legend, was soaking wet from head to toe. Johnny took a seat and everybody in the little shop knew his identity. He was a massive hero in those days. So big a star, that everybody in the little shop was more than a bit intimidated by his presence. So much in awe to the point, that nobody had the guts to ask Johnny why he was all ringing wet.

The barber and Johnny were apparently old friends. So, the shop owner innocently asked why Johnny was all wet and muddy. My buddy said you could have heard a pin drop. Johnny replied matter of factually that he had lost control of his new Cadillac and wound up in a nearby creek. Had to swim out, he said. He claimed that he left his new car in the creek and walked on in here to get his hair cut before his next big show at the Grand Ole Opry that night.

As Johnny settled into the barber’s chair, he pulled a sock from his front pants pocket and turned it inside out. All of his “medicine” had melted in his wet sock and they say, Johnny broke down in tears. They said he sobbed like a baby over that wet sock the entire time he got his hair trimmed.

If you’ve ever wanted to understand what living in McMinn, or Polk, or Monroe County was like during the late 1930s and middle 1940s; let me suggest you read one incredible story written by Chris DeRose. The title of the book is “The Fighting Bunch - "The Battle of Athens and How World War II Veterans Won The Only Successful Armed Rebellion Since the Revolution.”

This almost unbelievable recounting of local history details a mob-like reign of terror run by local law enforcement; murder, judicial fraud at a state wide level, political misconduct and voter suppression that is almost unheard of, even in third world countries today. This book is one good read, especially if you enjoy local history!

Somehow, the book about the Battle of Athens also takes us to another Johnny Cash story about a crooked Judge by the name of Sue Hicks. It was Judge Sue Hicks who let a murdering McMinn County Deputy off of a blatant home invasion and murder charge. DeRose writes: “Judge Hicks had gained fame as a young lawyer on the prosecution team in the Scopes Monkey Trial, testing Tennessee’s prohibition on teaching the theory of evolution. He was named for his mother, Sue, who died after childbirth, pursuant to her last request. Years later Hicks spoke at a judicial conference where author Shel Silverstein was in attendance. Silverstein thought about the challenges for a man with a women’s name (“I tell ya, life ain’t easy for a boy named ‘Sue’”). He wrote a song inspired by the Judge and later it was recorded by Johnny Cash, who sent Hicks an autographed picture: “To Sue, how do you do?”

Now I always figured that Johnny Paycheck called himself Johnny Paycheck just to mess a little with Johnny Cash. But, with a minimal amount of research, the Wikipedian’s tell us different. Born Donald Eugene Lytle, Donald Eugene legally changed his name to Johnny Paycheck in 1964, taking the name from Johnny Paycheck, a top-ranked boxer from Chicago who once fought Joe Louis for the Heavyweight title. Who would have thunk it? Sadly, I don’t have any Johnny Paycheck stories to pass on. See the folks at Wiki for that. They do a pretty fair job in a pinch.

That’s what the month of February will do for you. Reading books, finding yourself suddenly disoriented, stumbling around the World Wide Web, watching the wood pile dwindle, the hay stack dwindle, and seeing the ‘four legged creatures’ get a denser layer of hairy. It’s kind of a strange month of almost rest, this short string of days we refer to as February.

Rest, where the days slowly get a smidge longer, and it doesn’t get as dark as quick as it did some shorter days back. But, the lengthening days are still short enough to avoid most chores that are too exhausting. You could go up and clean out that attic if you wanted to, but then again, why push it? Chores are not really made for February. Not like the twelve hours of daylight chores in the overly long days of July.

You leave the quail alone in February. This designated respite for the little gentlemen birds is because some old quail hunting mentor you once followed around, once told you that it was best to leave eight.

It takes at least eight warm birds to survive the winter and replenish the covey in the spring. Besides, the old bird dog’s hips could use a break. She doesn’t want to admit it, but old hips show to the careful eye. The old dog deserves a break about as much as your aching knees need some decent amount of rest. The down time makes you face the mortal fact that hips and knees won’t ever really heal. That’s all part of February, the need for rest.

The short month is somehow good, but subtle, down time. Time to dream about spring thundering gobblers, prepare for soon feeding fish, put off paying property taxes and worrying about the IRS. February is confusing. It’s stuck between the end of something and the beginning of the next something. But, the ‘somethings’ tend to get a little blurred in February.

Yeah sure, you could traipse off to Georgia or Florida or some other exotic dreamland like that and hunt pigs. Pig hunts are still noble endeavors in the slowly lengthening days of February. Good hog hunting, if you’ve managed to still maintain some fire in the belly of your ‘hunter-gatherer’ soul.

But, somehow, and I’m not too sure how, February is the month that saps that fire in some misunderstood way. Who can explain it? Maybe February is really designed to reorient desires. Replenish the covey. Reset the idea of rest. Think of that strange concept of Valentine's Day!

What would Johnny Cash do?

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