Monday, March 11, 2013

Memories of Patsy Cline

Virginia Patterson Hensley, was born September 8, 1932, in Winchester, Virginia, the daughter of Sam and Hilda Patterson Hensley. Her father was a blacksmith and her mother a seamstress. Her mother was 16 when Patsy was born; she was the oldest of three children. There was no wealth in the family and she grew up “on the wrong side of the tracks.” The father left them when Patsy was fifteen but in spite of everything it was a happy home.

I don’t know if Patsy Cline had a Scottish heritage but Patterson is certainly a Scottish name. For sure, the area around Winchester was populated by Scots. I do know that country music was born in the hills and valleys of Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, sung by immigrant Scots, many from Ulster in the north of Ireland.

My wife and I, with our two children, Elaine and Suzanne, were living in Madison, Tennessee in the 1960s. Our first house was on Old Hickory Road, but I don’t remember the address. We were surrounded by people connected to the Grand Old Opry. A number of them attended our church. I remember especially a backup fiddle player named Chubby Wise. I don’t think he could read music but he sure could play the fiddle. Jimmy Snow, son of Opry legend Hank Snow, preached his first sermon in our church and for over 30 years he was pastor of Nashville’s Evangel Temple.

We once lived across the street from the Carter family and Suzanne played with the younger kids. Around midnight, the cars would begin arriving and they would enjoy a meal cooked by Mama Maybelle Carter. Then they would practice and sing til dawn. Elaine and Brenda Lee were classmates.

I met Patsy Cline once. She had been involved in a head-on crash on Old Hickory Road and had suffered multiple injuries. Our Pastor, Rev. Jay Alford, visited her regularly and I went along once for prayer and Scripture reading. Some report that she renewed her vows to Christianity while in the hospital but I don’t know for sure.

On March 5, 1963, I arose early to travel to Memphis for a speaking engagement. My car was a bright red Volkswagen Bug. It was a beautiful morning, but suddenly on WSM radio came the announcement that no one wanted to hear. A plane had been found near Camden, Tennessee with the bodies of four people. One was Patsy Cline. The others were Randy Hughes, Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas.

The group was returning from Kansas City where they had given a benefit concert. They landed in Dyersburg, Tennessee, bought fuel, called home and then Randy Hughes steered his Piper Comanche down the runway. The airport manager had tried to get them to stay because of the high winds and the storms that were between Dyersburg and Nashville but to no avail. They all had plans for the next day. Patsy’s watch stopped that evening at 6.27.

Camden, Tennessee was 80 miles away and directly on my route to Memphis. Others were making the same trip, some with police escort. Passing through town, I followed the cars, turning right down a little used dirt road called Mule Barn Road and there, a few hundred feet from the road, was the crash site. It was taped off and police guarded the area by the time I arrived.

I stayed all day and into the early evening. Quiet crowds would gather, speak in whispers and then leave. Occasionally someone would gain permission to the area and collect personal items. Roger Miller stood within the roped-off area stricken by grief and sorrow. The Governor came, I heard, but I never saw him.

Standing near the yellow tape was a highway patrol officer I had met a dew days earlier and we talked off and on through the day. He said they were going to take the tape down later if there was anything I would like to have. I told him who I was and what I did for a living and that perhaps some of the items would be useful in my talks. Five minutes before the others, he let me in.

I have the aeronautical maps, the Omni-indicator (course selector) and a handle from Patsy’s suitcase. I also took pictures that day which were accidentally exposed. However, I came back the next day and took a number of photographs of the crash site. It’s one of the days in my life I will never forget.

Sometimes, late at night, when I am in a different mood, I listen to Patsy Cline sing: Crazy, Walking After Midnight, Sweet Dreams, I Fall To Pieces, and the last song she ever sang, I’ll Sail My Ship Alone. It is hard to believe it was 50 years ago, March 5, 1963.

After a memorial service in Nashville, they took her home to Winchester, Virginia. Her grave is marked by a simple bronze plaque which reads “Virginia H. (Patsy) Cline - Death Cannot Kill What Never Dies - Love.” Later, Loretta Lynn and Dottie West helped erect a bell tower at the cemetery which plays hymns every day at 6 p.m. A memorial stone marks the place where the plane crashed in the remote forest outside of Camden, Tennessee.

This is a personal story but I thought in coming years my great grandchildren might wonder why I saved those stained maps and that funny looking instrument. Everything might end up in the Scottish American Museum some day.

The Museum is a great place for family collections. You might look around and see if you have family items that you would like to donate. We are slowly amassing an amazing collection of things that portray our Scottish Heritage. Call me if have questions, or better yet attend the History Club meeting on April 6.

Thanks to a grant from a local Foundation, we are in the process of documenting all of the items in the museum. Pictures and measurements are taken along with any historical information available. These are then placed in a searchable database which will later be placed on the Internet. We will need an additional $15,000 to complete the total project. If you would like to make a donation, please call me.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois St. Andrew’s Society

April 6, 2013 - History Club: Our speaker is David T. Macfarlane a Master Chef born in Elderslie, Scotland. He spent 10 years in the U.S. Navy serving two four-star admirals, the crew and officers of the USS Mount Whitney and the President of the United States in the White House and Blair House in Washington, D.C. “Chef Macfarlane has consistently returned to Scotland as an example to all Scots to never forget from whence they come...” More information to follow.

June 14 and 15 - Highland Games - Hamilton Lakes, Itasca, IL.

June 28, 2013 - Chicago Scots at the White Sox Game

August 22, 2013 - Skerryvore Concert - Martyr’s, Chicago.

September 13, 2013 - Kilted Golf Classic - Bloomingdale Country Club

November 22, 2013 - 168th St. Andrew’s Day Dinner Celebration

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