Late afternoon light spilled into the modest living room through the open door. Monty, who lay napping in the sunny spot, was probably taking Claire’s sudden death harder than anyone. The two had been inseparable the past three years. Claire had found the abandoned puppy rooting around inside a toppled garbage can on her weekly walk to Hudson’s market six blocks east of her tiny cottage.
“I’ve given him my dinner scraps and a bath with my dandruff shampoo.” Claire told Thelma on the telephone that night. “He sure is a cute little thing.”
“Well, you’ve done your good deed, now put him outside and let him find his way home.” Claire’s best friend had said. “The last thing you need is a filthy animal living in your spotless house.”
“Maybe.” Claire had replied. “But right now, I’ll just let him sleep here in my lap. I think that bath wore him out.”
Everyone thought it was strange that Claire kept the dog. She had never allowed pets in the house while the kids were growing up. Even stranger, they thought, was that Claire had named the puppy after her deceased husband of 57 years.
“It was a nice service.” Thelma said as she served herself a helping of the lasagna that pastor Bill’s wife, Anita had dropped off earlier. She sniffed before taking the first bite.
“Yes, and didn’t she look natural.” Said Sissy, Claire’s youngest daughter, who sat at one end of the kitchen table that was piled with food.
A steady stream of family, friends and neighbors had kept the screen door busy all day but now there were just a handful left as the sun set outside. A quiet settled over the little house. Everyone was tired from the day’s sad activities.
Claire’s granddaughter, Sharon broke the silence. “I remember spending many a summer here. I loved Grandma Claire, but dreaded the daily cleaning regimen. Did you know she scrubbed her sinks twice a day with Ajax, and vacuumed the whole house every day?”
“Tell us something we don’t know, Fred said, pulling up a chair at the table after having walked the Butlers to their car. Grandma Claire was the neatest of all the neat freaks.”
“I was never afraid to eat her casseroles at the church picnics.” Thelma chimed in. “Everyone knew Claire had the cleanest kitchen in town.”
“She wasn’t just clean,” Sharon said. “You know she had OCD, don’t you? Remember how she had to lock and unlock the dead bolt four times before she went to bed. And before she left the house, she would arrange all the knick knacks on the mantle just so, then pat the throw pillow on the couch two times before she would leave.”
Sissy said that all her life her mother had done everything an even number of times. Whether it was locking the front door, patting a pillow, singing a verse from her favorite song, or stirring a pot of stew. Claire was compelled to live her life evenly.
Everyone chimed in with their favorite Claire stories well into the evening. At some point Monty got up, stretched his legs and made his way to his food bowl. No one had remembered to feed the dog, but he wasn’t very hungry and just lapped up a little water before making his way back to Claire’s bedroom and curling up in the middle of her bedspread.
Sharon found him there later that night, after everyone was gone. She would be living in the house now that her grandmother was gone. It was the perfect spot for her to hunker down all winter and finish the novel she’d been working on for the past two years.
After taking Monty out for a walk around the block just before midnight, Sharon put some food in his bowl and encouraged him to eat. She didn’t blame him when he gave her a forlorn look and returned to the bedroom. “I miss her too.” Sharon said to the sad dog.
As she locked up the house and turned off the lights, her hand fell to the thermostat on the wall in the hallway. It was set on 78 degrees. An even number. “Of course!” she thought out loud. She moved it down to 76 so she could get a comfortable night’s sleep.
“Goodnight Grandma Claire.” She said out loud a few minutes later as she settled onto the bed. Before she turned out the light, she patted Monty two times on the top of his head.
“I’m Lyle Lovett’s biggest fan!” I heard her say to the person she was with.
My ears perked up. My sisters, Mary and Teresa had heard it too and they both looked at me, eyebrows raised, as if to say, “Are you going to let this woman get away with that remark?”
Everyone who has ever met me knows that I am Lyle Lovett’s biggest fan.
It was October, 2007 just outside of College Station, Texas. My three sisters and I were enjoying a raucous sister’s weekend at Big State, a huge outdoor music festival featuring Lyle Lovett, Willie Nelson, Robert Earl Keen, Miranda Lambert, Los Lonely Boys, Dierks Bentley, Kelly Willis, Kevin Fowler, Tim McGraw, and so many others others. The sun was setting and we were positioned right up front to enjoy Lyle Lovett’s much-anticipated set.
The Large Band had barely finished the first song when this misguided woman nearby had started with her remarks. She was all like, “Oh, I love him so much. I’ve seen him seven times. I know all the words to all of his songs….blah blah blah.
Naturally, it was my duty to set her straight. “Excuse me, but I’m Lyle Lovett’s biggest fan,” I said with a smile. “Oh yeah?” She replied. “What makes you think so?”
My response: “I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen him, but this is the third time this week!”
I won that argument real quick. She was quiet after that.
But I also wanted to tell her:
- When I’m in a bad mood, I can listen to any one of his hundreds of songs, hear that unique, clear voice, and instantly be transformed into a better place.
- His wit, charm and effortless humor make me swoon.
- When he’s up on stage, between songs, telling stories the way only he can, I feel like I’m a part of the family.
- The interesting way he turns a phrase, uses emphasis and conveys honesty refreshes me.
- He is a poet and a cowboy and a gentleman.
- His music is pure art and I love how it doesn’t fit into any one genre. It is all heartfelt and real.
- It’s always about the music, but it’s also about having fun. His joy is contagious.
- His crooked smile and that twinkle in his eye – are invitations into his world where I love to get lost.
- Lyle doesn’t pretend to be anything but what he is.
- He surrounds himself with the most talented musicians and shares the stage. He highlights the Large Band and back-up singers, and gives everyone the spotlight they deserve.
- The way Lyle always dresses for the occasion, in his tailored Armani suits and authentic cowboy boots reminds me that he’s Texas cool and that just makes me proud.
- And don’t get me started about how when he uses his breath to hold a note, or inhale into a word, or exhales a sigh in just the right place, it makes me want to follow him into the sunset and live happily ever after.
And then, I wanted to go back in time and tell her how warm and gracious Lyle was that time I got to meet him in person! It was a hot July day in Austin, Texas a few years later. My daughter and I were headed to the Paramount Theatre, downtown to see Lyle play with Robert Earl Keen.
She was driving because Austin is her town. I had been following Lyle on Facebook for quite a while and noticed that he was posting pictures of the venues (beautiful old theatres and opera houses) and of fans, taken several hours before his shows on that tour. So I talked my baby girl into going early to see if we could catch him on the street taking pictures.
“Oh my gosh, there’s his bus!” I screamed as we pulled up to the traffic light adjacent to the theatre.
“Mom, that’s him standing on the corner,” She said.
“WHAT? Are you sure? Oh! Oh! Oh! What do I do? I asked.
“You get out of the car and go talk to him. NOW!” She practically pushed me out just before the light turned green.
I don’t remember making my way across the street and approaching him, but the next thing I knew, I was standing a few feet away from Lyle Lovett! as he finished signing autographs and talking with some other fans.
When those fans left, others took their place. I was just standing there, hadn’t been assertive enough and might have missed my opportunity.
Soon, my daughter was at my side. She had parked the car and found me still standing at a distance waiting my turn. When the next opportunity presented itself, she stepped up and introduced herself with her infectious smile and bubbly personality. She and Lyle are both graduates from Texas A&M and had that in common, and talked briefly about their graduating years, and compared Aggie Rings. He then stuck out his hand and introduced himself to me. I took his right hand, and he covered our hands with his left and looked me in the eyes. When I said my name, he repeated it.
We talked for several minutes, I tried not to gush, we took pictures, and we laughed, all under the blistering Texas sun. Sweat trickling off foreheads and pooling in crevices. He signed my ticket, thanked us for coming to the show and invited us to have a great time – which we did.
If you ever get the chance to see Lyle Lovett live – with or without his Large Band – please do. You won’t be sorry.
Until then, do yourself a favor and watch this video, and then go find more because it was so hard to just pick one!
Are you anyone’s Biggest Fan?