Jeanne Recommends: “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” by Johnny Cash

Well, I woke up Sunday morning
With no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt
And the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad
So I had one more for dessert
Then I fumbled in my closet for my clothes
And found my cleanest dirty shirt
And I shaved my face and combed my hair
And stumbled down the stairs to meet the day…

I looked over at my mother from the front passenger seat of our Volvo station wagon and noticed the corners of her mouth as they flicked upward in a smile. I giggled.

“Cleanest dirty shirt…?!” I repeated, marveling at Kris Kristofferson’s nonsensical lyric. I was nine or ten years old and still too innocent to have latched onto the line about beer for breakfast. Mom and I were out running errands in our still new-ish family car, which she and my father had bought after our ancient blue Ford Country Squire had finally quit running. The new car had come equipped with air conditioning and a cassette deck, both of which felt luxurious at the time.

When my parents were both in the car, they listened to Victory At Sea or Vivaldi’s Four Seasons or Dvorak’s New World Symphony. Sometimes they would listen to Peter, Paul, and Mary or Roger Whitaker, but Johnny Cash was always reserved for when my mother had the car to herself. Years later, she confided that my father hated country music, snobbishly associating it with “white trash” and “redneck” types. Despite the thinly-veiled insult — my mother’s ancestral line includes many Florida farmers and cattle ranchers — she never abandoned her love affair with the genre. And the singer I remember her loving the most was always Johnny Cash.

It didn’t take me long to fall in love with Cash, too. I have my own memories associated with The Man In Black, but the most vivid one is the melancholy smile that spread across my mother’s face any time she heard “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.”

On the Sunday morning sidewalk
Wishing, Lord, that I was stoned
’Cause there’s something in a Sunday
Makes a body feel alone
And there’s nothin’ short of dyin’
Half as lonesome as the sound
On the sleeping city sidewalks
Sunday morning coming down

My mother passed down to me the twin tendencies to love without reservation and to grieve in silence, too. And this song remains one of the ways I hold space for our powerful love and sorrow without ever having to say a word.

 

(Song recommendation by Jeanne Sharp)