Conor Kelman comes of age during a time when hyperactivity was unlabeled. Teachers and parents considered him to be insolent, stubborn, and difficult to control. After all, he never paid attention and was always in the wrong place. In those days, parents and teachers used the switch, belt, and paddle to correct him.
The fifth-grade teacher called striking students with her hand or whatever she held in her hand, love pats. Conor’s best friend, Billy Dill, said Conor was the most loved kid in fifth grade.
Conor’s first love was Gabbie the Gibson guitar he brought home from a pawnshop. The ghost of Red Nolan came with the guitar, but they had a love and hate relationship.
His second love was Wylina. He met her in third grade and she introduced him to coffee and cigarettes in the fifth grade. They planned to marry until Conor’s folks moved him to Minidoka County, and Wylina went to the Caldwell Fair with another boy.
Seems as though Conor had spent his entire life trying to fit-in and searching something to call his own.
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He received the invite. Nashville’s Grand Ole’ Opry. Now, it was real. Satisfaction cut through the engraved stress marks on his face that belied his young years. He had earned it. Rough schedules, racking up miles across the country, opening shows with a mixture of envy and admiration for those who had paid their dues.
Billed as the new Hank Williams those close to him shuddered at the commonality.
Blinding lights, applause, screams, hands reaching to touch him played in his head as he splashed water against his face and patted down his hair. The paraphernalia used earlier set on the counter beside the sink. One more time to pull him through. Good that he forgot to put it away, he told himself ignoring the real reason. The effect didn’t last that long, just enough to get him on stage.
“Twenty minutes,” the chauffeur said through the phone.
Muscles tightened. His stomach quivered. He washed white pills down with bourbon to calm the nerves, but his thoughts were on the bathroom counter. One last time his mind reasoned. Before the show, before walking onto that famous auditorium with pieces of wood from the Ryman auditorium.
The wood Hank Williams stood.
The stretcher disappeared out the door. That close to making it his chauffeur thought with a tear in his eye.
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