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Memorial Day & meeting Maine music royalty

05/28/2015
Dick Curless recorded 22 country chart hits in the late 60s and early 70s.

Dick Curless recorded 22 country chart hits in the late 60s and early 70s.

I just met the June Carter Cash of Maine — the wife of a country music star — in a place that still sells classic old record albums.

And to me, at least, it helped deliver the true meaning of Memorial Day.

Here’s what happened:

Shortly after attending the downtown Bangor Memorial Day parade, I wandered into a nearby antique store with a friend. Being music fans, we quickly migrated to a small section for vinyl records. Maybe six bins full of blues, rock, jazz and holiday albums.

In the Maine music section — which included maybe 10 albums — I pulled a record by country singer Dick Curless. I showed it to my friend. “Here’s one of the biggest artists to ever come out of Maine,” I said. “He had some big country hits back in the 60s.”

It’s true. Curless was born in Fort Fairfield, Maine in 1932. He recorded the top 10 country hit “A Tombstone Every Mile” in 1965. The song is considered one of the greatest truck driving songs of all time. Famous for wearing an eye patch, Curless toured with Buck Owens and released 17 albums in the next 10 years. He died in 1995.

My friend supplied a polite “Hmmmm” and continued to browse the jazz bin.

Then an older lady — who just seemed to appear next to me — made a shocking announcement.

“He was my husband,” she said.

I was stunned. My friend was stunned.

“Dick Curless was your husband?” I said. “Wow.”

Her name was Pauline and she looked like she could be Carrie Underwood’s grandmother. She wore a crisp white collared shirt, glasses with substantial brown rims, and short salt & pepper hair that looked as if it had been styled an hour earlier.

I asked Pauline about the eye patch, where Dick grew up, and how long he continued to perform. She answered all my questions. I told her I was from Minnesota but lived in Maine and collected Maine music.

“Dick and I would visit friends in Minnesota,” she said. “They had a place on 10 mile Lake. We really enjoyed it there.”

Pauline said her husband’s music is hard to find and she told me about another overlooked but successful Maine musician: Bill Chinnock.

She even wrote his name down for me.

After that, Pauline left the store. I’m not sure she was with anyone.

As my friend and I walked back home up a steep hill, we talked about our chance meeting with Maine music royalty.

“How did that just happen?” asked my friend.

“In the record section of all places,” I said.

Later, when I searched the Internet for a Dick Curless biography I made a discovery: Memorial Day, May 25th, was the 20th anniversary of his death.

Now maybe our encounter with Pauline was just a coincidence. But maybe it was something else. Perhaps Pauline was drawn to the record bins to catch a glimpse of her husband, in his prime, on the cover of his life’s work. It seems like a natural thing to do on that day, and in my opinion, more fulfilling than a cemetery visit.

And then she stumbled into a couple of younger guys still interested in his music 50 years after it was recorded.

I hope Pauline appreciated our meeting. I know I did. It got me thinking about the real reason we celebrate Memorial Day: A time to honor those who have gone before us for who they were and what they did on this earth. It’s honest, emotional and a powerful truth.

Something you can hear in most Johnny Cash or Dick Curless songs.

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From → Music, People

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