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A stone's throw: The grave tender

 

Betty Stone

 

Over in neighboring Montgomery, Ala., lives a young man with cerebral palsy who has earned a bit of local fame as "the grave tender." Not just any grave, but that of country music legend Hank Williams and also that of his wife, Audrey, at Oakwood Cemetery. Terry Faust cares for the graves about two days a week and works at the Montgomery Hank Williams Museum another couple of days weekly. The curator of the museum is Beth Petty, daughter of its founder, the late Cecil Jackson. 

 

One does not have to be a country music fan to recognize the name of Hank Williams. In his short life of 29 years, he wrote 128 songs and recorded 225, including 35 top 10 singles and 11 that were ranked at number one. They include "I Saw the Light," which is on his tombstone, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and "I Can't Help It If I'm Still in Love with You." He died of natural causes on New Year's Day 1953, while on his way to a concert. Over 50,000 people attended his funeral. 

 

Terry Faust's mother introduced him to the music of Williams before he was 6 years old. Because he could not play outside with the other children, Terry early became an ardent Hank Williams fan. 

 

Now the fan is producing music himself. With the help of local music entrepreneur Allen Delk, Faust is promoting his new album, "The Grave Tender." It consists of 12 songs and recitations written and performed by Faust. Delk collaborated on one, "Walking By," a catchy tune with cute lyrics. 

 

Faust wrote his first song at age 21, and he has now written about 20. He is celebrating his album's debut this week, on Dec. 8, which is the anniversary of the last day Hank Williams played in Mississipppi. That show was at the Silver Moon in Gulfport. Faust's performance will be at 5 p.m. at the Simmons-Williams General Store and 1884 CafĂ© on Highway 11/80 in Kewanee, Mississippi. Admission is free. A picking jam will follow. 

 

The album was introduced in Alabama on Hank Williams' birthday in September, but Faust felt it appropriate to celebrate its release in Mississippi, considered by many, including former Gov. Haley Barbour and the Mississippi Arts Commission, as officially the "Birthplace of American Music." 

 

 

 

Prolific and personal 

 

Country music is an American unique contribution to the arts of the world. Delk says it started in Mississippi with Jimmie Rodgers. Delk stresses the importance of the lyrics because, "You really want people to hear the message." 

 

Although some people have scoffed at country music, saying it is always about "lyin', sighin', cryin' and dyin'," anyone should be able to hear from its lyrics the loves, hopes, aspirations, disappointments, triumphs and humor of plain, ordinary people, "just like us," the kind of people who have made up the population of the world since time began. No wonder all of us can identify with the stories told by country music. 

 

There has probably been no country music star to have packed more into so few years than Hank Williams, Terry Faust's hero, whom he hopes to emulate. Williams was famously prolific, giving us "I Can't Go on This Way," "I Don't Care If Tomorrow Never Comes," "Honky Tonkin'," "My Son Calls Another Man Daddy," "I've Just Told Mama Goodbye" and many others. 

 

There is a story that one time Fred Rose of the (Roy) Acuff/Rose music publishing team locked Hank in a room and told him to write a song in just a few minutes in order to see if he could really do it. Rose came back in about 15 to 30 minutes, and Hank had composed "Mansion on the Hill." Terry Faust says, "All roads lead to Hank." 

 

 

 

Carrying on 

 

Delk, who is promoting "The Grave Tender" album, says he felt providentially drawn to the effort when he had an irresistible urge to go to the Hank Williams Museum. There he saw the 1952 blue Cadillac in which Charlie Carr was driving Hank when he died. Some of his friends claim he "died of a broken heart," because he was separated from his wife, Audrey, and was hoping to reunite with her after the concert. 

 

At the museum Delk first met Beth Petty, who sent him to Terry Faust. The two immediately connected. Delk says that cerebral palsy doesn't slow Terry down at all. In fact, Terry says, "I have three speeds: start, fast and fall down." 

 

That meeting resulted in the CD "The Grave Tender." Part of the proceeds from its sales will go to the Hank Williams Museum. It is coming out just in time for Christmas and is available through iTunes, Amazon and other music outlets online, and directly from the Hank Williams Museum, 334-262-3600, or e-mail hankwilliamsmuse@bellsouth.net. 

 

The rest, they hope, is history.

 

Betty Boyls Stone is a freelance writer, who grew up in Columbus.

 

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