Tuesday, September 20, 2011

This Little Boy

Today as I was unearthing the Sacred Burial Mound that is my desk, which is a never-ending process, I came across some thoughts I had written down years ago about my oldest son, the screenwriter. He was quite the character as a boy and gave me hours of endless entertainment--some good, some bad--but entertaining nevertheless.

Here's a photo of him way back when, scribbling at the kitchen table.

When I asked what he was doing, he said, "I'm writing a story, Mommy."

Following are a few things I remember about my son, Jeff Tetreault, that I never wanted to forget.


A little boy's mind is a strange and wondrous thing. What is it that makes an almost four-year-old correct his father when he says: "Isn't Mama pretty today?"

"No, Mama is a beauty!"

This is the same boy who thinks people in his dreams have been there, too, and have seen the same places and things he has.

"Mommy, remember the gorilla that came and looked through our windows last night?"

"I didn't see it, Honey. You must have dreamed it."

"No! You saw them. You were there. I was with you," he insists.

This is the same little boy who wants to be a rock star and play guitar. He wears his hair spiked to nursery school with his dark glasses and a Don Johnson sweater so his friends will think he is cool and call him "Do-Do."

"Yes, they probably will," I say.

This is the same little boy who tells me, "I don't love you, Mommy. I love Daddy. When I was a baby I needed you and loved you, but now I'm a bigger boy and need my daddy."

I love this little boy and his fantasy world where a cardboard box becomes a hundred different vehicles to take him lands away. I love this little boy who walks through a crafts fair trailing a 25-foot rope, wears cowboy boots, shirt, straw hat and carries an inch-long plastic water pistol he got from the pediatrician's treasure chest and shoots it at passers-by, declaring to all that he is a cowboy and they are dead.

I love this little man, who, after hearing his parents argue over the telephone, worriedly asks, "What did Daddy say, Mommy?"

When I answer, "He says he loves you very much and always will," my son replies, "Yes, but why doesn't Daddy love you, Mommy?"

The mind of a little boy growing up is a precious thing. It is so wonderful to witness the developing thought processes along with the mastery of psychology.

This little boy, whose favorite color is green and favorite food is chocolate, is the same little boy who scores 24 out of a possible 19 for his age group on developmental tests.

We are not so different, he and I. We are mother and son with dreams that are real both in the night and during the day with fantasies to fulfill.

He is mine and he is growing up. I am glad to know him and to help him fulfill his dreams and live his fantasies.


This boy helps his two-year-old brother when he hurts his foot. He puts his arms around him, pats his shoulder, and tells him everything will be okay. When I get to them to see why the younger one has cried, the older one tells me, "Douglas hurt his foot on a brick and I helped him. I made him feel better, Mommy."

I praise him for being such a good brother and kiss them both.

On the way to the babysitter's house, he says, "Mommy, please don't tell Norma I helped my brother."

"Why?" I ask.

"Please don't tell her, Mommy!"

And I don't. After all, he has an image to protect.


Now this boy is another year older. His father takes him swimming at the recreation center. Later, he tells me, "Mommy, you should've seen this beeyooteeful woman at the pool today. She didn't have any clothes on."

"She didn't?!"

"No. She was naked and she was really pretty."


"Yeah! And I said, 'Daddy, look at that lady. She doesn't have any clothes on.' And Daddy said, 'Yeaaaahhh! I see!' "

"Oh, really?"

"Yeah, and we hugged her and kissed her all over and we really loved her!"

"You did, did you?"

"Yeaaahhhh! And I loved her so much that hearts came out of my eyes just like valentines."


My little five-year-old. He is so sweet. Last night, he says, "Mommy, remember when you were at Norma's today and Douglas started crying? Well, I wanted to cry, too, but I didn't. But my heart went bump-bump-bump."

"Oh, Honey, how come?" I ask.

"Because I wanted to go to work with you."


Seeing one's firstborn child off to kindergarten is an age-old rite of passage that every parent faces. This year it was my turn. Even though my son was a three-year preschool veteran, there was something different about seeing him off this time. I ignored the tears that crept into my eyes, the tears that hoped to find their way down my cheeks, and I watched him walk fearlessly in to the cafeteria wearing his jacket with the Ghostbusters' patch I had sewn on it, his book bag slung over his shoulder. He looked around the sea of kids, whose parents had dropped them off, and surveyed the crowd. There he stood, looking vulnerable yet cool. His father went in after him, only to be told that parents were not to be with the children. I told him Jeffy would be okay, and then our son was gone. Whisked away with a mass of kids down some hallway at Rose Hill Elementary School.


When Jeffy moved Hollywood on his own with nothing but a suitcase and a heart full of dreams, I remember feeling much the same as I did that first day of kindergarten: proud and concerned about his vulnerability but somehow safe in the knowledge that he was one cool kid and would do okay.

Here's my son in a production meeting earlier this year for his script, "Me and My Penis," the story of a womanizing man whose manhood goes AWOL until he reforms his ways.

I am happy to see that my son still has the same passion and enthusiasm for the story as he did years ago, and even happier that he still calls me "Mommy."

This little boy of mine is all grown up. I am glad to know him and to have helped him fulfill his dreams and live his fantasies.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Remembering Kris Black

I lost one of my best friends the other day. That's her on the left in 1974 with Esther Jackson, former wife of former Buckaroo Ronnie Jackson. Kris and Esther were born on the same day, same year: September 19, 1950.

Kris Susan Lynn Black died in her sleep at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, September 7, 2011, twelve days shy of her sixty-first birthday.

I came to know of Kris back in late 1995 when Ruth Lance Wester, former wife of trick roper and honky-tonk owner Ken Lance, purchased a copy of my first book and asked me to personalize it and mail it to her friend Kris Black. Little did I know then, that this would spark an association that would last sixteen years and beyond.

When Kris received the book, she wrote me a long letter, thanking me and relating bits and pieces of a life that had seen its share of highs and lows. The letter, which mentioned that she had been associated with Buck Owens, was one of the most hair-raising tales I had ever heard and I thought I should file it away because I might need to refer back to it someday. I now have two very thick files that hold sixteen years of cards, letters, photographs, and articles.

As I was researching my second book on Buck Owens, I was sitting at the kitchen table of Don Rich's widow poring over old photographs and came across one of a long-legged beauty in black and white, sitting poolside with a quiet look on her face. "Who's this?" I asked Marlane. "Oh, that's Kris Black. You should talk to her. She was engaged to Buck, you know. They were going to get married." I remembered Kris's name and told Marlane about the letter she had sent me a few years earlier.

Shortly after returning to my home in Virginia, I wrote to Kris and arranged to interview her in Dallas. Kris was the one who connected me with disc jockey and Grammy-winning songwriter Bill Mack, another friend for life; Buck's shirttail cousin Mary Lou Cushman; former Capitol Records executive, Wade Pepper; the beautiful and legendary founders of the International Fan Club Organization, the Johnson Sisters--Loudilla, Loretta, and Kay; Hee Haw producer Sam Lovullo, and several others for the book. Not only had she been one of Buck's undercover lovers, but also she had been under contract for nine years as his Girl Friday, radio personality, national promotion director, and more. In fact, she along with several others, were responsible for "signing" Buck's signature on many of the autographed photos in circulation today. She was on-call 24/7 and her contract spelled out that her duties would be of a "unique and special nature." Buck had taught her well about how to never give up in contacting people and she could charm people into doing anything she asked, within reason, of course. Kris's dogged persistence was not unlike the dripping-water technique, and she was relentless in making calls, sending letters, and getting things done.

As a journalist, I am obligated to keep a professional distance between myself and my sources. I had a discussion years ago with one of my editors at The Washington Post, Jeffrey Frank, who is now a senior editor at The New Yorker. I asked him how he handled this and he told me it was often hard to keep from becoming too close to some of those who supplied us with vital information. His general rule was to wait until at least six months after a project was completed to become friends with a source.

After spending thirteen long years researching and writing the Buck Owens biography, I found many of my sources so likable, I knew we would be friends after the book was done. Kris was one of those people. And while we were friendly during the years I was working on the book, I maintained an open mind and a neutrality where she was concerned. Recently when the esteemed journalist John Seigenthaler interviewed me for his Nashville Public Television show, A Word on Words, which will air at 10:30 Central time on Sunday, October 2, 2011, he raised the subject of Kris Black. Mr. Seigenthaler noted that Kris had come across in the book as somewhat of a jealous lover. Yes, I suppose it did seem that way, but Kris didn't have a problem with how I had portrayed her. She had acquired an associate arts degree with honors in journalism from what was then Bakersfield College, and was professional enough to know I was going to write an honest, journalistic portrayal of her association with Buck Owens. I worried that she might hate me for being so blunt, but I had a job to do. Instead, she thought I had written a wonderful book and had told the story in an honest and forthright way and did her best to spread the word.

Part of what made Kris such a beautiful and special person were her flaws. She was a walking, talking, loving, feeling human being. She was one of the most spiritually in tune people I've ever had the opportunity to meet. To many, she was one of the gorgeous and lucky people, who exuded glamour and privilege. She became associated with some of the biggest and most influential people in country music and beyond. She was a real lady, gave credit where credit was due, was hard-working, tough, prideful, forgiving, passionate, spiritual, private, loyal, energetic, optimistic, and generous to a fault.

Kris had her share of troubles, though, and she knew Hardship on a first-name basis, especially in recent years. She also had her demons and was unashamed to admit she suffered from bipolar disorder. She took control of it, however, and became an influential spokesperson on mental illness for both her church and the National Association of Mental Illness in the Dallas area. If she was going through a rough spot, she wouldn't talk about it to even her closest friends; she didn't want to bother them. I knew if I didn't hear from her, she was having a hard time. When she was better, then the phone would ring off the hook, sometimes as many as eight times a day. She always dwelled on the positive. Always.

I could probably write an entire book about Kris and the complexities of her life, loves, and soul; that is how well I came to know her. She was one of the truly beautiful people, inside and out, flaws and all. Not only was she a knockout, but also the beauty that came from within far outshined any physical comeliness. She was the type of person who would give the shirt off her back to the man on the street no matter how little she had. Even in death, she donated her organs so her legacy lives on in others.

Kris called me a couple of weeks ago and was very excited. She was telling me about a coat of hers she wanted to give me for my birthday in November and that she wanted to have my name sewn on the label next to hers because we were "sisters." I told her she didn't have to do that and it was the thought that counts. Her last words to me were, "I love you," which is how she ended most all of her calls. And "love" was always long and drawn out in the sweetest, sing-song way. It was more like: "I luuuuhhvv you!" with little hearts hugging each word. That was Kris, pure and unconditional love.

People who were friends with Kris consider themselves lucky. I am glad to say I am one of the lucky ones.

The world is a lesser place without Kris Black in it, and I miss my friend.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Life Lessons

Last Thursday, a girlfriend of mine sent me an email about her totem animal, the badger. The same day, a guy friend sent me a video about the honey badger.

I thought it was odd that on the same day I would get two messages about badgers, but I've lived long enough to know that when the same topic hits me over the head more than once in a day or week, I need to take heed. So I asked myself: "What is the universe trying to tell me?"

In Deborah's message she basically told me that the badger's power lay in its aggressiveness and the willingness to fight for what it wants and that badger people likely will be not only solitary but also comfortable being alone, which sounded a lot like me.

The video said the same thing, only in a more entertaining way with a brilliant narration by a guy called "Randall":

We can all learn lessons from the badger, i.e. determination, fighting for what it wants, survival, getting back up when its down, and so on. 

Henceforth, my mantra is: "Honey badger don't care; honey badger don't give a shit."