Dear country music,
It must have been fate.
Or Kathy Mattea.
She’s the one who first sparked my attraction to you. Appearing on the Oprah Winfrey Show to promote the Women for Women compilation that was intended to raise breast cancer awareness, she made a strong first impression with her song “Walking Away A Winner.” However, it was her final number on the show, “Who’s Gonna Know,” a loving tribute penned by her husband for his mother and father, that truly captivated me.
Prior to that performance, I’d never owned any country music. However, as the youngest child in my family, I related too well to the notion that someday I might be the only one left with particular knowledge of my mother. Weeks later, I purchased Mattea’s Walking Away A Winner recording. Still stubbornly clinging to my love of cassettes, I rewound the tape incessantly. There was something gratifying about hunting for a favorite lyric through the album’s liner notes, tracing the words with my fingertips as they rolled off her tongue through my tape player. Her voice demanded my attention, forcing me to sit still in the midst of a life that seemed to be growing ever more chaotic.
My first exposure to Bryan White came through a commercial advertising his album Between Now and Forever. Remember when those were more common? I heard a snippet of “I’m Not Supposed To Love You Anymore” and immediately knew that I needed that song in my collection. I had gradually begun to purchase music on compact disc. Between Now and Forever and White’s golden vocals took up residence in the CD player and, later, my now-defunct Discman. Even though I remained heavily devoted to pop, r&b, and Broadway, my interest in you grew.
Even though I didn’t know it at the time, Mattea and White were beginning to lay the foundation for our relationship. Before them, I only had hazy images of you. I knew you existed, but I was gloriously ignorant of your history, your depth, and your power. Maybe I wasn’t ready to know.
That all began to change as I transitioned into adulthood. A few months into my first post-college job, my position was cut. While my employer found me another placement, I felt anxious and adrift, a situation that had been building for some time. I spiraled into depression. As I slowly began to climb back out of the shadows, I realized I wasn’t the same person anymore nor did I want to be.
I began to appreciate you more. I started to delve into your past, finding solace in your melodies and redemption in your lyrics. Full-fledged adoration blossomed and it’s continued to grow. My cassettes are stashed in the back closet and my CD collection has been cut in half, but the memories remain.
I just wanted to say thank you.
Thank you for the laughter, the tears, and the occasional lesson.
Thank you for hard-to-hear truths and new hope.
Thank you for those who’ve passed on and those who’ve yet to come.
Perhaps a woman from suburban Maryland shouldn’t love you so. But I do. Mo Pitney says it best: “Country ain’t even a place on the map. It’s a place in your heart.”