The instructions…

1989-no particular weekday, 3:00 p.m.

The school bell rings.

We, (meaning as many girls as possible), pile into a car, make our mandatory laps on Main Street and go home.

I would always ask them to drop me off at my grandparents house.

One day I remember standing in the driveway. Right before they pulled off, they laughed and asked, “Why you wanna hang out with those old folks?”

Not really sure, I shrugged my shoulders and went on in.

Daddy would later swing by and get me on his way home from work.

I remember leaving their house one day and he said, “Sister, this is time you are never going to regret.”

He was so right.

Unconditional love. Papa and Granny were so good at it. I didn’t know how to explain it to my friends back then.

I just knew I needed it.

My home was broken, but theirs was not.

Inside those grey walls, all was right in the world.

When they were both gone, I was so sad.

Who is ever going to love me like that again?

And the sad answer is noone.

But it dawned on me this week with Hadley, I get to love her that way.

No expectations. No criticism. Just love.

Inside these walls this week, the world was right again.

I turned on my bluetooth and introduced her to her great granddad through the Bellamy Brothers. I sang and she laughed.

I don’t know where the past 30 years went but it was okay.

Daddy also told me the older you get, the faster it goes. Right again Daddy.

But the one set of instructions that gets me most, was the set he gave me for days like today.

He told me, “Don’t you feel sorry for me. I feel sorry for you. I remember what it was like to lose my parents and I know you are going to miss me.”

Oh Daddy, nothing you have ever said has been more true.

I do miss you.

And I am trying my best not to feel sorry for myself because I had you.

Your sweet simple mix of common sense and contentment made life so good.

I can hear you tell me to listen to the words of this song. We laugh. We always listened to people who misbehaved. Bob Seger, Eddie Raven, Earl Thomas Conley…

I promise I will get a better playlist before Hadley can repeat anything.

But for now, we are going to just sing.

Thanks for the instructions. For the first time in my life, I am really trying to follow directions.

I hope you dance…

June 1, 1990.

Graduation Night.

I was a rebel with white shorts under my cap and gown.

Crossing the stage 1st as Cheryl Acker and taking my seat.

The other rebel was at the other end of the alphabet.

Speeches, blurred voices, claps…

You know the ceremony.

And then, William Thrasher is announced.

Better known as Bubba, he checks his diploma and shakes hands.

But he doesn’t exit the stage.

He turns, faces the crowd and does “a celebratory dance move” which left us all laughing.

You don’t remember much about graduation, but you remember that.

Years go by and we live our lives.

Then 12 years ago, we cross paths again.

In tragedy.

We lost our classmate-my ex-husband Wade and his best friend.

We arrived at Mr. and Mrs. Dailey’s driveway at the same time. We walk in together in silence.

I always think when the worst in life shows up, so does the best.

We have shared a Mom in Mrs. Dailey for a few years now.

And then the dreaded news-Cancer.

But do you lay down?

Absolutely not.

Just like the rest of your life, you show up and show out.

I have never seen anything more beautiful than you and your daughter last year at Homecoming.

Facing battles with courage and laughter.

Your journey ended here yesterday, but your story didn’t.

I hope you left this world and showed out in Heaven.

I can think of several friends and family who were glad to see you.

And when Bubba Thrasher’s arrival was announced, I hope you danced.

We will miss you.

Always.

And we will also always remember you with a smile,

The Class of 1990

Getting it wrong…

I see posts on social media where young parents are worried about their mistakes.

Not being able to provide what they think is normal and necessary.

Let me tell you something.

There is no normal.

Don’t stress and waste your time on it.

Just being you is enough.

Your kids don’t want titles, status and stuff.

They will never thank you for what you bought them.

They will remember the times you loosened up and let them play with water balloons.

Those are the times that will leave them wishing for more.

Not bankrupt birthday parties.

I am going through pictures and scrapbooks and I love the days Daddy got it wrong.

I asked for a stereo for Christmas one year.

I imagined a black or silver pile of plastic with 2-don’t laugh-cassette decks.

Christmas morning arrives.

I walk into the living room and to my horror was a big wooden cabinet version.

Daddy was so proud that he had hid it at the neighbor’s house for 3 weeks.

I hid my shock the best I could.

Sometimes getting what you want is not what you need.

Your kids have not learned that yet.

And it’s okay.

Someday they may stare at a piece of paper just like me and love you more for the times you got it wrong.

Good luck and if you ever listen to anything I say, listen to this-

Don’t stress it.

I promise your time and love are enough,

Cheryl

Ballad of the Wildflowers…

Imagine feeling like you let a friend down.

A friend who took their own life.

Now imagine 90 million people knowing about it.

For 30 days, I didn’t talk about it.

Losing sleep, feeling guilty. Ashamed.

I was having some trouble with what I was reading online. Negative comments were replaying in my mind over and over.

Then imagine someone miles away understanding exactly how you feel.

Across an ocean.

“Cheryl, I usually share my music with my wife”…

I can’t describe how it felt. All I can think of is-

Healing.

Sitting in my car after work and playing it over and over.

Calling my friends.

And telling them to listen to this.

We played Ballad of the Wildflowers when we cut the ribbon to celebrate Alabama Suicide Prevention and Resource Coalition locating in Woodstock .

And we will play it again tomorrow.

Live and in person.

I told Jeff we should invite Spencer to play.

Jeff said he is not going to come over here from England.

He arrived Tuesday.

And my friend Georgina arrived yesterday.

We have been working to show them our way of life.

The Turnip Green Supper.

The Homecoming Festivities.

And friendship. And hospitality.

Food and Music.

Now I am asking you to listen.

Come see Spencer play tomorrow at the Woodstock Music Festival.

And come meet Georgina with me at the hospitality tent.

It’s going to be wonderful.

I just know it.

And you will too.

See you tomorrow,

Cheryl

Here’s to 51…

I know that it isn’t easy being married to me.

I would have to think it would be like living in a daily episode of “I Love Lucy”. Except Lucy would be hosting a home improvement show gone bad.

Jeff has arrived home to the yard on fire, the ceiling torn out, and just this week-the bathtub disappeared.

Much like Ricky Ricardo, he spoke a foreign language when he assessed my latest project.

I can always see the finished product.

As much as I love him, he lacks my vision.

Reagen’s advice was simple. “Mom, just get it back together. He’ll be okay.”

She was right. And he is.

Today is his birthday.

51 years old.

I will try to give you a break today Jeffrey.

I know that I have aged you in 16 years.

But if I do say so myself, you have aged well.

I love you for the way you light up with a baby.

And when special needs kids attract to you like a magnet, I have to think they see your heart.

Your reputation has always been a tough guy and I loved that.

It made me feel safe. And protected.

With Daddy gone, you mean more to me than ever before.

But the best of you is behind the scenes.

The advice.

The common sense.

And the fact that you will take care of this family and all that it requires.

I love you Jeffrey Lynn.

And so do the kids.

And the grandbabies.

From the voice of the West Blocton Fighting Tiger Band to the Mayor of Woodstock, you wear many hats.

I apologize for the need for the hard hat earlier this week.

But you are going to love it, just trust me…

Charlene

Dear Mr. Coal Miner,

I am writing to say thank you.

I know you don’t know me, but I have been a Coal Miner’s Daughter for 47 years.

I learned alot about my Daddy’s living through second hand information.

Loretta Lynn always made me proud to be a coal miner’s daughter. Jimmy Dean made all of us kids respect and sing “Big Bad John”.

And every now and then, Daddy would call and say, “Sister, turn it on Channel such and such, Harlan County, USA is on. Watch it. That is what we went through.”

Sometimes he would tell me to keep a certain United Mine Workers Journal magazine that told the history of their struggles.

Talk of times past and safety and strikes were normal language when I was young.

And there was always a nagging worry if you heard about news of an accident.

Your mind can worry terribly in those moments of not knowing.

It was your worst fear.

But, Daddy always told me that when the day came that I would be without him that you would take care of him.

I just didn’t realize that you would also be taking care of me too.

I found out personally how special it is to be a part of this family. I feel like I have become a daughter of many of you.

Daddy was proudly named after the United Mine Workers of America President John L. Lewis.

John Lewis Acker or John L. Acker was given his coal miner nickname of Luke.

Growing up, he would come home with those dark lines under his eyes. A teenage friend told me once that she thought it was so cool that my Dad wore eyeliner.

I thought that was hilarious.

I was used to seeing coal dust on his work clothes. His sweet hands. And under the rims of his blue eyes.

That was my normal.

What I could not see was in his lungs and in his mind. The consequences from earning a living down in the dark depths of a mine shaft.

What I do know though is the brotherhood that develops in those situations. You don’t work together in that environment without becoming close.

After his service in the U.S. Navy, he served 30 years with his United Mine Worker Brothers.

Jim Walter Resources Mine #7, Brookwood, Alabama, to be exact.

Uncle Terry gave me a phone number and I called them to find out what I needed to do after he passed away. I expected to be speaking to just someone in an office.

When the voice on the other end of the line questioned me in a surprised voice, “Did John pass away?” I then realized I was talking to someone that knew him.

He kindly said, “You don’t have to do anything, we’ll take care of it.”

And you did.

Some of you showed up to his funeral.

But ALL of you paid for it.

Almost 500 men gave $25 to take care of Brother John L. Acker.

I don’t know who you are.

But I wish I could send each and every one of you a thank you card.

In a world that seems cold and distant at times, it is incredibly beautiful to see rough and tough souls join together to take care of their own.

My Daddy was always so proud to be a part of all of you. Now I understand why.

I regret not asking him more or trying to understand what he was doing all those years that he paid his part of this fund.

I am so very thankful and proud to be a Coal Miner’s Daughter-Forever.

May God Bless Each and Everyone of You. May God keep you safe and may all of you know how much my family says-Thank you.

Cheryl Acker Dodson

Sharp Dressed Man…

Graduation Night-1969.

Mother was headed to a party after her high school graduation.

Daddy was a wild sailor home on leave.

They crossed paths and the rest is history.

A few days. A few letters.

And the next thing you know, it is August. Mother is on a plane to San Diego to get married.

My grandmother calls ahead to her close friend we lovingly called Aunt Nell. Aunt Nell lived in Lakewood, California.

Aunt Nell was asked to meet my parents at the airport and stop the wedding.

I loved to hear her tell this story.

She said she got to the airport and took one look at Daddy.

“He stepped off the plane and he was wearing his dress blues.”

“Your Daddy was sharppp…..”

She said, “I told myself there would be no stopping this wedding…”

We all laughed.

She was right.

They were married in her backyard 50 years ago today.

Daddy always loved for me to tell that story and copy Aunt Nell’s voice.

He would smile.

Aunt Nell came to Johnny and Angelica’s wedding 30 years later. She made no secret about the fact that she was looking for Daddy.

Still makes me smile.

I guess ZZ Top was right-Every girl’s crazy about a sharp dressed man.

Young girls, old ladies and brokenhearted daughters.

Neither one of my parents made it to see this day.

But I will celebrate you both in my heart today.

I got the best and worst of both of you.

Thanks for the rebel heart. I use it daily.

I love and miss you both dearly,

Your baby girl