Yup, been listening to a lot of rockabilly and early rock collections while writing “Red Hot,” and this one stuck in my head. Which is great, because the next story, “Ramapough Ringer,” is set in a West Virginia holler, and this song feels right at home.
I came late to loving Johnny Cash. A co-worker named Reilly, who wore Sharpei slippers to work and looked sort of like Ralph Wiggum, went agog when I didn’t recognize lyrics from “Folsom Prison Blues.” He rectified that, and after finding both of Johnny’s live prison albums, I devoured whatever I could find. Prior to that, I knew Ring of Fire and “I Walk the Line,” which was one of my grandpa Abby’s favorites. A grandpa named Abby? Isn’t that short for Abigail?
Nope, “Abby” as we called him, resembled Fred Flinstone and drove a gravel truck. He always had an unlit cigar dangling from the corner of his cheek, and he called me “Rocky,” because even as a toddler, I had muscles like a rock. I sat on the rug and watched the Flintstones, and he imitated Fred’s catchphrase, “Yabba dabba doo,” once. And there is no “once” with a toddler. I asked for him to “Yabby” so much, it became his nickname through the family.
We lost Abby to cancer when I was seven, and like many men of his generation, he was an enigma behind a chiseled statue that betrayed little emotion. But he had a good heart, and we saw little of his temper as rambunctious children, when he lay on the couch eaten up by cancer. I inherited my love of “sloppy hamburgers,” as he called them, and muscle cars (he owned Mustangs) from Abby, and Johnny Cash inevitably brings back memories of him.