For the boys and girls of summer

Published 1:00 pm Friday, November 8, 2013

Any time Willie Nelson releases an album, I buy it, even if I’m broke, or not particularly in a Willie mood at the moment. I buy it because I worry Willie might be ailing or attempting to boost what’s in his boot to leave his children and former wives.

I also figure that it’s worth the price of a CD to see once again his noble countenance, or a photo of his old guitar with its bar-brawl hole. Those things alone are worth the price of admission.

I’ve been gone from this quiet hollow a month, and the table is loaded with mail. At the top of the stack is “Willie Nelson: To All the Girls…,” his newest, an assortment of duets with female singers.

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I sweep aside bills and catalogs and credit-card come-ons and dive for Willie. The rest can wait. He is the port in a storm.

On this one, Willie is singing with young and old women, everyone from Loretta to Mavis Staples, Carrie Underwood, Shelby Lynne and The Secret Sisters, siblings from Alabama, just across the state line. Willie is an equal-opportunity crooner.

And in his inimitable 80-year-old voice, still strong and smooth as Lynchburg whiskey, Willie brilliantly leads on classics by Merle, Kris, Dolly and Waylon, Bruce Springsteen and John Fogerty, not to mention a few of his own. His old guitar, the partner he never forgets, has a sound I could pick out of a lineup.

I am in awe of the man, and amazed that such an icon again and again can render himself fresh, take old material and make it relevant and even emotional. When he breaks into “Far Away Places” with Sheryl Crow, I cry. That’s a song I first heard in childhood; it made me want to travel. It still does.

Life is good, and Willie is one of the constants that makes it so, and makes you remember it’s so. What’s more, fall is the best season, only a little late arriving this year.

When Willie winds down with “After the Fire is Gone,” it is time to watch the World Series, which I always enjoy no matter who is competing. I like a sport in which you can clearly see the athletes’ faces.

The beards on Boston’s team are giving me a little trouble in that respect, and my team didn’t make it through the playoffs. But still I’m relishing the idea that this is the World by-god Series, and the Boys of Summer are winding down.

By the time I return to my mail, I’m in a good and grateful mood. I find postcards from France, my favorite faraway place, one from Mona Cox and another from Steve Johnson. Two messages from France in one day. Postcards aren’t as stylish as they once were, but, for my money, a postcard with a stamp beats a text or a tweet or a photo from a phone to hell and gone.

At the bottom of the mail in a recycled wine box there’s even a gift from a column reader. Nice work if you can get it.

The gift is a beautifully turned wooden bluebird house made by George Shelton of Coker, Ala., who included a photograph of a bluebird using one of his creations and these hopeful words: May the bluebird of happiness roost at your house.

I think he flew in with Willie.

(To find out more about Rheta Grimsley Johnson and her books, visit