It was the end of October and the last of the fall crops were finally in. Daddy and I were getting the farm ready for the winter. Even at six years old you worked the farm as everyone had a role to play in keeping up with the chores. Daddy was mixing something he called mud to fill the cracks in the log barns. Any hole not filled would let that cold winter wind in to reap misery on those within.
Daddy said we would call it a day since the harvest was in and we had little work that needed doing. Daddy wore a big smile and jingled the change in his pocket waiting to be spent. We jumped in his 49 Ford and headed to the general store for an RC Cola and Moon pie. As we pulled into the gravel parking lot, we noticed a brand-new shiny baby blue Cadillac convertible. It was parked around the side of the General store in the shade. It had a big puddle of water under the car. I knew there was nothing good about that puddle.
Sitting on an old wooden bench in the shade close to the car was an old man, older than anyone I had ever seen. He had scars and deep lines all over his face and a dark walnut colored acoustic guitar cuddled in his lap. He was using a glass vile on the neck and strumming with his eyes closed. It was a hunting sound deeper than an old swamp. He had a voice rough and gravely and sang about old trains, hound dogs, and wood floor bars. He sang about being lonely, alone, and having nothing in life but bars, scars, Cadillacs, and a Martin guitar.
Daddy walked on into the general store and said I could stay and listen if I wanted to hear him play his guitar. I always loved the music from the little white church down the road from our house. It was gospel with a hot piano, drums, and a deep sounding bass. What the old man played was different and almost made me cry with its deep sadness, yet he played what he called a boogie stomp that made me want to dance.
He wore dark sunglasses which I had never seen anyone wear before so without realizing it I was staring at his scars. He stopped playing and took the glasses of and pointed to a long scar that started at his jaw and went to his forehead. He said you see this I got this one night at Ray’s Juke Joint in Clarksdale Mississippi, a man got mad because I would not play a song for him until he put some paper money in the tip jar.
All these other scars are paths I went down in my life. Some were deep and long others were short cuts I took hoping to get somewhere a little faster. We carry our journeys on our hands and face. They tell our stories and speak of our life lessons. Some scars heal and some stay with you forever but no matter what else in life comes my way I have my Cadillac, my two-tone shoes, my Martin Guitar, and the songs I sing.
Daddy came out and said thank you to the old man for playing songs for me and said come jump in the truck and I will take you to get a water pump. If you play me some songs, I will put it on for you. Daddy asked him his name and he said folks call me Swamp Rat. We all laughed and rode in silence drinking our RC Colas. Later in life in an old record store in Shreveport, Louisiana I was looking in the Blues bins and found Swamp Rat’s album Cadillac In The Swamp. I never was sure it was the old man my Daddy helped as I was only six, but I have always wanted to believe it was him and that makes me feel good.