I’m going to tell you the story of the time my great-grandparents met Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Amarillo, Texas to discuss their mutual concern for the commoners who were suffering through the drought of the early 1930’s out on the High Plains.
Meet Homer Cluck, my great-grandfather. My twelve song story album, Common Ground, begins with this amazing man. Homer would become a successful Texas cattle rancher with an ironic last name. Cluck had been shortened from the German surname, Von Kluck. Homer grew up just outside of Nashville, in Simmons Bluff, Tennessee. I didn't come to know that for a long time. It's only been in recent years that I've pictured young Homer in the late 1800s coming into the big city, and roaming the streets of Nashville. This would have been just before he made the trek out west to see if he could get his hands on some of that "promised land." What a journey that would prove to be. The Dust Bowl forced tens of thousands of poverty stricken families to abandon their farms, unable to pay mortgages or grow crops, and losses reached twenty five million per day by 1936. Homer Cluck would become one of the few farmers in the Texas Panhandle to make it through the Dirty Thirties only to face death the following year. Family members have passed down the story of how Homer, while not a church going man, could be found out in the fields down on one knee with a Bible in both of his hands. This kind of relentless crisis will have a man try anything, you might say.
Homer’s wife, my great-grandmother, Pearl, lived to be 91. Before she moved to Heaven, my great-aunt and cousin had the wisdom to interview her. Homer and Pearl raised 10 children surviving both the Dust Bowl, and the Great Depression. In one portion of the interview Pearl speaks of the "sharp ol' times" they had “trying to make a living, and get horses and cows and things.” she says in an aged, and weathered, but still powerful voice. Homer passed away when he was just 59 but before he died, for whatever reason, he told his sons not to let their mother reconnect with her family. There are many tall tales told as to why, but the point is, this is what Pearl eventually did. She loaded 54 of her family members on a train and took them to California for one big family reunion! This story album tells the true story of my Texas cattle ranching family. So many amazing things happened in the writing of these songs. When I wrote the song about Pearl, I realized for the first time in my life that I had never pictured my great-grandparents as the young parents of eleven children, one of which sadly moved to Heaven prematurely. When Homer and Pearl’s 11th child, and fourth daughter, Mary Rae, was in her sixties, she sat beside a cassette tape recorder, gently puffing on a cigarette here and there, telling story after story of her parents and their children. In one recording, she passes down the story of how Homer and Pearl still flirted with each other even after many years of marriage and after raising ten kids. She also shares the story of the time Homer loaded a few of them up, and took them to Amarillo to see President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT “About the time we got to Amarillo, it started raining,” Mary Ray says on the recording. It was the first rain they had seen in a very, very long time. At the top of his speech, President Roosevelt comments, “If I had asked the newspapermen on the train what the odds were, they would have given me 100 to 1 that it wouldn't be raining in Amarillo. But it is!” He goes on to explain how his wife received the biggest bouquet in the world there in Amarillo, and how he now noticed they had put together a 2,500 instrument band for the event, as opposed to the usual 500 instrument bands that were usually present at events like this. To that, he notes that it proves what can be done when people put their minds together toward one common goal. This is what the Common Ground album and project is all about. It is all about returning to love, reconnecting with each other, and doing astounding things together. Up against the harshness of this world, we can no longer remain divided like we have become in America over the past several years. It is in togetherness that we make it through the tough times.
Every generation goes through their share of trials and disasters. Apparently a little flirting, along with prayer, tenacity, and stick-togetherness goes a long way. We’re not slaves to fear.
We’re made of the same stuff Homer and Pearl were made of, and we are great together in our united commonness.
Encourage someone today by sharing a story in the comments below of a storm you or your loved ones have made it through in life. Let us know what it took to get to the other side of it.
Love to all,