My mother’s parents.
I think about them and their story this time of year, because his birthday was February 12th, and now she spends her February 14th missing her sweetheart.
He died three Aprils ago, and my grandmother told some stories that no one had ever heard before. Nothing really shocking - the most surprising one was that she turned him down the first time he proposed. Just sweet, funny things, that made us all smile and that my songwriting husband wove into a song called “The Ballad of Donnie Gene.” Which, without fail, made me cry the first one hundred times I heard it.
It’s on Spotify, by The Arcadian Wild, and I whole-heartedly recommend that you listen to it — but really why I’m writing this, is because if you’ve already heard it - I wanted you to know that it’s true.
A couple weeks ago I met two sisters who drove from out of state to see the Wild play, whose favorite song is “Donnie Gene.” I talked with them afterwards, and I loved getting to share with them the meaning behind the lyrics, and brag on my grandparents’ loyalty and goodness.
Donnie, don’t give up on her — she won’t give up on you. This is their story in one line.
He first asked my grandmother to marry him when she was 16 or 17. But unlike most girls, she was not easily swept off her feet, and said - thank you, but I don’t have any business getting married yet. But she thought about the facts. The facts were — he was really kind. And handsome. And he really liked her. And he had a real job in Nashville. And she didn’t think she was going to get any better offers. So — I don’t know if she waited until he asked again, or mustered up the courage to tell him she had changed her mind. But she married him when she was 17, had my uncle at 18 and my mother at 20, and spent the next 50 years doing the very best she knew how to do. They both did.
Not long after their 50th anniversary, it was clear that he had Dementia. If you’ve seen a loved one walk through that - you know how heavy it is. She took care of him at their home the entire time, even though nothing about it was easy.
Donnie, don’t give up on her — she won’t give up on you.
I told all of that to those sisters I met who love this song. I wanted them to know it isn’t just a sweet, romantic song, but the very real story of two very real people who shared fifty years of beautiful and ordinary and hard moments. It’s a story of faithfulness and commitment and courage and doing the right thing, easy or not. That’s why I like hearing it. That’s why I’m proud to have it on my family tree.
It’s a great song. Listen below, if you’d like.