Dear Hometown,

Story Taylor Henry

People_TaylorHenryWhen I think of you, I think of a melancholy blues riff on my guitar. You know it when you hear it, even if you don’t play. Born in Mississippi, you and I, we have the blues in our blood, don’t we? Me, ever since I was a young boy listening to the Sunday morning black gospel shows on WACR AM 1050. Sometimes my homeboys and I would go up to the radio station on Catfish Alley and watch the hand-clapping choir bands belt out their lively, soul-stirring hymns. They inspired me to pick up the guitar.

Washington is not blue, it’s gray. Block after block of granite buildings and stately monuments. Beautiful, to be sure; but the marble corridors of power are hardly the place for good vibes. So many hot shots who walk them nowadays forget from whence they came. I know — I worked on Capitol Hill as a communications strategist in both houses of Congress until the relentless chore of spinning public concerns around political agendas sent me back to gospel. I’m happily employed now handling public affairs for the Catholic Archdiocese for the Military Services, which supplies chaplains to those defending the homeland.

I spend evenings attending law school. Not that I intend to finish or ever practice. I just find the subject matter interesting. Every now and then it gives me back my blues. Sometimes, when the friendly faces, mournful train horns and salty white gravy of home seem far away, I go out to an old juke joint called JV’s across the Potomac in Falls Church, Va., to sit in with the cats onstage.

I’m 56 now, having spent all but a few years of my adult life apart from you, dear hometown, living by turn in Birmingham, New Orleans, Los Angeles and Tokyo among other places; traveling the world from Beijing to Baghdad to Bogotá and points in between, reporting the news on television. With my six-string steady companion, I write songs. I write them for my children — Natalie, Taylor, Mary and Emily. We lost Emily this year to cancer. I miss her immensely, but find peace in knowing she is home with God now.

My modest penthouse in the Navy Yard looks across Virginia to the southwest. If I could peer 700 miles over the Smokies, I might see standing on the horizon the old familiar “Clock in the Courthouse Tower,” the title image of a love song I wrote for you.

Does the clock in the courthouse tower
Still strike on every half-hour?
Has the time been kind to the folks in my hometown?
How many babies born?
How many old friends mourned?
Buried in the hard north Mississippi ground