The perfect place for lonesome

Looking down a lonely street

Looking down on a lonely street

It was the first time I ever felt sadness while driving toward New Orleans. As I crossed the Pearl River into St. Tammany Parish, the realization that Gail was not with me settled into my mind and my heart. It was as heavy as the hot, moist, South Louisiana air. Like the heat and humidity, that prospect became more burdensome with each moment. There had been times when I was in New Orleans without her over the last twenty-four years but I always knew that we would be there together again. That’s not so anymore.

After I crossed Lake Ponchartrain and the city I love so much came into view, I wondered if I could stand being there without her. The reason I made the trip was to prove to myself that I could. New Orleans has been a part of my life since I can remember and I didn’t want to stop going there because Gail had died. The closer I got to the French Quarter, where I would perform on a radio show and then spend the night, the more doubtful I became.

About 2:00 p.m. I set my suitcase and guitar down on the hardwood floor of a second story apartment on St. Phillip Street. I couldn’t bear to unpack the bag or open the guitar case. The sun beamed through the tall windows across the parlor onto the old brick wall that had the personality only a French Quarter brick wall can have. “Gail would have loved this,” I thought. Tears began to flow and led to heavy sobbing. The same kind of vocal crying that, when I’m at home, causes me to try to reassure the dog that I’m not yelling at her.

The radio interview was scheduled for 6:15 p.m. in the WWOZ FM studio, just a few blocks away near the French Market. I looked forward to visiting with host Kathleen Lee on the air but dreaded the hours before and after. In my three long months of grief, professional obligations have lifted me from depressing depths and I was confident I could do the show with no problem. Playing for people makes me happy. But the anticipation of spending even one night without Gail in New Orleans prompted me to call a hotel in Hattiesburg to see if I would need a reservation if I chose to head toward Nashville when the interview was over. I didn’t reserve a room and decided to take my chances if my emotions caused me to leave.

With a couple of hours to ponder my situation and my life before the radio show, I left the unopened suitcase and locked guitar case to walk around the Quarter. I thought that might clear my head. By then, the sun was beating down as I made my way to Bourbon, Royal and Chartres Streets amid shuffling throngs of happy tourists. Lines I wrote in a song about New Orleans years ago rattled through my mind with new, unwelcome clarity. “You can’t escape this sticky heat no matter what you do. And I can’t escape the way I’m missing you.”

Comfort Music

Strolling the French Quarter served to make me sadder. Realizing that was no good, I remembered that whether I spent the night or not, I would perform on WWOZ. So I headed back to the apartment to tune my guitar, go over songs and think about what I might say on the air. When I opened the guitar case, the sight of my six-string friend brought comfort to me. Tuning it gave me purpose and soon I was concentrating on my voice and remembering lyrics. I went over a few songs I don’t play very often and a few I’ve been singing for years. The old standbys, my “comfort music,” did their job and began to lift my spirits, as they always do.

I finally opened my suitcase to get out my toothbrush and at that moment, I thought, “Well, that’s a good sign.” I washed my face, made it smile in the mirror, picked up the guitar and headed downstairs. As I walked toward the radio station, the feelings of foreboding those same streets had produced just an hour and a half before gave way to the pleasant anticipation I usually have before a show. By the time I got to the station, I remembered what I am about and why I wrote all those songs about New Orleans. Kathleen was the gracious host she consistently is and I smiled through the entire show, sincerely, even when she mentioned Gail.

Talking/playing on WWOZ

Talking/playing on WWOZ

One of the last times I was Kathleen’s in-studio guest, Gail was in our room at the Le Richelieu Hotel listening. I mentioned that on the air and as I left after the interview, I thought about how much Gail had always encouraged me. It dawned on me that she wouldn’t have wanted me to have a bad time in a city that had meant so much to both of us. Her absence still hangs about me as strongly as her presence did. But my attitude had been adjusted enough for me to decide to take the guitar back to the apartment, unpack the suitcase, and enjoy the rest of my time in the Quarter.

Text and photos copyright 2014 by Les Kerr. Visit www.leskerr.com

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About Les Kerr

Les Kerr is a songwriter, recording artist, journalist and author originally from the Gulf Coast now based in Nashville, Tennessee. Learn More about Les at www.leskerr.com
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30 Responses to The perfect place for lonesome

  1. Brent from Nashville says:

    My friend – this is so touching. So beautifully and eloquently written. There’s nothing else I can say but I love you. Thank you for posting this.

  2. Tommy Turner says:

    Les I believe you wrote how I felt after Peggy my gift from God went to our eternal home where Peggy n I will meet again.
    Of course u were not writing about me but know you did and are doin the very thing that makes them our wives know is Gods way of restore life that felt was a wind that blew n tossed around with left hooks..Gail n Peggy …awesome and loved by us here on earth till we will meet again.
    Tommy Turner

  3. Jan Bossing says:

    Wonderful and wise, Les. Thank you. Our champion Gail would be comforting us, just as you are. I’m glad you made this trip and found her there.

  4. Rhonda Watford says:

    Les, I could not be at our now famous Class Reunion and am so sorry I did not get to reconnect with you. And reading this piece makes me so sad that I did not get to meet your apparently awesome wife! Your writing did have me reflect on the fact that if I do lose my husband, Joel, after 40 years of marriage (yes I said 40 yrs OMG!!) that the loneliness will e great but the many years of sweet memories will sustain me. Will see you at the next Reunion 🙂
    Rhonda Watford

  5. Les, I think of you and Gail every day and I am so heartened by this post. The only way through this is through it (sorry for the cliche) and your post is such a beautiful reflection of feelings felt. As someone who has spent a fair amount of time not feeling feelings and only recently getting better at doing so, I’m proud of you for doing that and for sharing them with us. She is with you always. Everywhere. And you are right — I think she’d be pretty pissed and disappointed if you let your sadness keep you from enjoying the life that I know she so wanted to share with you for so many more years to come. I can’t imagine how much it must hurt but you are doing great, friend. (((Les)))

  6. Amanda says:

    It is amazing how wheb we lose a loved one, we find the best way to honor thei memory is just to carry on & do what we have always enjoyed when they were by ourside cheering us on.

    Best wishes in continuing to heal.

  7. What a beautiful tribute to Gail and your love for her and how much a part of your life she was and will always be. She will never really be gone from you as she lives so deeply in your heart. So glad God sent you there reminding you to keep walking forward.

  8. kathyrhodes says:

    It took me a while to breathe again after reading this. Said so well for those of us who know… For me it is Knoxville…and Gatlinburg. Thanks for sharing, and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

  9. Tina Hill says:

    I have felt that pain. My comfort was thinking that my husband “Allen” was there walking with me whispering in my ear that I was not alone. Less, I’m so sorry for your loss. Just remember she is still with you.

  10. Alexine says:

    Please come to Jackson anytime you can. Bonnie and I will spoil you. You are in our prayers. Love you, Alexine

  11. Linda Whitaker says:

    Thanks for sharing those feelings and thoughts thru this trip. You put into words what many of us who have been in your situation have felt, yet cannot express. Thank you …..

  12. Betsy Baylor says:

    Dear Les,
    Thank you so very much for sharing this blog with me…it made me know how very strong you are and truly are an example for so many of us who must experience the grieving process!! I feel you’ll return to New Orleans many more times…one of my favorite songs that you wrote is ‘The Camillia Grille’-which I look forward to visiting!!
    Surely hope to see you when you and the Bayou Band play on Division St!!!
    All me best to you=
    BetsyB.

  13. hamblett says:

    Thank you, Les, for sharing this with us.

  14. Jim and Faye says:

    You songwriting guys can put life on paper so darn simply. Simple, but elegant. Enjoyed your blog and cannot wait to get back down there with Faye and ride the line to the end and get insulted by the waiters at the “Grille”.

  15. I’ve always believed that we never really “get over” losing someone, that we only “get used to it.” And I know that you’re doing the best you can, in every moment… What a heartfelt, bittersweet piece you wrote, in memory of our beloved Gail. The memories will come flooding back, sometimes when you least expect it, but I have faith that you will get through the uncontrollable sobbing, and the depressing depths, one moment, one memory at a time… Much love to you, Les. -Sunny

  16. Les Kerr says:

    Thank you, Sunny.

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