Photographs, Songs, and Green Duffle Bags
I love old pictures.
You know, the ones that are a weird mix of sepia and black and white with ragged corners coming apart. When I was young, I happened upon an old army duffle bag that belonged to my dad. Inside that green canvas was a whole world of pictures just waiting to be discovered: family and friends, funny school pictures, military photos, all the Teachenor siblings playing music, my cousins standing beside their classic cars, horses, mules, and eventually…tractors. Ancestors that all somehow looked like me.
Those snapshots from a different time, were reminding me where I came from.
Just like a song.
Like when we were driving, to lay my Grandpa to rest behind that little church in Arkansas, and I heard Allen Shamblin’s song “He Walked on Water” (recorded by Randy Travis) come across our old car radio speakers. It was almost like someone was hiding in the shadows, waiting for the perfect moment to press play.
I guess that’s why I’ve always loved songs. I imagine myself in the writer’s shoes. If the moment’s just right, you can feel their happiness in the music, their sadness in the lyric, or their love in the melody—and it sets my mind to work painting a picture. That's how I knew I would grow up and make songs for a living.
I moved to Nashville the day I turned 21 and have been head-over-heels in love with that town ever since. I love the neon lights that glow up and down Broadway and the music that filters out from unknown stars. I love the small Music Row bungalows that house the world’s most famous songs and the secrets behind them. I still get giddy listening to the Opry on AM radio every Saturday night. The list goes on. The Opryland Hotel, where Jen and I exchanged vows. Baptist Hospital, where Charlie and Lily were born. And that little country church I baptized them both in. So, it goes without saying that I had never in all my life dreamed of leaving that amazing town.
Until I saw an Air Force ad on Nashville’s Craigslist.
Now, it should be said, I grew up with crazy respect for the military. My Dad was a tank gunner in the Army (Old Ironsides 1st Armored Division, to be exact), Uncle Gene served in the Navy (and is buried in Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery), and Uncle Duane was stationed in Africa with the Air Force (HUA!). They served throughout the 50's and 60's and I always thought they were so cool. My guess is maybe all little boys feel that way about soldiers.
So, you can imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon the ad looking for a singer for a country band. I didn't know the military had musicians other than a marching band or an orchestra. I thought it was all bugles and snare drums…
After reading the requirements I was intrigued. I seriously started thinking about whether or not I met them. I mentioned it to Jen, and like always, she dropped everything, took my hand, and listened to a half-formulated plan that sounded completely insane. It would turn our world upside-down.
We spent the rest of the night talking and praying about it and the next day my incredible wife helped me put together the first resume I had in my entire life. We sent it, along with a CD of me singing and playing the piano (I added the National Anthem for good measure!) to the Air Force Academy Band. All we had left to do was wait on God and see what He was going to do with this situation. Well that, and Jen started researching school districts.
It’s pretty amazing how God will use a journey you’ve been on to show you a new turn in the road. The Air Force called back and wanted to audition me in person at, none other than, the famous Music Row in Nashville, TN. I had literally spent the last 14 years pouring my heart out on those two historical streets.
They videoed my live audition, flew back to Colorado to play it for the Commander, and three days later he called me with the offer to change our lives.
I accepted. And so it began.
One year ago today, I was smack dab in the middle of Basic Military Training in San Antonio, Texas. My whole world—my incredibly comfortable life—had all been stripped down to nothing more than a twin-sized bed and a wall locker.
I did exactly as I was told. There was no other option. See, most of the folks entering the military are 18 and single. They are used to taking orders or having someone tell them what to do. They were just starting their lives, but I had already lived. A lot.
I realized then, experience could be your best friend and your worst enemy. It's hard to be stripped of every thing you are and are known by. The pictures in the duffle bag, the songs I left in those little houses on Music Row, and my last name, meant nothing to the Technical Sergeants training me. I was just one in a slough of many learning to serve our country.
It’s amazing how the 50 other guys, who were sleeping, showering, shaving, and sh—(well, you get the picture…), genuinely had my back, and became part of my journey. I will remember some of those guys forever.
Every spare moment we could get, we would take turns looking at pictures we got in the mail. I would tell them about Jen and the kiddos and they would tell me about their families—a few even mentioned pretty girlfriends, fiancés, or wives. When there was no Training Instructor around, the boys would ask me to sing them songs I wrote, or sing a song that meant something to them. Sometimes they would sing along, beatbox, or drum on the side of the bed. Some had incredible voices, some were terrible singers, but every one of us sang with all our heart. It helped us see through the fog of basic training and remember who we were before we joined the military…who we still are. Sometimes you just need a little reminder.
Like a photograph. Or a song.
It may not be the same direction I started out on, but it’s the same road I’ve always traveled. It just happens to be leading me somewhere I’ve never imagined. And, just like I’ve always done, I’ll keep following the music and see what ends up in my own green duffle bag…