I've been to the site dozens of times, but always, always, someone else already is there, paying respects. Once it was a couple from Ireland. Another time, a young California man was sitting on the green carpet that surrounds the granite, picking a guitar. One January afternoon I interrupted a middle-age kiss, honeymooners from Minnesota.
It's never more than one or two pilgrims, no humongous tour group lines like at Graceland, but a steady trickle. This Alabama poet is gone but not forgotten, and every year, it seems, Hank Williams is remembered more.
I wait for the Atlanta man to finish his photographs before I put a plastic Ten High whiskey bottle with fuchsia azaleas near the head of the grave. It's hard to know what to bring, but surely a sensitive soul like Hank would have appreciated an azalea. The other visitor hands me his camera and doesn't have to ask aloud; I know he wants me to take his picture next to Hank.
The song rolling through my head this particular day is "There'll Be No Teardrops Tonight." I'm not sure why. Hank's repertoire is so extensive that my head's shuffle feature is liable to come up with anything, no rhyme or reason. I can hear Hank's voice as clearly as I can hear my own father's.
The Pulitzer people this year reached into Hank's bottomless bag of relevance and awarded him a posthumous prize. They explained that he wrote simple music for everyday folks who had heartaches and troubles.
That's true, as far as it goes.
He also wrote with depth and skill, for hoboes and kings, and everyone in between, anyone who has heartaches and troubles. Hank, the hillbilly Shakespeare, wrote for all and for the ages. Unless you're immune to cold hearts and long nights, you have need of Hank. Smart people of all educational and economic strata know that. Have known that.
These Pulitzer music citations are rare but not unknown. In the past, jazz greats Thelonius Monk and John Coltrane have been similarly recognized. Bob Dylan, who often acknowledges his musical debt to Hank, also received a prize.
The only question I have about the P Prize and Hank is this: What took so long? If the prize is about writing, there is no more skillful example of evocative, strong, succinct, perfect-pitch writing. Those of us who struggle daily to describe the night have fallen far short of Hank's falling star and purple sky. And beyond the expert words, there was the music and the voice. That Holy Trinity of talent made him large in life, larger afterward.
The Pulitzer Prize is a nice thing, but millions of us don't need some committee to tell us what Hank contributed to this weary world. We know and are forever grateful.
Rheta Grimsley Johnson is a syndicated columnist. She lives in the Iuka vicinity. Contact her at Iuka, MS 38852.