On Writing

"Every fine story must leave in the mind of the sensitive reader an intangible residuum of pleasure, a cadence, a quality of voice that is exclusively the writer's own, individual, unique."
Willa Cather

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Roy Acuff and the Navy Veterans

Years ago, in one of my several job incarnations, I was a tour guide for Opryland Hotel’s Special Events, along with eight or ten other housewives.   We were contract employees, each of us working only about four to six times a month at a flat fee of $50 per trip.  For that, we were expected to know something about Nashville history, tell funny stories mainly about country music stars, and adapt ourselves to all circumstances so that conventioneers would be entertained and feel welcomed.  We guides had to wear clothes of our own choosing as long as they were a black skirt, white blouse, and bright green jacket, which happened to be the colors of Opryland Hotel. The tour busses and drivers were provided by the hotel with few exceptions.  We might be asked to take a group just to Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage, a trip lasting about three or four hours, or maybe it would be a day-long trip to Lynchburg to visit Jack Daniels distillery with lunch at Miss Daisy’s Tearoom.
While keeping up a light patter on a hand-held mike as the bus careened along highways and by-ways, we hung on for dear life with the other hand to a pole at the front of the bus.  The trick was to keep one’s balance and composure, no matter what.  I never had any problems or complaints from the groups and was asked alternately if I was an historian or a comedienne.   In many ways, it was a demanding job, but great fun.

One of the most memorable trips was a country music tour for a reunion group of World War Two veterans, navy men from the same ship.  These men would have been in their mid- to late sixties, polite and interested guests of the hotel.  The first stop was to check out the new Grand Ole Opry, with a guide furnished by the facility.  As we pulled into the parking area, I peered out the front window of the bus, looking to see where the front door was since this was my first trip to the GOO.  Then I saw a familiar-looking individual walking toward the entrance, grizzled but with a brisk, upright stride.  It was undoubtedly Roy Acuff.  I immediately had an idea that would be a real treat for the fifty-some individuals in the bus, all of whom were acknowledged country music fans.

I asked the driver to let me out, that I would return in a few minutes.  To the group, I explained I was going in to set up the tour.  Then I ran pell mell inside, hoping to catch Mr. Acuff before he disappeared into the complex.  Luckily, he had stopped to chat with the receptionist.  When he turned around, I introduced myself and told him about the group I was conducting. 

"I know they would be thrilled to have you greet them," I said in my most winning manner.  But it took no persuading for him to immediately agree.

"Meet me on the stage in about twenty minutes, and I'll be glad to say hello."

I thanked him and after arranging with the receptionist for a guide, I returned to the bus, saying nothing, however, about my encounter with Roy Acuff.  After all, he was a busy man and might not show up.  I didn't want to set up for these men any expectations that might not be realized.

Soon, I had them all assembled in the lobby and was able to turn them over to an Opry guide, who began to move us through the different areas, including a peek into the dressing rooms of the stars.  I had tipped her off that we were to be on the stage at a specified time, which she said would work out well for her tour as well.

When we arrived on stage the guide left the group to my charge.  We admired the stage itself, the vastness of the auditorium, and the wonderful accouterments throughout.  I told them about a visit I had made to a Johnny Cash show at the old Ryman Auditorium years earlier.  We were all laughing at the huge contrast in sites when I spotted Mr. Acuff entering stage right.  I called the group to attention and said, "Here's someone whom you might like to meet that knows all about this place."  Like a mistress of ceremonies, I extended my arm toward the celebrity.

With that, the group exploded into applause.  I knew this would be one of the highlights of their trip to Nashville.  Not many people got to see a genuine legend of the Opry close up, let alone have one's hand shaken by him.  For that was exactly what Mr. Acuff was doing.  Then standing in front of the men, he said, "I should be the one applauding you.  Those of us who didn't serve as you brave fellows did will be forever grateful for your service and sacrifice.  We'll never forget you and your part to save the world from a terrible dictator.  I give you my humble thanks."

For a moment there was complete silence, grounded by the emotion we all felt; then the men cheered and clapped, while the entertainer again went around and shook hands.  That minor event has stayed with me through the years and forever colored my opinion of Roy Acuff, whose modesty and appreciative words seemed to have been a real measure of his character.



  1. Jeanne,

    That is a great story! Prior to me relocating to Nashville, I came for a visit around 1990 and stopped at the Grand Ole' Opry. I happened to run into Roy, and he gave me and my friends a personal tour. What a kind man. I too, would like to leave a positive legacy when people remember me. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Jeanne,
    I agree with Paul; this is a great story and I truly enjoyed it. I'm sure you were a great guide and I'll bet there are a quite a few other interesting stories you could tell from that time. When did it occur, in the '70s? I don't know if you already know this but Bob Forester's father, Howdy, played fiddle in Acuff's band for many years.

  3. Dan,
    Actually, this event took place in the mid-eighties, right before I went to work at the college. Yes, I could relate dozens of stories, some hilarious, others not so much! Thanks, though, for your nice comments.