Just after Christmas in 1997, I loaded up all my worldly possessions into my 1989 Honda Civic (which got 40+ miles to the gallon even back then!) and drove south from Saint Paul toward Atlanta. I was going to enroll at Emory’s Candler School of Theology and work on a master’s degree. I stopped in Arkansas on the way, left my car parked outside my sister’s double-wide trailer, got in her car and we drove together to Tucson, Arizona for a family reunion. My younger cousin was the first of our generation to get married, and we were going to celebrate her, and my grandfather’s birthday. I think we drove overnight so we could arrive on New Year’s Eve. I don’t know if you’ve ever driven east to west across Texas, but that is one really wide state of the union.
My sister really knows how to drive. Puts the pedal down and locks in and goes. So it was 4 a.m. when we finally traded places. There’s something about the hours between midnight and dawn, the small hours, that gets me pensive. Just headlights, few other cars. The buzz of the overhead lights at the empty gas station, and the moths trying to stay warm. Hours and hours of straight lines and, if I’m lucky, stars.
I wrote down the lyrics to this song at our next stop, when we traded seats. I set it to music a week later, after I finished my trip to Atlanta (because yes, we had to drive back across Texas just a few days later).
I realized, recording this last winter, that I had never told my sister about “Abilene” or played it for her. So it was fun to make that connection 23 years later.
I am especially grateful to my friend Andrea who contributed background vocals to this track. She’s in Sydney, Australia, and thanks to the magic of the internet her voice was in my ears as I mixed this one. She’s a great musician and songwriter.
I never ended up taking any classes at Emory. Instead I wrote a lot of songs, and then moved back to Saint Paul and re-joined the House of Mercy Band, and we made some records.