As a teenager, our most dependable vehicle was my dad's Ford pickup truck. It seated four at best and even then we were elbow to elbow with no room to breathe. In those long ago days, my brother and I sometimes rode in the bed, our backs pressed against the cab, the fresh air in our faces. The truck also was the vehicle used to make trips to St. Joseph to pick up Granny for her visits.
With limited seating, it became the custom that my dad and I would go to pick up Granny and to deliver her home after her twice yearly visits in July and December.
That was the heyday of CB Radios and often we passed the time on the road listening to the chatter but there were also times we tuned in the radio.
Since my dad had a hour or more commute to work at the time, he listened to the radio a great deal and he often heard songs before I did. Because he worked night shift, we often traveled in the wee hours of the morning on our way back to Neosho from St. Joe.
One night as we rocketed down the highway, a song came on and he turned it up. "Listen to this song," he said. "It's a good one."
The song was 'The Gambler", written by Don Schlitz and recorded by several artists (including Schlitz) but the most famous and definitive version is Rogers'.
Listening to Kenny Roger's smoky, distinctive voice weave the story, I paid total attention.
Afterward, the lyrics and the message lingered in my mind. My dad and I talked about it as we traveled.
He thought the lines "you got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them," were profound and so do I.
A few years earlier, probably because we were bored and needed something to do, my dad taught us how to play poker - 5 card draw, 7 card draw and 5 card stud. So I was somewhat familiar with when to hold and when to fold my cards. The other advice in the song - know when to walk away, know when to run and what to keep, what to throw away are priceless.
I've always been eclectic in my musical tastes, listening to hard rock and then switching over to classic country. At the time I rocked with The Sultans of Swing, The Eagles, AC/DC but I also listened to Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn and my favorite Johnny Horton.
I soon had 'The Gambler' album and found my favorite songs to include not only the title song but also 'Coward of the County' and 'Lucille'.
My Granny liked Kenny Rogers too but her favorite song was 'Coward of The County'.
I never forgot that night on the road with my dad, hearing the song for the first time. It's one of many memory moments that I treasure.
Last week, Kenny Rogers died at the age of 81. Like The Gambler in his now classic tune, he broke even but his fans will never forget the man or his music.
-Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy is the community editor for both The Neosho Daily News and The Aurora Advertiser. She is also an author and freelance writer and still listens to a wide variety of music.