Johnny Cash Couldn't Envision Another Woman In Their House

This appeared in The Tennessean - April 12, 2007

In October 1998, I was privileged to spend time at the Hendersonville home and nearby cabin of Johnny and June Carter Cash, an experience I will cherish the rest of my life.

The 50-acre compound was also home to deer, emu and antelope. "One of our emus almost took Tom Petty's fingers off, and an ostrich got Emmylou (Harris), so we're cutting down on our animals," June told me.

It was an emotional time because Johnny had just been released from the hospital a few days earlier after suffering another bout of pneumonia. But because of his devotion to June, he kept his commitment to record the duet "Far Side Banks of Jordan" for her album and conduct the interview with me to help promote it.

That morning, the couple joined their producer, son John Carter Cash, and a band that included former sons-in-law Rodney Crowell and Marty Stuart in the cabin that served as a makeshift studio. (The cabin, which remains in the Cash family, was not damaged in the fire.) Photos of the children were scattered throughout, as well as a photo Johnny took of the pope making a funny face.

Sitting on the fireplace with his glasses pushed down on his nose, Johnny joined June in singing "And I'll be waiting on the far side banks of Jordan/I'll be sitting drawing pictures in the sand/And when I see you coming I will rise up with a shout/And come running through the shallow water/Reaching for your hand."

When June took me down to the house to interview Johnny, he appeared in a light blue shirt, tan pants and beige Hush Puppies, not what I was expecting from the Man in Black. He was too weak to talk, so I returned the next morning.

This time dressed in head-to-toe black, he answered the door and led me to a round bedroom, where the round bed remained unmade. (June came in later to remedy that situation.) He still had little energy and at times had difficulty keeping his eyes open. His shaking hands held a blue coffee cup.

We talked about his marriage, music and health. It seemed inappropriate to waste time on small talk with a man so clearly facing his own mortality.

"We're soulmates, friends and lovers and everything else that makes a happy marriage," he said. "Our hearts are attuned to each other, and we're very close. I'll get up every morning at five o'clock and make the coffee, then start pacing the floor, wanting her to get up. But I'll let her sleep for a couple of more hours. If she smells the coffee, she's up.

"There is no voice raised in this house," said Johnny, who quoted a Bible verse that said he who troubles his own household shall inherit the wind. "I believe it's true. You raise hell in your own house and abuse those who live around you, and you'll find yourself alone.

"Thank God I saw that possibility coming a long, long time ago and changed a few things in my life so that wouldn't happen."

Being sick made him realize that he wanted to die before June.

"It would be awfully hard to try to live without her," said Johnny, who died in 2003, four months after June. "I can't envision living without her. I can't envision another woman in this house. The lady of the house is her spot. She's always been there, and she's dependable, trustworthy, loyal, kind and cheerful — all of the parts of the Boy Scouts," he said, chuckling.

"I realize how precious life is and that time is the stuff life is made out of. But I don't grieve over the loss of time."

I find these words comforting at a time when many are grieving the destruction of the couple's home, which served as a painful reminder of the loss of both beloved icons. But as special as it was, the house was just stone and wood; their spirits remain, and their love continues to serve as a model for us all. And there will never be another lady of that house.

By Beverly Keel

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