I woke up this morning with my heart in a vice. How, after twelve years, can the pain still be so severe? Exactly twelve years ago today, I brought Rick home from the hospital after signing the hospice papers to end his life. They put him into a drug-induced coma – or so we thought.
With our living room converted into a makeshift hospital room, the only difference from the many prior weeks was that after all the healthcare folks and friends left, I was alone totally responsible for his care. No problem. I’d been doing that for a long time.
But that night was different. He was restless. I understood he’d left a plethora of things undone and I also understood that he knew he was home. He kept trying to get off the bed to go tend to whatever was nagging at him. Thank goodness he was so weak, he couldn’t really accomplish getting up, but I spent that entire night trying to soothe him.
I’m sure the hospice people gave me instructions, but all I remember was I was to put a certain number of morphine pills under his tongue every four hours. And despite doing that, still he wasn’t completely under.
Finally, as the sun started to rise, weary, I called the hospice number and asked for some help. Little did I know I could have called them hours earlier.
They came an hour or so later and gave him stronger drugs that put him completely under. But even all these years later, I can recall every agonizing minute spent that night. Never had I felt so helpless. Besides dealing with the reality that he was leaving, I had to manage the guilt of letting him suffer so long before asking for help.
Well, truth be told, I still deal with a lot of guilt. If only I had known then what I know now about oils and gemstones, I could have made his crossing easier.
But one thing I know for sure – you can never go back in life. You have this moment. And for me, it is imperative that I do the best I can with my current knowledge to live the best life possible in the now.
If you are still lucky enough to have your loved one with you, lean over and hug them, kiss them and tell them how much you love them. Don’t put it off.
I will be reliving those days that followed as this week unfolds, but most of it became a blur. Friends and family gathered. Someone forced food down me. I slept only snippets at a time. I’m not going to relive every part of the memory with you, but I will share a couple of significant events that all ended around 4 am on May 1st.
Never forgotten. Ever missed.
This is a story of inspiration, endurance and most of all undying love. When Luke and Darlina face life-altering situations that would destroy a lesser man and woman, they draw on each other’s strength and determination to face them.
I am thrilled to announce the two winners of the book giveaway from this post!! Congratulatiaons to Yvette Calleiro and to Vashti Q! Your books will be on the way soon!
I would be remiss if I let this special month get away without celebrating a very beautiful book of poetry and art.
After I finished writing my four biographical fiction novels, it needed one more piece to complete the circle. And, that piece was a book of poetry accompanied by pen-and-ink drawings that Rick Sikes compiled in the years between 1975 and 1985 from inside Leavenworth Penitentiary.
Writing poetry and doing this incredibly tedious artwork were a small part of his determination to be, think and do only positive from a terribly negative place.
So, it was extremely satisfying to me, to get it edited, and published in 2017.
From the artwork that graces the cover, to the poems and artwork inside, you’ll find little pieces of the heart and soul of Rick Sikes.
The Foreword, written by Connie Nelson (Willie Nelson’s ex-wife) gives a brief glimpse at the level of respect Rick earned, even while in prison. In her words, “…what inspired me and drew me to build a friendship with Rick, was his love of beauty and his never ending, unbroken spirit. He never bought into discouragement or despair – he exuded only beauty…”
The original title of the poetry book started out as “Etchings in Stone.” But when we released a music CD in 2003 with that title, I knew the poetry book needed a different name.
The first poem inside the book, “Discovery,” was truly a turning point in Rick’s life. He told the story about how the poem came to be. He was locked in the “hole” (solitary confinement) for some infraction, as often happened when he first arrived. After they escorted him to solitary, three guards went inside with him, and beat him, and kicked him with their boots until he was almost unconscious.
He had a dream or as he liked to put it, a “vision.” In that vision an angel with a broken wing came to him and spoke words that truly changed his life. The poem, Discovery, tells that story. Here’s a small snippet:
Through life’s wilderness I wandered aimlessly seeking my way
Seldom looking up to see the light of day
Stumbling blindly, ’til so weary, I could go no more
In total exhaustion I fell to the earthen floor
My eyes focused on a wounded but lovely thing
Seemingly an angel felled with a broken wing
Said I, “Stranger what will be your name?”
A voice spoke softly, “Yours, for our names are the same…”
Not all the poems and stories in this book are serious. There is a good mix of humor and satire, such as “The Title is Too Damned Long or (When Aunt Bessie Rode a Bike to the Belly-dancer’s Ball).”
One reviewer had this to say, “Discovery by Jan and Rick Sikes is a powerful testimony of the human spirit. It is crafted such that the reader accompanies the writers not as a spectator but as a partner. “
As I approach the anniversary of Rick’s death, I am compelled to share his work with my readers. If you’ve read my novels, then you already know about Rick through the character Luke Stone. But a more personal look can be had through Discovery.
In honor of Rick’s memory and as a part of his legacy, I am giving away one hard-back full-color copy of the book (US only) and one copy of the ebook. Just share the post and leave a comment below for a chance to win!
I am out of town this weekend and am turning off comments for this post, but I wanted to share something that I think is pretty special with you.
I made the decision (a hard choice) to pull down Rick’s website at the end of 2019. It was strictly due to the amount it was costing me per year with very little return. So, I created a page (or the beginnings of one) on my own website. I’d love for you visit, as there may be some things you don’t know about the early years of his career. I will be adding more things as time allows.
I’ll never forget coming home from work one evening in 2002, to find Rick excited about a new song project.
We were in the planning stages for his new CD, “Etchings In Stone,” and he wanted someone to collaborate with him in writing the title track. He’d reached out to several of his songwriter friends, but so far no one had been inspired. That was until that day.
He told me to go to the phone in the bedroom and he placed a call, then yelled for me to pick up.
I did and found our good friend, John Beam, on the other end.
“John’s written the song I need to put on the album,” Rick said.
Then he proceeded to ask John to play and sing it. Tears ran down my cheeks while I listened and I had chill bumps all over. The song was the profound emotion-filled song that we’d been searching for.
I’d love it, if you’d listen! “There once lived a man, who did etchings in stone. He told others’ stories, but could not tell his own…”
It was with great sadness that I learned of John Beam’s passing three days ago. He was only 61 and his story intertwined with our lives from way back in the sixties.
Rick and his band, The Rhythm Rebels, played the historic London Dance Hall near Junction, Texas, on a regular basis throughout the fifties and sixties. John Beam was just a little boy, and his family came to every dance Rick played. Even at that young age, John had the passion and desire to play music. He would stand in front of the stage, play air guitar and mouth every word to the songs that Rick sang.
In my book, “Flowers and Stone,” I wrote a scene where Luke Stone (aka Rick) was playing at the London Dance hall one New Year’s Eve. During the course of the evening, he got the John up on stage, strapped his guitar around the boy’s neck and lowered the microphone. John sang and played for the first time in public.
After that, he never stopped. Once Rick returned home from prison, John quickly came back into our lives and never left. At Rick’s funeral, John sat with our family. Why? Because he was family.
He and his wife and children lived in Mason, Texas. He was the first to raise his hand whenever anyone needed help and the last to back down when someone needed defending. He had a passion for classic cars, Harleys and country music. He loved his family fiercely and was loyal to his friends. He will be missed.
So, this post is a tribute of sorts to John Beam, the man and the music. You can find several of John’s songs on Reverbnation. But I am sharing one of the most personal songs he ever wrote, “Three Old Cans of Beer,” about the Vietnam Wall. John was a veteran.
I don’t know how to properly say goodbye or to give this man the credit he deserves other than to write about it. I hope you’ve enjoyed meeting John Beam.
Life is short, folks. Friends are a precious gift. Don’t waste any of your gifts!
I can’t tell you why men write and I have
been thinking pretty hard on it these past few hours. It could be a man finds
something inside of him so damn beautiful that he wants to get it down on paper
before it slips away. I guess it could be that a man stumbles onto a thought so
damned earth-shaking he figures just about everybody should get a chance to
hear it. Who knows? Not me. I ain’t no writer. I’m a cowboy…
But, here I am writing!
It all started last night. You see, when
the whistling West Texas wind drives chariots of tumbleweed across this
God-forsaken plain, a man finds his body creeping closer to the fire as surely
as he finds his mind seeking the warmer memories of his past… and last night
was black ice, raw and bitter… and as surely as my fire drew me to its warmth,
one of my memories drew my soul… until… like a Roman Candle exploding in huge
darkness, I saw that memory in a new light… and I was wanting to write it down…
so I could share it… earth-shaking or not…
So, here I am, sitting on my saddle, with
a pencil in my ol’ paw and an empty stomach, doing two things I ain’t never
Missing breakfast and writing a story!
But, sometimes a thought can feed what a
meal can’t. Depends on a man’s hunger I reckon.
I know the thoughts in the Good Book used
to feed my mama, and I can remember a teacher I had once, years ago. They fed
me so much poetry that my heart was filled to bursting because I couldn’t let
it out for fear that my pals would laugh me to shame.
Funny, ain’t it… how one thought leads on
to another? And that brings me to the memory I discovered last night.
I grew into manhood on a rocky Texas
ranch. Pa died early. Ma still lives on the place. The soil ain’t good for
nothing but cactus and windstorms on that place and it weren’t no different
when I was growing up. But, we had some times on the old place worth
remembering, and I find it’s true the older I get, a few things happened there a
boy had to grow into understanding. My story’s about one of those things.
There was an old billy goat on our place. He was wild and wicked, crafty and cantankerous and smelly and scrawny. He was also lonely. His smell would gag a buzzard and he was so scraggly looking that the horned-toads paraded their ugliness past him like it was finery. Pa used to say, when we’d catch a glimpse of that ol’ goat, he was so poorly looking that he’d force a train to take a dirt road. I always smiled and nodded.
Pa died in the winter of my fourteenth
year. Later the same year, April I think it was, I came up on a sight which I
didn’t give much thought to ‘til last night. I was with our hired hand and his
boy, Junior Bascomb.
Junior was my best and only friend growing
up. He was two years older than me and I always thought of him as a kind of god.
I guess he must’ve known the answer to every growing-up question I ever wanted
Anyway, we rode up on one of the prettiest roses a man could ever want to see. Right next to that rose, laid out and dry, was the bones of that ol’ billy goat. I can remember Junior Bascomb saying, “Well, now, ain’t that the purdy’est rose you ever seen?” And his Pa answering, “It surely is.” I can remember how we all noticed the skeleton of that ol’ goat and sort of laughed when Junior’s Pa said the old billy would’ve eaten it sure.
Junior wanted to pick the rose for a
little gal he was seeing in town, but his Pa told him to leave it where it
grew. When Junior asked why, his Pa said, “Well, son, I think it’s kinda nice
for old Billy, onery cuss he was, to have such a purdy flower growing there by
And we rode on…
And I’ve been riding on ever since.
I’ll be fifty come June.
But, somewhere between then and now, I’ve come to look on that long ago day with a different view… and I guess my story is a little more than the story of an old billy goat and his rose. Just as a man sees things a tad different than a boy… because in my man’s soul I can almost see that old, lonely billy goat wandering through his empty days. That lonely little rose was solitary but splendid; nourished by a tiny stream and hemmed in by a few weeds.
I can see the old billy goat coming up to that little rose, and I can see him wanting to eat it, but he didn’t because he felt something just in looking at it that he hadn’t felt in years.
He felt younger, richer and less lonely.
So, he grazed all around the area and he
fell in love with the awesome intensity only an old creature can feel. The
sight of the rose made him spry and the scent of the rose put him in a romantic
mood. One day, he became so jealous of the weeds growing around his rose that
he tore them from the ground and gobbled them down in a frenzy that he hadn’t
felt in years. They tasted terrible in his mouth, but seeing them gone made him
feel pure in his soul. He had never been so happy. At night, the warm breeze
blew the fragrance of his rose softly into his nostrils and he slept well.
The summer passed well. Every day began
with the sight of his lovely, dew-kissed rose, and every day ended with perfume
But as summer ended and the rose began to
fade, the old goat began to eat less and less and worry more and more. When the
frost came, chilling and killing his love, it killed something in the old goat
too. One by one, the petals dropped from the rose into the dust and the old
goat followed soon after.
Every year, around spring the rose returned to bloom beautifully, beside the bleached bones of the old billy goat. Eventually, the sands shifted, covering both Billy and his rose…
But what is covered is not always
what truly matters finds a way to bloom again.
Even in the heart of an old cowboy.
For more about the life, times and music of Rick Sikes:
Myself and another Buddy staffer attended the event, at first thinking we were getting Press Passes, then finding out we only had general admission tickets. Considering the cost of those, it was still a good deal.
I had taken my book, “The Convict and the Rose” to gift to Willie. But, it became obvious, there was going to be no personal contact with him.
Why that book in particular? Because the artwork on the cover was done by Rick Sikes in the late seventies, commissioned by Willie for an album he wanted to release by the same title. But, as fate will sometimes do, around the time they were getting to release the project, IRS started looking at Willie and his attorneys advised him against having any contact with a convict. Therefore, the project was shelved.
In 2004, Rick and Willie reunited and Rick gave him all the original artwork.
Since Willie never used the artwork, when I wrote “The Convict and the Rose,” I decided to utilize it. And that is why I wanted to get the book into his hands last night.
After lots of dead ends, I reached out by text to Willie’s ex-wife, Connie. At her suggestion, I found Willie’s bus driver, known simply as Gates.
What a kind and sweet gentleman he turned out to be. When I told him Connie had told me to ask for him and he would get me what I needed he just grinned.
“So, what is it that you want to give Willie?”
I reached into my purse and pulled out the book. He took it and while I stood and watched, he went directly onto the bus and came back out empty-handed. He gave me a thumbs-up and a grin.
So, in a round-about way, a copy of “The Convict and the Rose” is now on Willie Nelson’s bus! Whether he’ll pick it up and read it is another story, but at least I accomplished what I set out to.
The show was sold-out. No surprise there. The Bomb Factory, which holds just under 5,000 people, had removed all tables and chairs and people were packed in elbow-to-elbow like sardines.
Willie played for 70 minutes. He did most of his classics and never faltered.
I am in amazement that at 84, soon to be 85, he is still going strong.
The lighting was terrible, so these pictures are very poor quality, but I was there and had a wonderful time!
And the best part…Willie now has a copy of my book! It was worth the cold misting rain and aching feet to accomplish it.
“Once the girls were tucked into bed, Luke and Darlina lay on their own bed snuggling close.
“Darlina,” Luke began.
Now, regretting her earlier
insistence that he tell her everything, she put her fingers on his lips. “Sh.
Let’s not talk anymore tonight. We need to rest.”
“But, I have so much to tell you.”
“Then tell me tomorrow. I just want
to lie here beside you and pretend everything is like it was a month ago before
all of this started.”
Luke gathered her closer. “I love
A stray tear escaped and she buried
her face in the covers. “I love you too, Luke Stone. Never forget that.”
Long after Luke’s breathing
steadied into an easy rhythm, Darlina lay awake with thousands of thoughts
racing through her head.
How was she going to hold all of this together and be everything for everyone who needed her? She couldn’t allow emotions to get the best of her. She had to keep up a happy positive front for Luke and for the children.
But, what if he didn’t survive the
surgery? A gasp caught in her throat. She must not have these thoughts. Surely,
he would be okay and they would have many more years together.
She looked over at him in the darkness and branded to memory the familiar silhouette of his face.”
“Darlina stood quietly by as nurses helped him into a hospital gown, inserted an IV, then shaved his left leg and chest.
Her eyes misted as she watched him joke, and make light of the situation. Every time he looked at her, she forced a smile, but it was almost more than she could do.
She watched the clock and as each
minute ticked away, her heart pounded so loud she wondered if others could hear
it. She wanted to yank that clock off the wall and stop the hands that measured
her time with Luke.
Finally, the nurses finished and
left the two of them alone.
“Come here.” Luke patted the bed.
Darlina climbed up and stretched
out beside him. He stroked her hair and she struggled to hold back the fountain
of tears that clogged her throat.
Words were unnecessary. They’d all
been said. They held each other tightly, dreading the sound of squeaky
All too soon, the curtain parted
and the anesthesiologist strode in. Darlina got off the bed, wiped her eyes and
watched while he put medicine into the IV that would put Luke to sleep.
She leaned over, kissed him on the forehead and whispered. “I’ll see you soon, my love.””
The good news was that Rick (Luke) did survive the heart surgery and lived another twenty years. Of course, I wouldn’t want to spoil the book for everyone who hasn’t read it. 🙂
In honor of that special day in 1989, I have reduced the price of the “Home At Last” Kindle version starting tomorrow. I hope you’ll pick up a copy if you haven’t already.
It’s been a while since I did any self-promotion. I do love supporting other authors and music artists. It makes me happy when I can help spread the word about the work of another.
But, today, I want to talk about a book that I am probably the proudest of, out of all of my babies, and that is the poetry and art book, DISCOVERY.
You may have noticed the author names include Rick Sikes. In truth, the only reason I included my name as an author, was so I could legally publish the book since Rick is deceased. And, I do write poetry, so I included some of my work in the back.
Several things about this book set it apart from other poetry and art books. Firstly, Rick wrote this book in its entirety while he was incarcerated in Leavenworth Prison. Secondly, he created all the artwork that is included in the book including the cover.
He’d always had artistic talent, but until he was locked behind bars, he didn’t discover it fully. The artwork represented here is what we referred to as ‘pen-and-ink’ drawings, but the correct name is Pointillism. The drawings are made up of millions of tiny dots. I loved to watch over his shoulder, after he came home, while he created a new piece. But, all the drawings in Discovery except for one of Willie Nelson were created while he was in prison.
The original title Rick gave the poetry book was “Etchings In Stone.” But, since we released a music CD with that title, I needed to find something different.
The first poem in the book is entitled, “Discovery,” and it tells of a turning point in Rick’s life when he decided to be, think and do only positive things in a negative situation. It was a resolve that served him well the rest of his life.
You’ll find everything from raw bleeding hurt and emotion, to off-the-cuff silly poetry, to strong political statements included in this book. It is a true baring of the soul.
The Forward to this book was graciously provided by Connie Nelson, ex-wife of Willie Nelson.
This beautiful book is available in Hardback, Paperback and eBook formats.