Twelve years ago, when I got down on one knee and asked Joey if she would take my name, she said yes. A few years later when she asked if I would take her name… I almost said no.
In late 2007, we had been married for five years. Joey was an aspiring singer and nothing was happening with her music. She had opened our little family cafe Marcy Jo’s about a year earlier with my sister Marcy and was keeping herself busy working there everyday waiting tables and baking. Part of her wondered though if her dream of a career in music was ever going to happen. Instead of being frustrated, she poured herself into the restaurant and came home each day with a new-found sense of pride in something special that she had been part of creating. It was a neat thing for me to watch happen.
I had been a songwriter since I came to Nashville in 1995 and had been blessed to have a number of my songs recorded and some of them even hits on the radio. Joey was the singer and I was a songwriter. We never once considered singing together. But then, as the year came to a close, that all changed.
I was asked to write a song with a friend of a a friend. It was a random writing appointment on a random day, like many others I’d had over the years. But when John came to our farm to write on that Wednesday, he was wonderful. We instantly hit it off and had a great time. Around lunchtime, we took a break and went to Marcy Jo’s and I introduced him to my wife Joey. And somewhere in the midst of his lunch special, he must’ve seen something that Joey and I never saw. About a month or so later, he called and asked us to meet him at a coffee shop in Nashville. So we drove to town and over coffee, John explained that besides being a songwriter, he was also a band-leader for tv shows, and that CMT was about to cast a new television show that was looking for American’s next great country music duo. And then he said, “I think you guys are it”. That took us by more than a little surprise. We explained to him that we didn’t sing together, that Joey was a singer and I was just a songwriter. And besides that, we didn’t have a television at home and the last thing we wanted, was to be on one. He said, “trust me, what you guys have is special. It’s the real thing”. He explained to us that this show was being done by the folks who make American Idol and that he knew the producers and could help get us an audition. But we would need to get them something on dvd to the show’s producers that showed us singing together. As we left the coffee shop and walked hand-in-hand back to our truck, Joey asked me if I would do this with her. I wanted to say no. I almost did. She knew that one of my biggest fears was being on tv or in front of people in a setting like that. I was comfortable writing songs or sitting on a stool at the Bluebird Cafe singing, and was happy just being a behind-the-scenes songwriter. Plus, I was 42 at the time, I wore overalls, and didn’t really know how to sing harmony… I was pretty sure I was going to be one of those guys that gets made fun of and exits the show heartbroken. But I also knew that if we got on the show, the world might get to hear my wife sing, and even if I was humiliated, but they kept her on the show, it would be worth it. So I looked at my bride and smiled and said “yes”. And just like that, we became Joey+Rory.
My cousin and best friend Aaron (who lives in Denver and is now our manager) came to visit us a few days later and he and I decided to make a dvd that didn’t just show Joey and I singing together, we thought it should tell a little bit of our story. So he and I went to BestBuy and bought a little hand-held video camera. Then the next day, we filmed Joey opening up the restaurant at 4 am and serving customers, and me feeding our cow and chickens and writing a song, and of course Joey and I singing together. Then, though I’d never done it before, I put it all together on my laptop in iMovie and burned a dvd. Joey dropped that dvd, along with a roll of pecan-sticky-buns from the restaurant, off to the producers of the show. This is the video that we made.
Flash forward to 2014. I’m sitting in our farmhouse, and Joey’s feeding the baby next to me. I’m thinking about all that’s happened in our lives since that day…
- We got an audition for and were cast on the show “Can You Duet” on CMT. We went all the way to the finals and performed in front of millions of people on tv.
- We signed a record deal, had a hit song on the radio, made music videos and sold tons of records.
- We performed on the CMA, CMT and ACM Awards, and even won one, and have toured all over the world singing together.
- We’ve met most of our country music heroes and played the Grand Ol’ Opry dozens of times.
- We’ve created and made our own weekly television show at home for past two years that I write and edit.
- We have a beautiful newborn baby girl together and time off this year to cherish this moment in our lives.
If you would have told me back then, that that one decision would open the door for all of Joey’s dreams to come true (and dreams that I never even dared to dream also), I wouldn’t have believed you. I had no idea what would happen. I only knew that I was scared and nervous, and wanted to say no. In my mind, it didn’t add up. So for once, I didn’t use my mind, I used my heart and just said yes… and that made all the difference.
A number of people have asked us over the last month if there’s a story behind us naming our new little girl Indiana Boon. Yes actually, there is…
Indiana: My first reason for the choosing the name is because of two of my favorite movies. No, neither one of them are about Indiana Jones. They’re “Hoosiers” and “Rudy”. I don’t just like those movies, I’m crazy about them. I think both films embody small town values that are nearly lost and also the power of ordinary people with extraordinary dreams. They moved me and inspired me when I first saw them, and they do the same each time I watch them now. Both films are set in Indiana. Besides that…if you look up Indiana, it means “land of Indians”, and Joey has lots of American Indian blood in her heritage, as do I, though the Irish in me is what’s visible most in the mirror. But honestly, the main reason we chose that name is because Joey is from Indiana. Alexandria, Indiana. She was born and raised in the same farmhouse where her mama still lives. Other than our house, where we live now… Indiana is where we call “home” when we make a trip home. I wrote the song below a few years ago about Joey’s childhood and how much it shaped her. When you ask her about growing up, she will quickly tell you that she had the greatest childhood and wouldn’t change a thing. I didn’t have that childhood. Most of me wishes I did. My mother struggled to raise five kids by herself on miscellaneous jobs, welfare & food-stamps…in trailers, and run-down houses in small towns and big cities. We lived in dozens of homes in nearly as many different states. Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Iowa, Texas, Michigan, Nebraska… Joey has roots that I will never have. They are firmly grounded in her faith and in the simple values she learned growing up in Indiana. I don’t have those things naturally, I have to work at them daily. But I do have wings that Joey never grew. My tattered wings take us places I, and we, never dreamed. Together, Joey and I fly incredibly high, but still have roots that run deep in the vows we made to each other and God. We want that for Indiana and all of our children.
Boon: There is a small cemetery in the field behind our farmhouse. It is where Calvin & Sarah Hardison, who built our house back in the 1800′s are buried. Some of their children are buried there also. One gravestone is for a four-year-old boy named Orlando B Hardison. He died in 1862. When I bought this farm, the stone was already broken in half, laying pieces on the ground. On that stone is a poem written for their little boy. It is so beautiful. You can tell that it is hand-carved, partly because one of the words “pride” is mis-spelled “pried”. I love that. In the poem, they call him their “precious Boon”. We have no idea what happened to him or why he left this world so young. I would guess that he was born in our old farmhouse, or at least right here on this land. And to honor him and those who came before us, we gave our little girl the middle name “Boon”. Before Indy was born, actually right after we found out we were going to have a baby, we had decided that boy or girl, our child was going to be named “Indiana Boon”. The day she was born, I posted a picture online that had her name below it and I spelled her middle name Indiana Boone (with an e, like Daniel Boone, which I thought was correct). Joey reminded me that their little Boon, didn’t have an e, so she didn’t think ours should either. And so it doesn’t. I love that too.
“Beneath this stone in sweet repose
Is laid a father’s and mother’s dearest pried
A flower that scarce had wake to life
And light and beauty ere it died
God in his wisdom has recalled
The precious Boon his love had given
And though the casket moulders here
The gem is sparkling now in Heaven”
On Fathers day last June, after eleven years of marriage, my wife Joey and I found out that we were going to have a baby. We were elated (and nervous, and hopeful, all at the same time). Soon after, Joey watched a documentary about home-birth and midwives, and was even more excited about the idea of having our baby at home, here in the farmhouse where we live and dream and share our lives.
Nine months later, on February 17, 2014, Joey and I were blessed with a beautiful baby daughter named Indiana. She was born at home at 12:03 pm with the assistance of a midwife and the birth experience was perfect. She was delivered breech, naturally, with no medical assistance and with myself and our two older daughters Heidi and Hopie by Joey’s side. Joey says that giving birth at home was the single greatest thing she’s ever experienced in her life. A moment later, with Indiana’s first cry, we all cried tears of joy and hugged and celebrated and cried some more.
In the days that followed, there was some concern about Indy and through genetic chromosome testing done at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, it has been confirmed that Indiana has Down Syndrome. Although that news came at first as a surprise to us, Joey and I wouldn’t have changed a thing. During the pregnancy, we never did an ultrasound, or saw a doctor, nor would it have made any difference if we had. We trusted that God would give us the baby He wanted us to have… and He has. Out of all the parents in the world, He has chosen us to care for and raise this special gift.
The baby is healthy and doing wonderful and Joey and I are loving each and every minute that we have with her. We can’t wait to see where this new chapter in our lives leads us and what wonderful story unfolds in the coming years. We had already cleared our 2014 schedule and committed to taking this year off to be home and simplify our lives before we got this news, and now, we think it’s even more important to be here than ever. Joey encouraged me to start writing a blog at the beginning of this year to share our lives from my perspective, and so I have. It can be found at thislifeilive.com. In posts from this year’s journey so far, as well as this post and future ones, you can learn more about Indiana’s birth story, diagnosis and much more, from the viewpoint of a very blessed husband, father, and songwriter.
I got a call this afternoon from our youngest daughter Hopie (I mean middle daughter…now that little Indy is here) and she was out of breath and could barely talk. I was immediately worried, and even more so when she said she was over at Miss Joan’s house (one of Joey’s best friends who’s 77 years old and lives about a mile from us) putting out a big fire! Well, I jumped in my truck and took off. When I got there, Miss Joan and Hopie were arm in arm in the front yard. Hopie was covered in ash and grinning ear to ear.
Miss Joan said that she had been burning her asparagus bed, likes she does every year, and somehow the fire got out of hand and the grass around it started burning, then the hay field went up in flames and it was headed for the barns… Then Hopie said that she had been working at Marcy Jo’s, when they got a call from Miss Joan who was upset, and out of breath and in tears. She said she was hoping that there might be some men there who could come help her put out a brush fire at her house…that she’d called the fire department, but they weren’t there yet, and could anybody come help. Well, Hopie took off her apron, jumped in her truck and headed for Rutledge Lane, where Miss Joan lives. As soon as she got there, she started fighting the fire with water jugs and a garden hose. A few minutes later, when the local Berlin volunteer-fire-department showed up, they said Hopie jumped on the back of their truck and while they drove around the field, she sprayed the burning fire til they got it all put out! How crazy and awesome is that!
They asked her if she’s like to join their volunteer fire department, and said meetings are the first Monday of each month!
By the time I got there, Miss Joan looked exhausted and so did Hopie. But they also looked like they’d both been through quite an adventure together. As I watched Hopie walk Joan back to the house and up to her chair on the porch, it was so precious. I knew my girl was strong and tough and brave and tender. But I’d never seen her be all those things at the same time.
I was and am so proud of our daughter Hopie. As we said goodbye, Miss Joan said that Hopie had saved her house, or at least her barns from being burned down, and that Hopie was her hero.
When Hopie and I got back home, she stood in the kitchen and told Joey all about what had happened and Joey just smiled and hugged her and was so proud.
As a father, I sometimes like to think that maybe I’m our daughter’s hero. But the truth is, whether they save a neighbor’s house from being burned down, serve someone at the restaurant with a smile, or just wake up and face their day with hope and love… they’re my heroes.
We made some new friends a month or so ago that own the new “Muletown Coffee” shop in Columbia. One of them, Chris, along with his wife Brittany, brought us dinner tonight. He had called me a few days ago and said “we’d like to bring you a meal this week if that’s okay… I know you guys have been through a lot with the new baby’s birth and we thought one-less meal for Joey to have to cook might be a good thing?”. I wasn’t sure how to answer him. No one had ever brought dinner to us before. It seemed like something they did years ago, on tv, or in movies… I didn’t know people still did that. I almost said “that’s okay, you don’t have to do that”. But instead, I just said “that’d be great Chris, thanks so much for thinking of us”.
They have a newborn also. She’s 7 weeks old, and sweet as she can be. They got here to the house about 6 pm, and though they had planned to just drop the meal off and leave, we talked them in to staying and eating the dinner with us. It was a wonderful meal. When it was through, the girls went in the back room and breastfed the babies (that sounds funny just writing it) in rocking chairs next to each other, and Chris and I sat in the living room for more than an hour and talked about life and our pasts and our futures and about faith. He has a beautiful take on what a “sincere” faith looks like to him. It’s going against the urge to serve yourself and instead finding someone else to serve. It’s looking every day for some way to bless someone, whether you know them or not. For him, it’s not so much about studying, or praying… as it is about doing. I love that. I’ve been thinking the same way for a while now and working to fight that battle most days myself. Not very successfully most times, unfortunately. My selfish nature wants it to be all about me. About what I want and what I need. It tells me not to worry about others, they’ll be fine. It seeks to hold the light that’s in me up to a mirror, so that it can reflect back to me, and not shine on others. Chris’s stories of his small victories of serving others, even when he doesn’t want to, inspires me.
I hope Joey and I think, and act, to bring a meal to someone’s home in the future, when they could use a break from cooking. Tonight our new friends brought us a meal to fill our stomachs, but it was our hearts that were full when they left.