Johnny Cash’s legacy speaks for itself


“If ever there was a man ready to go, it was him. He was prepared for his journey to the other side. Well prepared.”

– Marty Stuart, speaking of Johnny Cash

It has been said that life can be built around a series of memories, with music always strumming in the background.

Johnny Cash was strumming in a whole lot of backgrounds across this great American heartland over the course of the last 50 years.

The news of the passing of Johnny Cash did not come as a shock, for he had long battled health problems.

Glaucoma, asthma and a depleted immune system, along with the demons of drug addictions over the years, did not ultimately take his life.

It was respiratory problems related to diabetes and the sorrow of a broken heart after the death of his wife earlier this year that broke his will to live, friends and family have said.

From the heart. His oldest daughter Roseanne Cash said in a moving eulogy, “I can almost live with the idea of a world without Johnny Cash… I cannot, however, begin to imagine a world without Daddy.”

She spoke of his respect, his humility and humanity as a star and as a father – a father who never criticized, who never forced his will on others.

Born the fourth of seven children, Cash had endured the type of childhood that will either make or break a human spirit.

New Deal farm. When he was very young, his sharecropping family latched on to a federally sponsored New Deal farming collective in Dyess, Ark.

The New Deal plan allowed them to buy a house, barn and 20 acres of farmland with no cash up front required.

It probably looked like manna from heaven to the struggling Cash family.

But the farm did not come equipped with electricity or plumbing, and growing 20 acres of cotton in the stifling heat of Arkansas was never going to leave a family wondering what to do with their prosperity, not to mention free time.

The lighter moments, though, revolved around family singing celebrations, fishing and hiking.

After Cash’s much loved older brother was killed in a woodcutting accident, his mother encouraged Johnny to find peace in music. She played the guitar and fiddle and taught Johnny how to write his own music by age 12.

Just like Dad. Johnny Cash was born the same year that my father was born, and I have often considered there could have been no more frightening time to be starting a family than 1932.

The world appeared to be crumbling, and yet some of the people born in the hardscrabble era of the Great Depression seemed to know better than anyone how to pull themselves through tough terrain, how to climb a mountain and scale its peak.

I will never forget watching my own father’s eyes light up the first time he heard the song about a boy named Sue, our eyebrows raising and then laughter bubbling over as we contemplated the absurdity of such a thing.

Cash could make us chuckle, make us think, make us cry, question why.

The next generation. My son had recently asked me to listen to a new song that he really liked, Hurt – and I was stunned to hear Johnny Cash’s voice.

I said, “You like Johnny Cash?” and Cort answered, “Mom, I love Johnny Cash. He’s awesome!”

It goes without saying how rare it is for a grandfather and grandson to have enjoyed new music over the course of 50 years put out by one man.

As Ray Charles said, “His legacy speaks for itself. I will miss him dearly.”

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.