Recover Rutherford: Step 5 – “Heartaches”

We admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Heartache is one painful feeling! Once upon a time, a couple of decades ago, I was vulnerable and sad beyond words. The “pain” from my emotional emptiness, disappointment and sorrow ached from the very center of my being. Inside my chest, I actually felt so overwhelmed that the tears would not come. I could barely breathe and hardly think. Every negative feeling—the emptiness, misery, loneliness, regret and disbelief—all seemed to come together and drain away any possibility of peace and happiness.

By my thirties, I had spent much of my early adulthood making wrong decisions. This self-sufficiency was continually perpetuated by my pride and temporary success, either professionally or personally. Finally, these destructive dysfunctional patterns of behavior led to broken and strained relationships, including a failed marriage. Each day, the compulsion to fix the problem with my own resources led to overpowering fear and dread. My self-deception led to a crop of consequences hidden from my friends, family and, I thought, even God. In my delusion and fear of displeasing people, I continued to conceal and mask the pain.

I wanted to say goodbye to the self-deception and hello to forgiveness and healing, but I did not have the tools to take off the mask and get real with my feelings without the guilt and shame. So I continued the charade, wearing a mask of well-being to shield myself from disclosure, especially from my dad. My dad was the one person on earth that I did not want to disappoint. So, I pretended that everything was all right, even though it was becoming clearer and clearer that my life wasn’t working anymore.

For years I continued the heartache, struggling to make peace by my own initiatives, denying reality and finding excuses, squirming under the full weight of bad choices and negative attitudes. I would counter wrong behavior by trying to be “good” enough just to even the score, and, at times, rationalizing and blaming others seemed to work. I continued the heartache and misery by living the “self-life”—self-directed, self-motivated, self-willed and self-centered. Finally, with the help of some God-fearing people who surrounded me with love and acceptance, I came to believe in a Power greater than myself that could help me recover!

God combined the strength of a mountain peak, the wisdom of the ages, the power of an eagle’s flight, the patience of eternity, the faith of a mustard seed and a strong comforting arm in times of need, and placed those eternal qualities in my dearest friend: my father, Richard Shacklett. Only now am I able to appreciate the masterpiece God created and how Dad intuitively understood the depth of our family’s need and responded sacrificially. Yep! He could have been a famous photographer, but instead, he chose to be “dad.”

In the 1950s, my family was living in Idaho. After World War II and college, Dad and Mom had moved from Tennessee to Twin Falls, Idaho, and opened a studio. Dad was considered the best photographer in town, and for a time, the studio was very successful. But times got rough. My brother, Bill, was born with a teratoma tumor that had to be removed when he was only 6 weeks old. Along with some other difficult circumstances, our family plummeted into financial “hard times.” To my mother’s chagrin, Dad moved the studio into our home. It was an exasperating time for our entire family. Maybe, even at age 3, I, too, was affected by the tension in the home. One could hardly have avoided those troubled emotions and apprehensive moments. A murky pall of uncertainty, worry and dread had descended over our household.

There are so many subtle images from my childhood that have created lasting impressions. One of those indelible memories is my Dad’s incredible skill as a whistler. It was during those agonizing days in our home that I was awakened in the middle of the night by Dad’s whistling, a restless, hypnotic sound that undoubtedly was a release for my father’s fretful thoughts. As I wandered through the house pursuing this melancholy sound, there on the back porch was my dad, his face puckered and shadowed with a grimace as he whistled, rolling his tongue with his unique shrills and trills over and over again. He was seemingly unaware that his titillating tune might disturb his sleeping family. As the soft glow from the retouch lamp framed his face, he continued whistling as he carefully corrected a photographic negative.

Elmo Tanner

Elmo Tanner

In the radio days of the 1930s and ’40s, the airwaves were alive with the sweet sentimental sounds of the Big Bands, who made some of the most enduring music ever recorded. Recorded in 1933 for RCA Victor’s Bluebird imprint (and again in 1938 for Decca Records), “Heartaches,” with its mesmerizing tune by Ted Weems and his Orchestra and the whistling Elmo Tanner from Nashville, has to be one of the finest. After Tanner joined the band in 1929, his whistling talent was accidentally discovered while the band members were singing, whistling and cutting up en route to an engagement. Weems was so impressed by Tanner’s talent that he added a whistling tune to every segment of their show.

Weems loved the melody; however, he found the lyrics depressing, and opted to have Tanner whistle rather than sing the melody. In 1942, at the beginning of World War II, Weems, Tanner and the entire orchestra joined the Merchant Marines. During that period, their royalties from “Heartaches” were allowed to expire (not that they’d lost much, as the song’s only success thus far had come from a version by Guy Lombardo, released in 1931).

After the war, in 1947, Charlotte, N.C. disc jockey Kurt Webster stumbled upon an old 78 RPM Bluebird recording, dusted it off, played it, and listeners began overwhelmingly requesting the song. With its renewed popularity, it was one of the year’s top-sellers, though neither Weems, Tanner, nor any of the band members ever received any compensation. Weems and Tanner briefly revived the band to capitalize on their No. 1 recording.

In an article dated Aug. 4, 1979, a roly-poly, 75-year-old Elmo Tanner says, “I stopped whistling when I lost my teeth 10 years ago. I miss it like I miss my right eye—that’s gone too. I never regretted a moment in my life.”
When asked, “Whatever happened to all the whistlers?” Tanner said, “Radio happened, TV happened, and music stopped being a doing-to-yourself and became a spectator sport.”
By then, Elmo and his precious wife, whom he married between shows 40 years earlier, were most proud of their four children. He had learned not to be bitter about life’s tough breaks. Elmo Tanner had definitely found the key to happiness, accepting difficulties as a part of life. Tanner died in 1990 and is buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Nashville.

By the way, I have learned that the tune my dad whistled during those anxious times was “Heartaches.” Dad could whistle the melody with the same precision as Elmo Tanner. Apparently, in the early 1950s, the newly-popularized reissue of the 1930s-era “Heartaches” had captivated Dad as well.

You know, I have come to realize that a little girl needs her daddy for many things. One of those is when she awakens, frantic with the terrors of night, to find her dad there to bring comfort when all else falls apart. Only now, more than 60 years later, am I able to appreciate my dad’s toiling for long hours to provide for our family, choosing to be “Dad” rather than have fame or fortune as a professional photographer. Dad’s example is still there like a great mountain of courage and strength, a beacon and a guide for his three children, seven grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

As do most dads, he feared my leaving, my growing up. Many times, his enduring twinkle was his way of declaring his affirmation for me. But more than that, his coarse, well-worn hands yearned to pull me close—to catch me, protect me from a scary grown-up world. He taught me that life was more than the struggle to survive, but to live out each moment with vigor and stamina. Intuitively, he sensed my despair, my stress, and even my failures. Although he tossed those sentiments into my direction, he never joined me in a pity party. He reminded me, “You have strong-willed blood running through your veins. Don’t you forget it!”

In retrospect, beyond his apparent artistry, Dad taught me to run to God with my requests, to that Higher Place where I would find comfort and answers when I was beaten down by the events of life.

The last phrase of the song “Heartaches” is:

I should be happy with someone new, but my heart aches for you!

Dad, I now know your heart was for more than your profession. Just like Elmo Tanner, it was for your family, and for that, I thank you!

The 1938 Decca recording of “Heartaches” by the Ted Weems Orchestra, featuring Elmo Tanner:

Celebrate Recovery is that safe-place where people can remove the mask of denial and be open and honest. If you are interested in finally dealing with the pain of your past, there are people who will stand with you as the truth becomes a way of life. In Celebrate Recovery, where anonymity and confidentiality are basic requirements, one can address life’s hurts, habits and hang-ups utilizing biblical truths. One can find change in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the one and only Higher Power. There are now three Celebrate Recovery meetings in Murfreesboro: one at 7 p.m. every Monday at North Boulevard Church of Christ, 1112 Rutherford Blvd.; one every Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Belle Aire Baptist Church, 1307 Rutherford Blvd.; and another every Thursday at 7 p.m. at New Vision Baptist Church, 1750 N. Thompson Lane. For more information, call (615) 896-6288.

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