R.I.P, Patsy

Published 9:23 am Thursday, May 21, 2015

WINCHESTER, Va. — We fanned out in three  directions looking for the grave with pennies atop the tombstone. Elizabeth searched the hillside at the expansive Shenandoah Memorial Park. Michael searched the area around the pond. I went helter-skelter looking in vain.

We ultimately gave up, climbed back in the car and looked for an exit, counting our search as a fool’s errand.

That���s when I spotted the angel watching from the hill.

A woman stood on the porch of a neighboring florist shop. I drove up and lowered the window.

“You’re looking for Patsy Cline, aren’t you?” she asked.

“We’ve driven 400 miles.”

She pointed to a tree, then to a memorial bench and said we’d find the grave there.

“It doesn’t say ‘Patsy Cline.’ It says ‘Dick,’ her married name.”

She reached in the window and patted me on the arm in sympathy, knowing that I must be crazy about Patsy.

What about the bell tower? I was expecting it to play “Sweet Dreams.”

The bell tower, erected with the help of Dottie West and Loretta Lynn, is out of order, the florist told me. It was designed to play at 6 p.m., the time of the plane crash March 5, 1963 near Camden, Tenn., the country genre’s version of the Day the Music Died. The bell recently started playing at odd times, even during funeral services. The music has been stopped until the system is fixed.

We quickly reached our destination.

Under the heading of “DICK,” the marker reads, “Virginia H. (Patsy) Cline. ‘Death Cannot Kill What Never Dies: Love’.”

My pilgrimage was complete. On our trips over the years to see three precious granddaughters, I had thought wistfully of visiting the grave of the country siren. We have always been in too much of a hurry and didn’t know how to find the cemetery.

With the help of a smart phone gadget on Sunday, I learned the cemetery was at the next exit off Interstate 81 and four miles away. I veered off at the exit and the search was on.

This is Patsy Cline land.

Granddaughter Cayden attends Round Hill Elementary School, the same school where Patsy attended first grade. We buy pies at Hilltop Orchard where her troubled daddy worked before abandoning the family. The drug store where Virginia worked as a teen is still standing. The family home in Winchester is still there along with the radio station, WINC, where she performed.

I had four pennies, and I left them all atop the bronze marker along with the others left by fans who still get a thrill by Patsy Cline’s “Crazy.”

— Dwight Sparks