Do You Remember Jewell?

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Jewell’s lyrics to “Fallen Angel” were tucked among her keepsakes in the Webb Pierce folder.

A picture of her close friend, steel guitarist and Sho-Bud co-founder Shot Jackson, was among the photos Jewell had kept. “To the Swellest Gal ever I saw – Shot Jackson,” he wrote

We buried mother next to dad in the Hale family plot at Restland Cemetery in Boswell, Oklahoma. The next day, I went to her house to check on it and make sure it hadn’t been burglarized.  

Out back, I checked on dad’s workshop and then wandered over by the rusty 55-gallon drum that we used for burning limbs and other trash. I looked in it and couldn’t believe the shocking sight. It was filled with ashes not of yard debris or garbage but of burned papers, documents and folders.

“Oh my god,” I remember thinking. “Mother burned her files” – records from her years of work in Country music.  

I dashed into the house and began searching for the boxes mother used as file cabinets. I found a small one containing her gospel songs. No others were to be found.  

Eventually, as I combed through closets and drawers, I found an old Webb Pierce publicity and promotion kit folder filled with photos and a few documents that evidently were too dear to her to be burned. My brother found some contracts, including the one from 1949 for My Son Calls Another Man Daddy. But that was all.

We can only speculate why, in the grip of some unimaginable state of despair, she had destroyed documentation of her work, symbols of her glory days. It all must have seemed to her as finished and useless as her life. Everything she cared most about was gone – her Charles, her sons, her mother, the joy of chasing dreams.

Later, I came across one of her textbooks from nursing school. At the top of the inside front cover, she had written part of a Joaquin Miller poem:  

"The bravest battle that ever was fought  Shall I tell you where & when?  On the maps of the world you’ll find it not .  It was fought by the Mothers of Men.”  

​I can imagine her songs crossed her mind as she burned the files, and I can imagine her singing, as the flames leaped, Tomorrow I’ll Be Gone. Hyperbole? Yes and no. It’s simply a likely scenario – a kind of real-life scenario that Country music captures.  

I remember the day when I was a child and standing in our living room, listening in horror to mother singing another dreadful heartbreaker she was writing. I felt I was drowning in gloom and lashed out with anger. “Mother,” I snapped, “why do you write such sad songs?” She stopped, looked at me and smiled, then replied: “You’ll find out someday.”  

I did indeed. But life hurts all of us. Life hurt mother. And that’s one reason why, as Shot Jackson wrote in a letter to me in 1975, “Your mother wrote good songs.”  

They’re still sung around the world. It’s part of her legacy to Country music and its fans, a legacy that’s much greater than we may ever  know, because so much of her work is credited to others. But Jewell House’s story is her's. And now, a bit of it’s on the record.  

Jewell burned many of her files just before her death in 1971. Some were spared, including this Webb Pierce publicity kit folder in which she had placed her most treasured photos, lyrics and a few documents.  

A Grim Discovery