Jewell’s lyrics to “Fallen Angel” were among her keepsakes in the Webb Pierce folder.
An autographed promotional portrait 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 to 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 trash. I looked in it and couldn’t believe the shocking sight. It was filled with ashes 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 my brother and I combed through closets and drawers, we 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, fruits 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 watching the flames and recalling another one of her hits, "Tomorrow I’ll Be Gone." Hyperbole? Yes and no. It’s simply one of those real-life scenarios that Country music captures so powerfully.
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. “You’ll find out, son. Someday.”
I did indeed. But pain is part of the human journey. And Jewell had suffered deeply in many ways. Ironically, however, her suffering paid off as it does for most songwriters. That’s one reason why, as Shot Jackson wrote in a letter to me in 1975, “Your mother wrote good songs.”
They’re still loved and 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 alone. And a bit of it’s on the record now with this website.
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 tucked her most treasured photos, lyrics and a few documents.