Book Excerpt: 'Coming Home to Myself'

Between school and jobs, Mom worked all day and most of the night. There's a scene in Ashley's first major movie, "Ruby in Paradise," where her character has tried and tried to find work. She gets turned down during all her job interviews and ends up working in a Laundromat. I remember seeing that film with Mom, and watching her weep as she sat in the theater.

Mom drove by an Arabian horse farm every day when she went to work as a waitress at a restaurant named Rancho Nicasio in Nicasio, California. She says that she was concerned that I take on more responsibilities, so she got me a job cleaning tack a couple of days a week, after school. I rode my bike to and from my job. I was fourteen, and didn't mind the hard work because I got to be with horses and out in the open. The barn had a radio that played country music constantly and I found myself listening to it. Soon I was singing along, memorizing every song I heard. Merle Haggard became one of my favorites.

Mom picked me up one day when I'd finished mucking stalls, and I immediately tuned to KNEW radio. They were giving away tickets:

"KNEW is bringing you Merle Haggard and the Strangers, live and in concert at Oakland Coliseum! Be caller number ten and be a winner!"

I wasn't caller number ten.

"Mom, if I save the money for the tickets, would you take me?" I asked.

"Sure," she said. Mom loved Merle's music, too.

On the day of the show, we left Ashley at a friend's house, and off we went, country music blaring all the way. When we pulled into the parking lot, Mom just leaned out, smiled and asked to park in the backstage area, where all the buses and trucks parked. It was so like Mom to park in back, right next to the tour buses. Mom was so beautiful that she always seemed to get a backstage pass whenever she needed it. Plus, back in those days, they didn't have the security issues they have today. Just as we pulled up next to Merle Haggard's bus, he was coming out to walk his little dog, Tuffy.

"Well, hello," Merle Haggard said. I was in awe!

What he must have thought of Mom and me! We wore our best dresses, me in lace anklets, Mom in seamed hose. Mom was such a hottie and she had that Southern accent! She must have made quite an impression on Merle because he immediately invited us to come on his Silver Eagle.

Getting on that tour bus was a defining moment, my first taste of a star's world. That bus seemed to me like the mobile home of life. It had the leather seats, the kitchenette. I could see myself on this bus! I could picture myself driving down the highway on my way to the next show. I was ready to hit the road. Merle invited us to watch the show from the side of the stage. What I remember most is the audience's reaction when the lights came down. And when I saw Merle's band in matching stage outfits, that, too, was a defining moment. I could visualize myself on that stage with my own band.

When Merle invited us to go on the road with him for a few days, Mom didn't hesitate. We just left the car right there in the parking lot and we left with him. Merle introduced me to his sons, Noel and Marty. I got such a crush on Noel! After a few days, Mom and I flew home. I was heartbroken when Noel kissed me goodbye. It was back to reality and that crummy apartment in Lagunitas.

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