Page 2 of 2   <      

Rosanne Cash pens a rich memoir about her personal and musical journey

But the memoir is sharpest and most moving when she returns to her family, specifically her parents. Her mother, a third-generation Italian American and a strict Catholic, is both lauded and lamented, an example to her daughter of how and how not to live. That her mother remarried and found happiness and fulfillment later in her life is clearly a great consolation.

Cash's father's presence is more keenly felt. After describing the agony of losing a baby, she includes the spiritually charged letter her father wrote following the miscarriage. After summoning his mother's spirit and a band of angels to console her, he concludes by writing: "You must start to gain strength now and somehow rise above the pain of all this. Your family loves you very much, and although the days and nights will be hard for a while you will persevere. All my love, Dad.

She writes, too, about telling her ailing father about the book she was writing, describing in detail one of the chapters, and how her father responded, quietly, "Just to think of you makes my heart swell with pride."

Reminded of that passage, Cash beams.

"He was so proud in that way that fathers are proud of their daughters," she says. "It was so much more simple than people would believe. He was just a proud dad. People would think he was removed or competitive. Not at all."

* * *

The death of her father in 2003 hit her hard. She fainted at the funeral home. In her eulogy, she made the key distinction between what the rest of the world felt and what his children felt:

I can almost live with the idea of a world without Johnny Cash, because in truth there will never BE a world without him. His voice, his songs, the image of him with his guitar slung over his back, all that he said and sang and strummed changed us and moved us and is in our collective memory and is documented for future generations. I cannot, however, even begin to imagine a world without Daddy.

She writes knowingly -- and cathartically -- about death and loss; the imprint it leaves, the shadow it casts, the binding universality of it all.

You begin to realize that everyone has a tragedy, and that if he doesn't, he will. You recognize how much is hidden beneath the small courtesies and civilities of everyday existence. Deep sorrow and traces of great loss run through everyone's lives, and yet they let others step into the elevator first, wave them ahead in a line of traffic, smile and greet their children and inquire about their lives, and never let on for a second that they, too, have lain awake at night in longing and regret, that they, too, have cried until it seemed impossible that one person could hold so many tears, that they too, keep a picture of someone locked in their heart and bring it out in quiet, solitary moments to caress and remember.

Although the deaths of her parents, and her treasured stepmother June Carter Cash, were overwhelming, it wasn't until she had to undergo and recover from brain surgery that Cash pushed hard to finish the book. "Everything felt urgent after that," she says. "I was really looking at my own mortality." Laughing, she adds: "You're in the green room for death. You're next. There's no wall between you and your own mortality, and it's a highly motivating situation."

So, no, Rosanne Cash's parents will not read her book. Johnny and Vivian are gone from this world. But perhaps a greater sense of herself has emerged in their absence.

"I guess that's the most liberating thing about losing your parents," she says. "You don't compare yourself to them anymore, so it frees you from having to compare yourself to anyone else. This is who I am."

Rosanne Cash will read from her memoir and sign copies at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue.

<       2

© 2010 The Washington Post Company