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  • Trish Kennedy-Howe

Country Western WallTex

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

At the WallTex design studio, the designers sat in small cubicles in a large office space. Adjacent to the design studio, separated by heavy steel doors, was the silkscreen department. It consisted of a staff of three men who transferred the wallcovering designs onto silk screens and printed them in sample color combinations for selection by the designers.

The three silkscreen printers were older guys, longtime employees of the company. They were a bit disgruntled when one day a newbie was hired to wash the screens with solvent in order to remove the ink from them. The new hire was very young, very shy, and very intimidated (actually bullied) by the other guys. I thought he was cute. He wore the same clothes every day - scruffed up Levis, a blue plaid flannel shirt, and a cowboy hat. He hardly ever spoke. As Girl Friday (my original job title), it was my job to hand him his paycheck every Friday. He always bowed his head shyly and never made eye contact with me. He would say in a southern Ohio drawl, "Thank you, ma'am." The other three made endless fun of him, especially after he told them he was a singer and guitarist in a band, and that the band played at Valley Dale. We all assumed, because it was located on the "country" side of town, that Valley Dale was a hillbilly club. (Later, I discovered that the Valley Dale Ballroom was actually an historic venue and many celebrities had performed there over the years, including Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby). The guys would refer to him as "the big star" and the "fiddle player" and the "Mayberry Music Man". They constantly teased him and were so mean to him - and believe me, those three had no right to make fun of anyone!

One day, after not much time had gone by, the shy country boy left his screen washer job at WallTex. He didn't tell anyone what he was going to do next. Someone thought he had mentioned maybe going to college at Ohio State, but no one knew for sure. None of us ever saw him again.

Fast forward to nine or ten years later, after WallTex and I had parted ways, and I was working as a freelance designer/stylist. I was in the Columbus airport, getting ready to fly somewhere to see a client. I stopped at a newsstand to pick up a copy of USA Today to read on the plane. I opened it up to the Life section, which was my favorite. On the front page was a big photo of the shy silk screen washer/country singer, complete with his cowboy hat and guitar - but minus the blue plaid flannel shirt. The accompanying article was about his shooting to fame in the country music arena, with a bestselling album and many awards. I was shocked. His name was the same one that had been on the checks I handed to him every Friday years before - Dwight Yoakam! (Actually, the name on the check was Dwight David Yoakam. I'm pretty sure what president he had been named after.)

I called the design studio where I was still in contact with my former colleagues. I talked to my friend Bruce and said excitedly "Go get a copy of USA Today! You won't believe who is in the headlines in the Life section - Dwight Yoakam!" Bruce said "Who?" He didn't remember him, nor did any of the other designers. I told Bruce to ask the guys in the silkscreen department if they remembered him. After all, they had worked with him day after day for almost a year. But they didn't remember him either - or so they said.

Well, Dwight Yoakam probably doesn't remember us, either. He has the perfect name for a country-western singer, and it wasn't a made-up name, as one might think. I can tell you with complete certainty that that is his real name. I saw that name every Friday when I delivered his Columbus Coated Fabrics paycheck to him and he said, “Thank you, ma’am.” I wonder if he remembers.

young cowboy with guitar looking at shadow

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