Rosanne Cash was pregnant when she came upon carnage on a lonely, snowy country road.
The temperature hovered at 11 below zero, and her car's tires bit into hard-packed snow as the vehicle hurtled alongside vast fields enclosed by Civil War-era stone fences. She remembered "big, dark, and looming old estates" on both sides of the road.
To lift her mood -- she didn't want to be in that car on that trip in the first place -- she and her husband, singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell, sang upbeat old songs like Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms
. The songs worked until flashing red lights put a halt to the jolly tunes, and they spied a man on the frozen ground, stretched out on his back. No one was in a hurry to pack him into an ambulance.
Cash, in her third trimester, felt a sudden primal impulse to protect her baby from "the heady, dangerous mix of the hormones of hysteria and fear."
About a mile or so farther on, she was astonished to see a middle-aged woman with a walking stick, clad only in a skirt and sweater and discount-store shoes against the numbing cold, tramping down the road with a determined gait.
Then Cash and Crowell pulled over and offered the woman a ride. She kindly informed them that her neighbor had called to say that someone had been hit by a car. Her husband had gone for a walk, and she was worried.
The couple's hearts pounded like the drums on Cash's then-current breakthrough album, Seven Year Ache
. "My heart broke for her," Cash writes in her memoir Composed
(Penguin; $16). "In about 30 seconds her entire life was going to detonate, and two strangers were sharing her last moments of peace. But it was not my place to tell her."
Some 30 years later, Cash, now 56 and married to music producer John Leventhal, politely asks for a moment so that she can kiss her daughter Chelsea goodbye. Her baby, now a grown woman, hustles out the door of Cash’s New York apartment to catch a flight to Europe.
"I don't want her to miss the plane," says Cash, who kicks off Miami Book Fair International Sunday. Of course, you indulge her the moment with her daughter.
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