When my fellow dad friend told me he sings George Strait’s “I Can Still Make Cheyenne” to his infant son, I stared at him in disbelief.
“Bruh… me too.”
I couldn’t believe there was someone else who channeled King George’s 1996 classic at 2am in the face of a screaming baby. Maybe we were on to something. You can swing, swaddle, and shush all you want. But maybe all a crying baby wants is a little Strait.
“I Can Still Make Cheyenne” was in my rotation of sad country lullabies during those long nights when my infant son would only sleep for five minutes at a time. Like any great country song, it had a great story.
So, whenever I picked up my precious ball of screaming rage for the hundredth time in the dark, it was story time with me and King George.
In “I Can Still Make Cheyenne,” a weary rodeo cowboy calls back home to update his love on the latest setbacks in his demanding and itinerant career. He’s been away too long, but he’s finally coming home. However, she found someone else, so the cowboy drives off to Cheyenne, keeping his rodeo dreams alive while still thinking about what might have been back home. It’s a haunting heartbreaker that leaves enough unsaid to keep you thinking about it long after the cowboy leaves the “phone danglin’ off the hook.”
Singing that story to my son usually worked. Maybe it was the slow, steady cadence that lulled him to sleep. Perhaps the conversational lyrics brought him comfort as he followed along with the dialogue.
Or maybe the sad themes of loneliness and distance and loss just made sense to a little baby feeling abandoned in his crib by his exhausted parents.
As I set my son down in his crib like a little stick of dynamite, I’d sing the chorus again. And the second half seemed more personal to me then, like a final message I was leaving for my son as I tiptoed away. I’d always alter the words just a little bit, though:
“Son, “I’m sorry it’s come down to this There’s so much about you that I’m gonna miss But it’s alright baby If I hurry I can still [get some sleep] Gotta go now baby If I hurry I can still make [my morning meeting]”
I crept toward the cracked door like a ninja and squeezed through with care. Then, like the cowboy in the song, I slowly turned around and gave the crib one last look. And then I just walked away.