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Pretty Paper

Cover of Pretty Paper

Pretty Paper

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Willie Nelson's inspiring Christmas fable, based on his holiday classic "Pretty Paper."

More than fifty years ago, Willie Nelson's beloved Christmas song "Pretty Paper" first hit the airwaves. And for all these years, Willie has wondered about the real-life Texas street vendor, selling wrappings and ribbons, who inspired his song. Who was this poor soul? What did his painful trials say about our loves, our hopes, our dreams in this holiday season—and in the rest of our lives?
It's the early sixties and Willie Nelson is down and out, barely eking out a living as a singer-songwriter. The week before Christmas, he spots a legless man on a cart, selling wares in front of Leonard's Department Store in Fort Worth, Texas. The humble figure, by the name of Vernon Clay, piques Willie's curiosity, but Vernon is stubbornly private and—despite Willie's charming queries—has no interest in telling his story. Willie is tenacious, though, and he eventually learns that Vernon is a fellow musician, a fine guitarist and singer.
When Vernon disappears, he leaves behind only a diary, which tells an epic tale of life-altering tragedies, broken hearts, and crooked record men, not to mention backroad honky-tonks, down-home cooking, and country songwriting genius. Deeply moved and spurred on by Vernon's pages, Willie aims to give the man one last shot at redemption and a chance to embody the holiday spirit.
From the Hardcover edition.
Willie Nelson's inspiring Christmas fable, based on his holiday classic "Pretty Paper."

More than fifty years ago, Willie Nelson's beloved Christmas song "Pretty Paper" first hit the airwaves. And for all these years, Willie has wondered about the real-life Texas street vendor, selling wrappings and ribbons, who inspired his song. Who was this poor soul? What did his painful trials say about our loves, our hopes, our dreams in this holiday season—and in the rest of our lives?
It's the early sixties and Willie Nelson is down and out, barely eking out a living as a singer-songwriter. The week before Christmas, he spots a legless man on a cart, selling wares in front of Leonard's Department Store in Fort Worth, Texas. The humble figure, by the name of Vernon Clay, piques Willie's curiosity, but Vernon is stubbornly private and—despite Willie's charming queries—has no interest in telling his story. Willie is tenacious, though, and he eventually learns that Vernon is a fellow musician, a fine guitarist and singer.
When Vernon disappears, he leaves behind only a diary, which tells an epic tale of life-altering tragedies, broken hearts, and crooked record men, not to mention backroad honky-tonks, down-home cooking, and country songwriting genius. Deeply moved and spurred on by Vernon's pages, Willie aims to give the man one last shot at redemption and a chance to embody the holiday spirit.
From the Hardcover edition.
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  • From the book ***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***

    Copyright © 2016 Willie Nelson

    HAPPY HOLIDAYS

    It was a rough Christmas in a rough town. Back in the early 1960s, Fort Worth was still the Wild West. There was no shortage of honky-tonks. The city was a haven for hustlers who'd mastered the art of living outside the law. Gangsters controlled the bookie joints, the brothels and most of the nightspots. In the midst of all this, I was struggling to get my career off the ground. Actually "career" is too fancy a word. I was a just a broke-ass picker looking to make a living making music. Running every which way—haunting the beer joints that hid in the shadows of the stockyards, soliciting the club owners who ran the buckets of blood out on Jacksboro Highway—I was getting no- where fast. I did manage to get a gig deejaying on KCNC, but that didn't last. Neither did my half-baked attempts to peddle Kirby vacuum cleaners and Encyclopedia Americanas. Proud to say, I was no good at convincing people—especially hard-working people— to buy stuff they didn't need. What I needed was a break.

    And a break meant a hit song. I didn't care if I sang it or someone else did. If I found a bandleader who liked what I'd written, I'd sell my tune for the price of dinner. That's how desperate I was. Yet in the midst of my desperation, I also saw that others were more desperate than me. Which is where this story begins.

    A week before Christmas, I was determined to get into the holiday spirit. Wasn't easy because my wife was singing the blues about bills we couldn't pay. We were living in a cramped two-room apartment with our three little ones. Most nights I was gone, looking for places to play my music, and by the time I got home, the kids were up and my wife was off to her waitress job. On this particular morning, two days before Christmas, my mother-in-law was good enough to watch the children while I drove downtown for some last-minute shopping. But, as luck would have it, my beat-up Ford Fairlane wouldn't start, the battery dead as a doornail. So I caught the bus.

    I was freezing. The heater on the bus was busted, and my plaid wool jacket, which had seen better days, couldn't keep me warm. But what the hell. I was happy because last night I'd found a barroom—Big Bill's on Main Street near the slaughterhouses—where I could sing some of my songs. Folks liked what they heard and I wound up with twenty-five dollars' worth of tips in my pocket, a minor miracle. It was just the sort of encouragement that I needed to keep going. So today I wasn't bothered by the gray sky. Last night's tips told me that beyond the gray, the sun was shining. Besides, cold can be exhilarating. Best of all, snow was in the forecast, meaning that my kids might get to enjoy their first white Christmas.

    I got off at Houston Street in the middle of down- town. The sidewalks were crowded with shoppers, men in fedoras and long overcoats, women in furs, kids bundled up with scarves and mittens. The store windows were decorated with wreaths and poinsettias. I could see my breath in the frosty air. Already a few flakes had begun to fall. Everyone's expectations were high. Everyone's heart was full. A beautiful Christmas was just around the corner—a Christmas when,at least for a day, we could forget our troubles and enjoy simple fellowship with family and friends.

    Up ahead was Leonard's, the mammoth depart- ment store that took up six city blocks, the establish- ment that advertised ONE-STOP SHOPPING WITH MORE MERCHANDISE FOR LESS MONEY. During the holidays, Leonard's was also famous for installing a Santa Claus monorail...

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