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Country-music singer Rodney Atkins was ready to do almost anything to make it in the business. Except this.
If you're a big country-music fan, then my name probably sounds a little familiar to you. And not just because I've had a couple of hit singles. My last name has an illustrious history in the business. So much so that I darn near had to change it. But once I tell you a little bit about myself, I think you'll see why that was never really an option.
Back in 1994 I was making my first forays into Nashville from east Tennessee, where I grew up. My new record label told me they had something they needed to discuss with me before we even got started. "Rodney, we're going to have to do something about that name of yours. It's just too close to some folks out there who everyone already knows—Chet Atkins, Trace Adkins.... You're not related, are you?"
I shook my head.
"Well, we need something that'll really make you stand out."
Now don't get me wrong. I sympathized with them. Trying to get a new country act to stand out in Nashville is like trying to get a flea to stand out on a dog. But change my name? Not even if it meant taking my guitar back to the sticks and giving up for good on my dream of hearing my voice on the radio.
It all goes back to an adoption facility called Holston Home, in Greeneville, Tennessee. One day in the spring of 1969, Charles Hutchins, the head of that facility, found himself with a male infant in need of a home after the birth mother decided she wasn't able to care for it.
Soon after Charles and a social worker named Linda Weems found themselves looking after this infant, they discovered he had a bad respiratory infection. Bad enough, the doctors at the hospital figured, that it might just be fatal.
"He'll either make it or he won't," one of the doctors told Charles. "There's not much we can do about his condition except wait, and pray."
That's just what Charles and Linda did. They also got the word out that they were looking for a set of loving parents. Special parents.
Charles had some good leads. A couple named Allan and Margaret Atkins had called recently about adopting. The Atkinses had lost a newborn of their own about one year before. Mrs. Atkins's health had been compromised by the birth, and she required surgery. Her doctors had told her that if she wanted another child, she should think about adopting.
Linda gave the couple a call. "Mrs. Atkins," she said, "I believe I have a baby for you. He's dearly in need of some loving parents. Would you like to come in and see him?"
Mrs. Atkins told Linda there was nothing she'd like more. "But it's taking me longer to recover than I thought it would. And my doctor says I just can't take on an infant right now."
"I understand," said Linda. She and Charles struggled along until a new couple came forward.
The story might have ended there. Except the infant developed a bad case of colic. Colicky babies cry enough as it is. Throw that on top of a nasty infection and you have enough yowling to last you till doomsday.
And way more than the couple had bargained for. After a mess of sleepless nights, they called it quits. They returned the child to the facility.
End of story? Not quite. Another couple showed up looking for a baby.
Same thing happened. They took the child home, struggled with the endless crying...and brought him back. For Charles, that baby was turning out to be one problem piece of merchandise! He didn't dare call on the Atkinses again so soon. Surely Mrs. Atkins was still in no shape to mother such a demanding baby.
Then Charles and Linda got another call. A call they would never forget. With the Lord's help, Mrs. Atkins was finally fully recovered. "We just wanted to try one last time," she told Linda and Charles, "to see if you have a baby for us."
Linda must have suppressed a whoop and a holler. "As a matter of fact, Mrs. Atkins, we do," she said. "That same little boy who was here last time you called."