Merle Haggard once said that all he really wanted to do was fish and write songs. His love of fishing was evident in the amount of time he spent on California's Lake Shasta on one of his many custom-made boats. Often bearing an engraved plaque stating that the vessel had been crafted just for Merle, every fiber of every boat had a story to tell. For one California family, their story became woven into the rich history of Merle's 1980-something Ranger bass boat in the most unique way.
Tanyalynn Cornett's dad was not only a fan of Merle Haggard, but they shared a deep passion for fishing. In his later years, most of his time fishing was spent manning his blind best friend's Ranger bass boat, baiting hooks and tossing bass into the live well...the same live well that Merle Haggard had tossed dozens of fish into years before.
After his best friend's passing, Tanyalynn's dad purchased the Ranger from his widow. For the next four years, Tanyalynn and her children spent countless hours on the boat with her father. Recalling a special day she spent with her dad on Lake Shasta, Tanyalynn remembers her father mentioning that he would love to get the boat autographed my Merle someday. Tanyalynn made it her mission to get the boat signed before Father's Day, but her dad would pass away before that dream could become a reality.
In 2012, Tanyalynn's father died, a victim of a military-related illness, and left the boat to his daughter knowing that she would appreciate the history of the vessel and the many memories it held for their family and the Haggard family.
Shortly after obtaining ownership of the boat, Tanyalynn was sitting in the parking lot of a local grocery store when her husband ran to the car and told her that Merle Haggard was inside buying groceries. If her dad's boat was ever going to be signed by Merle, now was the time. When Merle made his way out of the store, Cornett approached him and introduced herself.
"I thanked him for the memories and for the music that I grew up listening to. Then I told him that I had his '80s Ranger," Tanyalynn recalled. Merle remembered the boat and was glad that it had found a good home, but the time didn't seem right to ask him to sign it. "Meeting Merle was enough," said Cornett.
After her father's death, Tanyalynn found it painful to take the boat out on the lake without her father. Knowing that the boat would deteriorate quickly without use, she listed it for sale on Craigslist...and waited.
Shortly after Merle's passed away on April 6, Tanyalynn noticed that his youngest son Ben had posted a photo on social media of himself fishing on Lake Shasta...the very lake that held priceless memories for her and her family.
Tanyalynn commented her condolences and let the youngest Haggard know that she had one of his dad's fishing boat...and it was for sale.
Ben was shocked by Cornett's news and, after some correspondence between the two, made his way to Cornett's hometown where the boat was in the shop being inspected for another prospective buyer. According to Cornett, Ben's eyes welled up with tears when he saw the Ranger and the plaque that bore his late father's name. He pulled out his phone and shared photos of his dad on the boat and immediately made Cornett an offer.
Cornett took less for the boat than she was asking because to her and her family it felt like the right thing and it was a way to find peace.
"It was about a full-circle experience, not about money. It was a life lesson for my son. I want him to know that doing the right thing is always more important than money," Cornett said.
The day Ben Haggard came to pick up his father's boat, he promised Tanyalynn Cornett's 14-year old son that they would go fishing together. When that promise comes to fruition, the story will be complete...yet it will just be the beginning. Two sons. Two stories. And many memories yet to be made.
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