Hal Ketchum was born in Greenwich, New York, but moved to Austin, Texas, in 1981, where he was inspired to try songwriting and singing after regularly visiting Gruene Hall, a small dance hall near his home. In a Songfacts interview
, Ketchum explained the meaning behind this song: "'Mary' is about an experience I had in Northern California. I was in a bar called the Orchard Inn. And there was a gentleman in there that was kind of reminiscing about having left his wife and child, 40 years to the day. So that was the crux of that piece. I went back to Texas, sat down at a table, and it just kind of occurred to me, that whole piece just kind of fell out on the paper."
Ketchum goes on to elaborate that he often gets song ideas from passing conversations: "People are full of stories. We all have stories, we all have heartache, and we all have sadness and we all have joy. Golden moments. You never know. I just kind of stay open to it. Have a lot of great dialogues with people. Just kind of occur. Could be on an airplane, could be anywhere."