Monday, January 4, 2010

Sad isn't Bad

We learned the old songs from mom, who learned them from her mom, who learned them from her mom. Old scottish/irish melodies handed down from the appalachian tradition. They were mostly heartbreaking, tear inducing tragedies of love lost, loss, and tragic accidents. Heart breaking lyrics. Smarmy sentimentality. Throat chokers. Here are my favorites. If you want the complete lyrics, ask.

Every night after being tucked in, I asked mom to sing 'Old Shep'. She didn't want to because it made me cry. I persuaded her each time, knowing I would cry. The song is about a young boy who has a dog. As he grows up, the dog grows old and blind. He takes him to the vet, who kindly suggests that he puts the dog out of his misery. As he aims the gun at Shep's head, Shep looks at him with such love, he couldn't do it. Cliche? Oh well, it still constricts my throat, even now.

Another one was called "The Baggage Coach Ahead".  It is about young father unable to quiet his new baby, who is disturbing all the passengers in the car.  Several people start becoming grouchy at the inconvenience of not being able to sleep. A kind woman goes to the young helpless father and asks why he doesn't take the baby to its mother. He puts his head down in agony as he replies, "I wish I could, but she's dead in the baggage coach ahead."

"Miner's Child" was about a young motherless girl who begged her daddy not to go to the mines one morning, because she had dreamed of a disaster. She describes mothers, wives and children crying at the mouth of the shaft. Her pleading and tears don't keep him safe. Her premonition comes true. She is left an orphan.

"Purple Heart" told the story of a little boy tugging on a soldier's sleeve to ask if he'd seen his daddy... over there?  The soldier's eyes grew misty as he realized it was his best buddy - lost in action. A brave lad who had saved his life.

My favorite was "Old Limpy". It was about a bachelor rancher who went out in a blizzard to save a calf from dying, only to catch pneumonia and die from exposure himself. The calf surely lived?

I wonder if these songs gave us permission to feel sad indirectly?

Growing up, we sat around most weekend evenings singing and playing music. Piano, guitars, and harmonica. I would find a corner to curl up in, going to sleep with the thrumming hum of stories set to music.

Maybe this is why feeling sad doesn't feel bad.

4 comments:

Glynn said...

I learned old songs from my father, who got them from his father. There was one about "Old Dunderbeck" that was about where sausage came from; there was another about wearing different kinds of pajamas, depending on the seasons. These were generally humorous -- but I still remember the words more than 50 years later.

Kathleen said...

Sounds like your family sang more comic songs. We must have been more into the melancholy? :) You're right, it is hard to forget lyrics.

Craig said...

Your favorite "Old Limpy", I thought maybe you were thinking of me and my nu-knee!

Anonymous said...

Ok, here I am going off to bed smiling again, I turned my computer back on to find your post about hawaii, at Lisa's request. they are planning a trip and wants to know which Island.
This post did bring back so many memories. Happy ones of course and my Mom at 93 is the only one left of that musical family. kind of sad.
Mom