Friday, May 31, 2013

Songs Our Grandmothers Sang

My friend Meg wrote:

"Kitti, my heart leapt when I saw this picture. Mommy, Buy Me a China Doll was my very favorite picture book (along with Rain Makes Applesauce)--it was the first book I could 'read' (because I memorized it). I also loved the eyes of the mother and daughter. Just last week, Elaine and I were parodying the text as she tried to convince me to get her a bigger bed."

What a great memory for Meg -- and even better that she has passed it on to her daughter Elaine! I don't know how I missed out on knowing this story as a child, but luckily it keeps coming into my life through my relatives!

Earlier this month when we were in England, Gerry's Auntie Jan showed me a copy of this book that she had discovered at a used book sale. When she asked if I knew the tune, I hummed a few bars as best I could and told her that I hadn't known it as child, but my cousins Maggie and Scott taught it to me at our family reunion in 1998! Like my friend Meg, my cousin Maggie has passed the song on to her children. She recalled nostalgically, "I think Grandma [Adeline Carriker] sang it to Mom [that would be my dad's only sister, Frances] when she was a child. Now all my grandsons know it as well!"

The book (rare now but available on amazon) contains many verses but no music. Luckily, Ben was able to download the music and leave a copy with Auntie Jan so that she can now learn the old Ozark melody and sing it to her British grandkids!

Another childhood song that my Grandma Rovilla Lindsey sang to me is "Babes in the Woods." It must have been a favorite of hers, for at some point (I'm guessing in the 1950s or 60s) she took time to write down all the verses:

If there's one thing I love to save
-- and I have only a very few samples of it for saving --
it is my Grandma Lindsey's beautiful elegant handwriting.
In addition to the above page of lyrics,
I am lucky enough to have this Easter Booklet
that she designed for her Sunday School Students

In Marilynne Robinson's novel Home, there is a reference to "Babes in the Wood" along with an interesting analysis of its effect on children. Glory Boughton, now thirty - eight, thinks back to what she was told as a child, "Glory, you take things too much to heart":

"That was what they always said about her. . . . Glory took everything to heart. She wished they had told her how to do otherwise, what else she should have done.

"She wept easily. This did not mean that she felt things more deeply than other did. It certainly did not mean that she was fragile or sentimental . . . When she was four . . . she had sobbed over Heidi and Bambi and the Babes in the Woods. Which they read to her dozens of times. As if there were any other point to those stories after all but to elicit childish grief"
(14 - 14).

Childish grief. Childish worry. I think I know exactly how Glory felt. Though, I did not have a picture book of "Babes in the Woods," the images evoked by my grandmother's singing were vivid and sorrowful. The deserted children, covered over with strawberry leaves, were merged in my storybook universe with Hansel and Gretel, searching in vain for the bread crumbs, and Little Red Riding Hood, alone and worried in the forest. The poor little things! And as Robinson mentions in this same passage, somehow "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep" was mixed in there too.

There are a lot of other things to like about Home, but that's enough for now.

P.S. On the topic of China Dolls,
I have never been known to have a way with houseplants
but the China Doll Plant has always been one of my favorites:

Radermachera sinica