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Old, Old Songs

Story ID:5148
Written by:Wanda Molsberry Bates (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Location:Manhattan KS USA
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For no particular reason that I know, I have recently been thinking of some very old songs which I heard or heard about in my childhood in the years beginning with l9l5. I remember that most of them were very sad, and many were concerned with death. One of them which would bring me to tears, when my sisters enjoyed teasing me by singing it, dealt with hunger. In it were the lines “Only three grains of corn, Mother, only three grains of corn to keep the little life in me ‘til the dawning of the morn.” I was a sensitive child and my older siblings thought it was fun to make me cry by singing sad songs.

The first line of another song was “Hello, Central, give me heaven, for my mother’s there.” One which I remember in its entirety and can still sing had the singer experiencing a real pity party. It went “When I’m gone you’ll soon forget me, and ‘tis better I should go. You regret the day you met me. You have often told me so. In your heart there’ll be no yearning—not one sigh or fond regret. I will leave you in life’s morning. When I’m gone you’ll soon forget.” I can still get choked up over that one.

Another tear jerker was a song about the dying request of a little girl which was “Put my little shoes away.” My mother had an old song book which had words for a song named “The Letter Edged in Black” and another which had the line “In the baggage coach ahead.” The latter was in answer to the question “Where is your mother?” asked of a child on a train.

In the attic in my house is a phonograph which my parents purchased soon after the birth of my oldest brother in l895. The records are cylindrical and there is a very large red and yellow morning-glory-shaped horn with it. I loved playing those records and still remember a favorite song, “San Antonio.” It had a wistful theme but held a little hope. The words are:
“Just as the sun was sinking o’er the hill, after the work was through.
There sat a cowboy and his partner, Bill. Cowboy was feeling blue.
Bill said, ‘Come down, pal, down into town, pal. Big time for me and you.
Don’t mind your old gal, you know it’s cold, pal, if what you say is true.
Where is she now?’ Bill cried. And his partner just replied.
(Chorus) ‘San Antony, Antonio. She hopped upon a pony and ran away with Tony. If you see her, just let me know and I’ll meet you in San Antonio.
You know that pony that she rode away. That hoss belongs to me.
So do the trinkets that she stole away. I was the big Mark E.
I don’t resent it, I might have spent it, plunging with Faro Jack.
If she’s not happy, there with her chappie, tell her I’ll take her back.
No tenderfoot like him could love her like her boy, Jim.’ Chorus.”

There are humorous ditties on those old records, such as limericks which include “There was a young girl from Decatur, who went to sing in the the-ay-ter. The poor little thing, when she got up to sing, got hit with a rotten to-may-ter.”

Another treasure in my home is a tattered old song book lying in the piano bench. It has numerous World War I songs in it, including “Over There,” “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,” “Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning,” and “Just Before the Battle, Mother.” The last one is a weeper, but some irreverent wise-guy wrote a parody to the music which goes, “While the sexton rang the dishrag, lard was rendered by the choir.
While the organ peeled potatoes, someone set the church on fire.
‘Holy smoke!’ The parson shouted. In the fray he lost his hair.
Now his head resembles heaven, for there is no parting there.”
Also found in the old book is the well-known “Round Her Neck She Wears a Yeller Ribbon.”

Occasionally a song with hopeful lyrics appeared. Written in l868 by Septimus Winner, an American songwriter of the l9th entury, “Whispering Hope” has been popular through the years. My sisters and a neighbor girl sang it as a trio. Recently I found it sung as a duet by Gordon MacRae and Jo Stafford on a You Tube video. The complete lyrics can be found online. In it is the expression “gentle persuasion,” a term I remembered when I saw the movie, “Friendly Persuasion.”

I have no information about the history of most of the old songs, but it gives me pleasure to recall them. Why is it that I can remember them and forget my best friend’s name?