Wednesday, November 27, 2013
What's in a Song?
When my daughter was newly born, I had a song that would sway her into sleep. I was never big on nursery rhymes, and "Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star" isn't long enough to lull a dog, much less a baby, so I sang the only song to which I knew all the lyrics, the first song to come to mind, "Sun and Shadow." There's no band, no music and no melody, just lyrics on a page. It's a song from a fantasy book by one of my favorite authors. It's sad, a desperate love song about two people who can only see one another for a few minutes at dawn and dusk, for one can live only in sunlight and the other in darkness.
It's hardly a typical children's song, but I had always found it to be darkly lovely, and my girl loved it. I sang it to her at bedtime and nap time, or any time she wanted me to sing. She's bigger now and less inclined to cuddle for bouts of impromptu and off key singing, but she still crawls in my lap and asks for it when she's sick, hurt or scared.
And sometimes, when I'm sick or scared, she pulls my head into her lap and sings it to me in her babyish voice that still can't quite pronounce words like 'perilously' and 'retrace'.
When she does that for me, I think of my mother.
When we lived with my stepfather, we lived an imperfect life in a picture perfect house. It had a hunter green door and huge oak trees standing tall in the yard. In the fall, the leaves were raked into piles we could jump onto, into and through before they were shoved into bags and hauled off the property. There was a rabbit hutch and a hammock in the backyard, and an entire room filled with birds.
In the front yard, there was a swing, one of those wide southern ones meant for wraparound porches and pitchers of sweet tea. My mother and I would sit on it together when she was scared or sad, or when she was trying to sooth me after my stepfather had gone on one of his rampages, ripping pictures off the walls and mattresses off the beds, yanking clothes from drawers and snapping toys into pieces before tossing all the debris into a pile on the floor and forcing us to clean it up within a half hour. When it was over and he'd left the house in a flurry of slammed doors, she would take me outside sometimes, and we would swing, soft and slow. She would cuddle me in her lap, wrap one arm around me and run the fingers of her other hand through my hair, and she would sing "Leavin' on a Jet Plane."
My bags are packed; I'm ready to go...
Her voice was low, almost a whisper in my ear, and we never talked. She just rocked me and sang, sang and rocked.
Baby, I'm so lonesome I could die. And I'm leavin' on a jet plane, don't know when I'll be back again...
I was seven, maybe eight years old then, but I still hear her voice in my head when I'm scared. She's still singing to me, even if I'm fifty miles away from her. I don't know if she ever sang that song to my brother or sister, and I haven't asked because I'm kind of possessive of it.
I keep thinking about a second baby, if my wife and I are ever lucky enough to have one.
What should be this child's comfort song?
I can't give my daughter's song to another baby. She's a lot like me in some ways, all DNA aside, and I don't think she'd like it much. It'll have to be a good song, though--some sad and some sweet. Like life, full of beauty and adversity.
There are three songs about Sun and Shadow, and I've only ever sang one to Starren. Maybe I'll use one of the other two. Yes. I think I'll sing the one in which Sun and Shadow use the magic they've gathered to save a kidnapped boy instead of using it to break the curses that keep them from being together. And I'll tell this child what I tell Starren, and what the author tells all her readers--these songs are legend. Sun and Shadow lived hundreds, maybe thousands of years ago, and while the songs are sad, they aren't the whole story. Sun and Shadow will be okay. They will break the curses, live their lives together, and then they'll go the way of all other legends...into memory, and history.
Oh, Babe, I hate to go-oh-oh.
Mothers are epic legend. Some days, I still can't believe I am one.