Back in November I wrote two columns titled, “Thank you, Mom.” I will never write words more sincere than those in that column. They told how much I owe to my mother. In truth, as far as whom or what I am is concerned, I owe Mom everything. I can hardly wait to die so I can thank her properly for all she did.
Last November, I mentioned that when Daddy passed away Mom was left absolutely penniless, but believe it or not she sang her way through each day as she slaved away at her daily housework back in the 1930s and 1940s. For one thing, when The Depression struck, and she and Daddy lost the house, they had to leave behind the appliances that had come with the house: the nice gas range, the refrigerator, and the washing machine.
What that meant for Mom was that she had to make do with an old icebox, a coal fired range, and two washtubs, in one of which she hand washed, on a small scrub board, the clothes for five people. In the other washtub she rinsed everything and wrung it out by hand. Then she climbed up the stairs to the top of the yard, summer or winter, with bushel baskets of clothes and hung them on the clotheslines, where they often froze solid in wintertime. On days when she didn’t have wash, she spent all day sweeping, mopping, polishing, stoking the coal range, cooking — and much more.
You know what she did while she slaved away?
She sang — all day long.
My memories of my very earliest days are filled with those songs, most of them from her childhood years in the late 1890s. She knew them word for word, and she sang them so well that even now, over 80 years later, I remember many of them, and I sometimes find myself humming their tunes as their words glide through my head.
A few days ago it occurred to me to look up some of those old songs and read some of the words that Mom had changed. Why did she change them? Because little Tommy Garrett was in the house, and sad words were not for his ears.
One song I remember very well is “After The Ball.” The words that Mom always sang were:
“After the ball is over,
After the break of dawn;
After the dancers’ leaving;
After the stars are gone;
Many a heart is aching,
If you could read them all;
Many the hopes that have vanished,
After the ball.”
There were other words too, but Mom never sang them. Why not? Well, the part of After the Ball that you just read is no doubt melancholy, but the rest of its words are genuine heartbreakers.
The first part of it explains that the man singing it is an old man who is talking to his tiny niece, who asks him sadly why he never married, why he never had a sweetheart, why he lives alone?
“I had a sweetheart once,” he says, but he explains that one night as bright lights were flashing in a grand ballroom, “my sweetheart said she was thirsty and asked me if I could get her some water; and when I returned, glass in hand ...
“... there before me stood a tall dark man,
“Kissing my sweetheart as lovers can,
“Down fell the glass, water and all.
“Broken, as my heart was — after the ball.”
And on it goes ...
Next week — more of Mom’s wonderful singing.