Alabama Song

Her voice is the Great American South. It’s tiny meeting houses, hardware stores with live-bait wells, fiddles playing on porches, and raw tomatoes with salt.

She’s almost ninety-six. And when she talks, it sounds like lightning bugs, swarming over a mossy pond.

She admits, most days she doesn’t do much talking. She sits beside her window, reading, or sleeping. But she has good eyes, she has her mind, and she still has a voice.

“Started making up songs when I’s a girl,” she says. “They helped me through some very hard times.”

The hardest of times, you might say. She asks me not to dwell on this part of her story—so I won’t. But when she was ten, her father killed her mother, then himself.

Her brother and sister raised her. Her childhood was spent in a plain, plank house beside a creek. She led a lonely life—kids her age rejected her.

Her first made-up song was meant to help her sleep.

“Got so dark in my bedroom,” she says. “Thought I’s seeing ghosts and spirits, it was terrible.”

She sings:

“Don’t wanna be afraid,
So I won’t be, I won’t be,
Not gonna be afraid, no, no,
Nobody here but me…”

Her voice is cracked and old. Sweet, but sad.

I wish she’d hold me.

After the War, she fell in love. They settled and had two kids. She helped him forget a battlefield. He helped her forget childhood trauma. He played guitar. She sang.

She made many songs with him. Like the one for her son, when he fell from a tree.

“Oh, John, don’t you frown,
It ain’t right to get so down,
Dosey-doh, and don’t you know,
There’s always someone sadder…”

Her voice is the Great American South. It’s tiny meeting houses, hardware stores with live-bait wells, fiddles playing on porches, and raw tomatoes with salt.

When she was in her thirties, her pastor asked if she’d lead the Sunday singing. She did.

She played piano for nearly twenty-five years. And on rare occasions, she would sing her own songs before the church.

“I’d never tell nobody they’s my songs,” she says. “I sung them to people who needed cheering up.”

Last Christmas, her son bought her an iPad. He taught her how to record her voice. She’s already recorded homemade melodies for her family. Many of which date back to the nineteen-twenties.

“Wish I could remember EVERY song I made up,” she says. “But I only remember ones that helped me most.”

Sometimes, she still leads singing for her assisted-living home. Wheelchairs gather in a main room. She conducts. Nurse Amelia plays the piano.

The old people sing—but each sings a different song. Twenty white-hairs, blurting whichever lyrics come to mind.

Later that day, she remembers a tune she wrote last February. It was a song that came to her when she was ill, and thought she was on her way out.

“Time here is over and done,
Over and done, over and done,

“But the secret, child, to living,
Is don’t stop giving, don’t stop giving,
Don’t stop giving,

“Don’t ever stop giving.
And don’t stop having fun.”

She adds, “Maybe you know someone who needs that song. If you do, you can give it to them.”

Yes, ma’am.

I’ll do that.

28 comments

  1. Cathi Russell - September 1, 2017 10:16 am

    So precious are these jewels of the South and their melodious voices. Thank you for reminding us about them. Long may they reign!

    Reply
  2. Trudy :) - September 1, 2017 10:19 am

    Treasures are all over. You find them so easily and share them with us. Thank you, Sean.
    If the young will listen, the old will talk…….and usually teach something valuable.

    Reply
  3. Beth Ann Chiles - September 1, 2017 10:56 am

    Wonderful. I can almost hear her singing to me through your words.

    Reply
  4. LeAnne Martin - September 1, 2017 11:51 am

    Wish I could hear her sing it, but this is the next best thing. Thank you, Sean, for sharing your gift. I look forward to your email every morning.

    Reply
  5. Pamela McEachern - September 1, 2017 11:59 am

    Songs to live by…bless her sweet melodies of comfort and peace.
    Bless You Sean, sweet man of words.

    Reply
  6. Jill - September 1, 2017 12:08 pm

    Think I will sing this all day and have me a tomatoe with some salt. Love tomatoes usually having no salt feeling like I commit a crime against nature each time I don’t add it. Just not the same without it. But today, I will add a little salt and think of her, my Granny, my Great Aunts….all those magnificent women of the old South.

    “Time here is over and done,
    Over and done, over and done,
    “But the secret, child, to living,
    Is don’t stop giving, don’t stop giving,
    Don’t stop giving,
    “Don’t ever stop giving.
    And don’t stop having fun.”

    Reply
  7. Marty from Alabama - September 1, 2017 12:31 pm

    Did you notice that she wasn’t blaming anybody for the way her ice was? Sure different from most folks these days.
    Thank you, Sean, for showing us what life in the South is really like. We are good people.
    Write on, my friend.

    Reply
  8. Marty from Alabama - September 1, 2017 12:34 pm

    Excuse me. It was supposed to say “life” not “ice.” Auto correct!

    Reply
  9. Mike - September 1, 2017 12:42 pm

    Sean, I came across your blog a week ago. I was diagnosed with ALS three days ago. I can’t begin to tell you how comforting this is. Thank you for your words.

    Reply
    • Dianne - September 2, 2017 2:18 pm

      Mike, please watch the documentary “Under Our Skin”, it might be of some help to you. Praying for you..

      Reply
    • Barbara - October 16, 2017 1:26 pm

      Mike I’m so sorry about your diagnosis with ALS. You will be on my prayer list. God Bless you.

      Reply
  10. Candace Cartee Bradford - September 1, 2017 1:02 pm

    What a beautiful spirit, thank you for sharing with us!

    Reply
  11. Pat - September 1, 2017 1:16 pm

    Thank you Sean for giving me that song. I needed it. God bless you.

    Reply
  12. Melodie - September 1, 2017 2:14 pm

    I went from smiling right off the ‘git-go’, reading, ‘she’s almost 96, to crying, to laughing, to wiping a tear, to smiling, again. WHEW! What a roller coaster ride this story is! That’s how life is, a roller coaster ride. In fact, I, too, wrote a song, containing lyrics of that nature. People seemed to like the song when I performed it.

    Thank you Sean for my daily fix of reality, and GOD Bless this precious, wise, woman. She certainly has had her fill through the years. More people should take time to listen to these experienced folks’ life stories. They might just learn something. ♥

    Reply
  13. Gwen McGill - September 1, 2017 2:17 pm

    Reminds me of when momma was in a nursing home and she said they had church service in the dining room. I wheeled her in the dining room and someone had put a boom box by the wall and it was playing old hymns. Some of the residents were listening, some were slumped over and seemed to not know where they were but mama was at church. It made me sad but then made me happy if she enjoyed it. She would go to a table by the window and sit and pray out loud for her kids, grandkids and nurses and anyone walking by. This post made me full on cry sitting at my desk in a real estate office. It has been 1 1/2 years since momma died. When will I ever stop crying over missing her?

    Reply
    • Melodie - September 1, 2017 2:31 pm

      AWwwww….Good Morning, Gwen.

      If you’re like me, you will never stop missing your mama, or crying for her. Your story sounds a bit like mine, only mine was 9 yrs. ago. It’ ok to cry. The memories will flood your mind

      I remember a time when my mama was in the nursing home. We, too, stopped to attend ‘church.’ They had a piano player, and a singer. When we stopped, they were singing, ‘The Old Rugged Cross.’ Mama in her wheelchair, me kneeling beside her, singing to her. She loved when I sang. I used to do it for a living. When I finally had enough, and got off the road, my mama once said, “I bet you’ll never sing for your supper, again!” She was my biggest fan. Anyway, as Sean mentioned about some of the other residents, the same type of thing was taking place there. Some nodding off, some singing. After the song was over, a bent over, white-haired, elderly man, spoke up and asked, “Can you sing the Old Rugged Cross?” Of course that brought some laughter, and definitely lightened my heart after singing that song to my mom, because I was crying.

      So, Gwen, I hope this helps bring a smile to you. The rest of your day will be Blessed. It’s ok. You’re mama will always be with you, especially in your heart and mind.

      I’m sorry this is so long, but your comment touched my heart.

      Melodie ♫

      Reply
      • Trudy :) - September 1, 2017 7:07 pm

        Your music was a blessing to so many, Melodie. I just wish I’d known you then. You continue to give blessings, whether you realize it…..to me for sure.
        ♫♫♫

        Reply
        • Melodie - September 1, 2017 11:54 pm

          Thank you, Trudy! You’re a Blessing to me, as well. See, I guess we all have more Blessings than we realize. ♥

          Reply
  14. Jack Quanstrum - September 1, 2017 2:26 pm

    Thank you for sharing that tender story about her precious life. She is very graceful and delightful . Keep those stories coming. Shalom!

    Reply
  15. Summer - September 1, 2017 4:23 pm

    Oh, my goodness, I saw my precious Grandma Duke in this dear lady. When she was a little girl Grandma’s older sister used to call her “Katie Irene with the sky blue eyes,” and she hated it. I read that in one of her journals. Grandma had a hard childhood herself and her writing was an escape from it. She wrote poems and songs on scraps of paper she (thankfully) hid and kept in shoe boxes. Decades later when some of us discovered her secret we started giving her blank journals for Mother’s Day, birthdays and Christmas. After she passed a few years ago (at age 96) I received two of the journals I’d given her, full to overflowing with Grandma’s musings, drawings, poems and more. I keep them on my coffee table. My favorite, though, is in a fancy silver frame by my bed – a ditty she scribbled on a cocktail napkin at my wedding reception in 1981. She wrote “Weddings make the grandest place for folk to go and learn – He thought that she was his’n but he found that he was her’n.” Thank you, Sean, for stirring such sweet memories this morning. God bless.

    Reply
    • Wendy - September 1, 2017 5:13 pm

      Love the last quote!

      Reply
  16. Laura Young - September 1, 2017 4:49 pm

    Still giving her heart at age 96…what a special lady!!

    Reply
  17. Paula Link - September 1, 2017 5:54 pm

    When you shared this today you did indeed give it to someone who needed it. I needed it desperately. Thank you.

    Reply
  18. Julie - September 1, 2017 6:38 pm

    Your writing is great…takes me back to when I was a little girl gtowing up by 7 Springs, an icy cold spring even on the hottest day of summer that came out of a huge & very tall bank. It was once an American Indian camping spot.

    Reply
  19. Lynda Gayle Knight - September 1, 2017 11:49 pm

    You scored again👏👏❣️

    Reply
  20. Marian D Alday - September 2, 2017 3:53 am

    You don’t know me and I have never seen you but I want you to know that you are very special to me and many others. Please keep on encouraging all of us with your beautiful stories. I feel as if I know these people. I will be 80 years old in Oct. And know what many are talking about.we love you and your stories. God bless.

    Reply
  21. Diann - September 2, 2017 3:59 pm

    This is probably one of my favorite posts. I love the wisdom of the aged! “The secret of living is don’t stop giving”.

    Reply
  22. Esther Scott - October 22, 2017 6:45 pm

    Wish I could meet that lady

    Reply

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