Funny, the things that stick in my head…
Neither of my parents was very musical—in fact, they weren’t musical at all—but mother often warbled a limited repertoire of old tunes to me and some of those ditties have remained in my head for all these years. I wonder why.
Maybe she heard “School Days” when she was a little girl and just wanted to pass it along. It’s a sentimental little song penned by Will Cobb and Gus Edwards in 1907—just two years after mother was born—and evokes that simpler time before school and education got so darned complicated, or to paraphrase Mark Twain, ‘before schooling got in the way of a good education.’ Anyway, it goes like this:
School days, school days,
Dear old golden rule days!
Reading and Riting and ‘Rithmatic
Taught to the tune of a hickory stick.
You were my queen in calico,
I was your barefoot, bashful beau.
You wrote on my slate
“I love you, Joe!”
When we were a couple of kids.
Her second favorite tune was “Around the Corner,” a song-without-end written by Ben Selvin in 1930. Mother only sang the chorus which was just as well because I’ve come to learn that the full version of the song tells the sad story of the ‘fairest maid in old Algiers’ who falls for a handsome, tall French soldier in the Grenadiers (rhymes with ‘Algiers’) who pursues her and woos her only to leave her waiting for him under the tree because (as he reveals in the song’s last line), he is already married and devoted to his wife back in France. Apparently mother decided I didn’t need to hear about jilted love at such a tender age so she only sang her own abbreviated version:
Around the corner and under a tree,
A sergeant major once said to me,
“I wonder who
Will marry you
Because every time I look at your face, it makes me want to go
Around the corner….”
And the song would repeat endlessly until one of us fell asleep. Needless to say, it never occurred to me that it was my face she was looking at when she was singing to me; that thought bloomed much later in life. (Don’t worry; I forgave her long ago.) However, I did learn one interesting fact about this song: the good people who work with dementia patients report that for many of those in their care, it’s this song that they often sing or hum over and over. Make of that what you will.
Finally, there was the tune that my little musical night lamp would play as I fell asleep. Rosemary Clooney (remember her in “White Christmas” opposite Bing Crosby?) made it famous when she recorded it in 1937. It’s called “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic.” The melody was composed by John Walter Bratton in 1907 (apparently a very good year for songs!); the lyrics—by Irish songwriter Jimmy Kennedy—were added in 1932. It turns out there was some controversy about Bratton’s two-step melody because it echos the refrain of the popular “Death or Glory March” that was written by Robert Browne Hall in 1895. No copyright infringement charges were ever filed so the Bratton/Kennedy teddy bears march on to glory (never death!) in my dreams just as Mr. Bratton composed it:
If you go down to the woods today
You’re sure of a big surprise.
If you go down in the woods today
You better go in disguise.
For every bear there ever was
Will gather there for certain because
Today’s the day the teddy bears have their picnic!
Like I said, it’s funny the things that stick in my head. I was going to tell you about another song I just remembered—“On The Sidewalks of New York”—but for some reason, ever since I started thinking about those teddy bears and their picnic, I’m feeling drowsy. Don’t worry…
I’ll be right back.
(PS: If you’re interested, you can still listen to all these little ditties on You Tube!)
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” was released in June 2018. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com