Wednesday, November 04, 2009


Life can turn an interesting corner when you least expect it. This morning I was getting dressed as usual when, for some reason only the deep mind could relate, from out of nowhere I began singing the old song "School Days," then at some point realized what I was singing - it was so chronically (to say nothing of locationally) out of place - and recalled during WWII, while my father was in the army in Europe, when my mother and I in our little apartment (me on the couch) sang ourselves to sleep at night by singing "School Days" together, and in those days (I was about 3 or 4) I just mimed the words. That was the only time I ever heard it, and where I learned it.

But here and now, after all these years, I paid attention, and looked the song up on Wikipedia (pretty sure it wouldn't have been in the old dead-tree Britannica) found out it had been written in 1907, before my mother was was born.

So although the song was known to her it must have been a hit in my great-grandmother's elderhood, because it was about an elderly couple recalling their school days, which must have been before the Civil War! (My G-G was born in 1852, so in 1907 she would have been about my age now). Things sure were different then:

School days, school days
Dear old Golden Rule days
'Reading and 'riting and 'rithmetic
[Only three subjects!]
Taught to the tune of the hick'ry stick
[Liberal corporal punishment!
With a stick fashioned by the teacher!
Hickory! Heavy! Long-lasting!]
You were my queen in calico
[Calico was the standard for females!]
I was your bashful, barefoot beau
[No shoes was the standard for males!]
You wrote on my slate,
[No pencil or paper!]
"I Love You Joe"
[I always thought it was 'so']
When we were a couple o' kids.
[Back before the Civil War!]

So this elderly couple in 1907 are looking way back to their pre-Civil War childhood, when a bit of grade schooling was about it for most kids. And here I was now, at that elder age, in a room on a mountainside in Japan singing a song recollecting a time when Lincoln was just a lawyer and there were slaves, a song that my great-grandmother loved and probably taught to my mother as a child, who taught it to me as a child while we sang ourselves to sleep during another war...

And then, from about the same promontory of age as my great-grandmother when the song came out, from here on the other side of the world I hark back and segue effortlessly into the version of my own adolescence, School Days by Chuck Berry: "U-up in the mornin' and off to school..." No song to sing yourself to sleep with, but then we had transistor radios. Shoes and notebooks too, but love was still the same.


Maggie said...

No transistors here, but my mother sang that song. :)

R. Brady said...

That is some powerful nostalgia, I tell you, way back there in the riches of childhood...