Thursday, August 28, 2014

Lullabies and Memories


I have very clear memories of laying in the big bed with my mother - I must have been three, four, maybe five years old – and taking naps together. I really have no idea if she actually slept. I don't think it was something that happened every day. Surely at that age I didn't nap every day. But then, as now, I took a long time to fall asleep. My mother, ever patient and undaunted, would sing to me, song after song after song.

What she didn't know was that the songs she sang sprang to life in my imagination (likely keeping me awake even longer, uh-oh). There are a few songs I remember so clearly it's like closing my eyes and watching a movie play out as the song unfolds.

She would sing Mama, Buy Me a China Doll.  The song uses the term, “Papa's bed,” and for some reason in my little preschool aged mind, only Spanish children called their fathers Papa, and so in my imagination, the song was set on a dusty ranch somewhere down in Mexico (or at least Texas). I could see the little girl, long black braid flying behind her, running to her Mama (surely a Spanish beauty in peasant blouse and long full skirt) and begging for that doll. I could see her Papa out working hard with the animals while she talked to her mother. I could see the horses' stalls, with their fresh warm hay, and the little winding river that must have run by their ranch (to tie the cows near, of course). I could see her gathering her brothers and sisters and swinging back and forth on the gate leading to a little garden sprouting tomatoes and peppers. And I could see her mother smile at the end, to think that the little girl had it all figured out in her head, and agree to buy her that china doll. But surely Papa didn't really have to give up his bed for it, right?


Mama, Buy Me a China Doll

Mama, buy me a china doll

Mama, buy me a china doll
Mama, buy me a china doll
Do, Mama, do

What shall I buy it with?

What shall I buy it with?
What shall I buy it with?
Do, Mama, do

Buy it with Papa's bed

Buy it with Papa's bed
Buy it with Papa's bed
Do, Mama, do

Where will your Papa sleep?
Where will your Papa sleep?
Where will your Papa sleep?
Do, Mama, do


Sleep in the horses' stall

Sleep in the horses' stall
Sleep in the horses' stall
Do, Mama, do

Where will the horses sleep?

Where will the horses sleep?
Where will the horses sleep?
Do, Mama, do


Sleep in the cows' barn

Sleep in the cows' barn
Sleep in the cows' barn
Do, Mama, do

Where will the cows sleep?
Where will the cows sleep?

Where will the cows sleep?
Do, Mama, do


Tie 'em down by the riverside

Tie 'em down by the riverside
Tie 'em down by the riverside
Do, Mama, do

What will I tie them with?
What will I tie them with?
What will I tie them with?
Do, Mama, do

Tie them with the children's swing

Tie them with the children's swing
Tie them with the children's swing
Do, Mama, do

Where will the children swing?
Where will the children swing?

Where will the children swing?
Do, Mama, do

Swing on the garden gate

Swing on the garden gate
Swing on the garden gate
Do, Mama, do

Yes, I'll buy you a china doll

Yes, I'll buy you a china doll
Yes, I'll buy you a china doll
Do, Mama, do


When my first daughter was a baby, my grandmother would rock her and sing to her for what seemed like hours at a time, songs I'd never heard or had long forgotten, but one stuck in my head, and even as a mother myself, I found my imagination picturing the storyline of the song. She would sing Sail, Baby, Sail, and I could see the midnight blue sky, the child in the boat made of a crescent moon, sailing through a star-dotted sky. The serenity of the scene is definitely sleep inducing!


Sail, Baby, Sail

Baby's boat's a silver moon

Sailing in the sky
Sailing o'er a sea of sleep
While the clouds go by

Sail, baby, sail

Out upon that sea
Only don't forget to sail
Back again to me

Baby's fishing for a dream

Fishing near and far
Her lie a golden moonbeam is
Her bait a silver star

Sail, baby, sail

Out upon that sea
Only don't forget to sail
Back again to me

Only don't forget to sail

Back again to me.


But the clearest memory I have, laying there in the bed with my mother, is the song Over in the Meadow. I don't know how I knew what a meadow was at that age, whether it was simply taken from the bits of the song, or if I had asked at some point and been told, or if by chance I had seen one and someone had named it for me. But the image that still stands so clear in my mind's eye, is most definitely a meadow. It stretched far under warm but cloud-filled skies. A gentle wind was always blowing, and the quiet hum of insects and song of birds filled the air. I can picture it now, starting at the little sandy stream bed where the toad croaked, the stream gurgling along where the little fishes swam and pooling up where the frogs hopped. Up in a big shady tree sat the nest with the bluebirds that sang, and off near the edge of the meadow was the remains of an old cabin where the lizards sunned themselves on the cellar door and the spiders spun their webs on a scrolly iron gate that had come loose on one hinge. The tall waving grasses of the meadow that hid the family of crickets where dotted with wildflowers. In the forest that bordered the meadow stood the tree where the beehive hung, and the Mama crow and sly Mama fox hid their babies away in those darkened trees as well. It was a place of serene calm and utter beauty, and I drifted to sleep many a time listening to that song and picturing that place.


Over in the Meadow

Over in the meadow in the sand in the sun,

Lived an old mother toad and her little toady one.
“Croak,” said the mother. “I croak,” said the one.
So he croaked and he croaked in the sand in the sun.

Over in the meadow where the stream runs blue,

Lived an old mother fish and her little fishes two.
“Swim,” said the mother. “We swim,” said the two.
So they swam and they swam where the stream runs blue.

Over in the meadow in a nest in a tree,
Lived an old mother bluebird and her little bluebirds three.

“Sing,” said the mother. “We sing,” said the three.
So they sang pretty songs in their nest in the tree.

Over in the meadow by an old cellar door,

Lived an old mother lizard and her little lizards four.
“Bask,” said the mother. “We bask,” said the four.
So they basked in the sun by the old cellar door.

Over in the meadow in a snug bee hive,

Lived an old mother bee and her little honeys five.
“Buzz,” said the mother. “We buzz,” said the five.
So they buzzed and they buzzed in their snug bee hive.

Over in the meadow in a house built of sticks,

Lived an old mother crow and her little blackbirds six.
“Caw,” said the mother. “We caw,” said the six.
So they cawed and they cawed in their house built of sticks.

Over in the meadow where the grass is so even,
Lived an old mother cricket and her little crickets seven.

“Chirp,” said the mother. “We chirp,” said the seven.
So they chirped and they chirped where the grass is so even.

Over in the meadow on an old garden gate,

Lived an old mother spider and her little spiders eight.
“Spin,” said the mother. “We spin,” said the eight.
So they spun silken webs on the old garden gate.

Over in the meadow where the clear pool shines,
Lived an old mother frog and her little froggies nine.

“Hop,” said the mother. “We hop,” said the nine.
So they hopped and they hopped where the clear pool shines.

Over in the meadow in a sly little den,
Lived an old mother fox and her little foxes ten.

“Bark,” said the mother. “We bark,” said the ten.
So they barked and they barked in their sly little den.


I sing these same songs (and many more) to my own little ones and as I sing, I am once again transported back to these magical fantasy lands of my childhood. I wonder what sort of images may be conjured in the minds of my little ones. Are they like mine in any way? Do the spiders on that gate look an awful lot like Charlotte hanging in the doorway of the Zuckerman's barn?

Andrew is almost three and he requests every night that I sing I Don't Want to Live on the Moon (of Sesame Street fame, though he's never seen that show and I sing it much more slowly to help him to sleep). He interrupts me often to talk about the moon and the stars that he wants to see, so I think that in his mind he must be imagining himself in a rocketship, floating through the dark mysterious wonder that is space.

Songs can be powerful. Lullabies are the perhaps the best kind of songs. Even the word “lullaby” conjures an image in my mind of dark skies, silver stars, a forest moved by a gentle wind, and a sound akin to gentle wind chimes.

Never begrudge the time you spend singing your littles to sleep. You can never know the impact your words and melody may be having in their growing minds.

And thanks, Mom....for singing to me.

1 comment:

  1. Loved singing those songs to my kids. My mama sang them to me. Memories continuing down the line.

    ReplyDelete

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