♬“Preacher went out a-huntin’, ‘Twas on a Sunday morn, “Against his religion, but he took his gun along, “He shot himself some mighty fine quail, and one ole measly hare, “When all at once, he saw…a greeeaat biiiigg Griizzuly Bear.” ♬♬ (falsetto) “Oh Lord, good Lord, you deelivered Daniel from the Lion’s Den, “Also Joooonah from the belly of the whale and then, “The Hebrew chillen’ from the fiery furnace, The Good Book do declare, “But Oh Lord, Good Lord, if you don’t help me, “For goodness sake, DON’T HELP THAT BEAR!” (Full voice) ♬
Do you remember that old song? I can still hear my Dad, Claude Ellis “Doc” Milton, singing in his big, oak, rocking chair with a small child on each knee, the rest of us on the floor beside him. Years later I realized he had an Irish tenor voice, untrained, but clear and ringing. He loved singing that old song. With a twinkle in his eye he told stories too, with lots of drama, a bedtime ritual. He sang around the house—Gospel hymns, Irish songs like, I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen and Come Back to Erin. They were wonderful, but what I remember most was the poetry, out loud.
I’m excited to know that reciting poetry is once again gaining popularity. Check out the competition for high school students at http://www.poetryoutloud.org. We were lucky to hear poetry from Dad as we grew up. Born in September of 1899, he was schooled in a one–room Kentucky schoolhouse. This was before TV and movies when entertainment was whatever anyone had to offer—recitations, speeches, songs, and lots of homegrown music with fiddles, banjo, guitar, pump organ, whatever was at hand. In that one–room school Dad learned to recite poetry, and he was a natural. He didn’t just recite. He caught the rhythm of the lyric lines, had an instinct for expression, and delivered the piece.
All seven of us children were treated to passing snatches of “Abou ben Adam, may his tribe increase…awoke one night from a deep dream of peace, and saw within the moonlight of his room, Making it rich and like a lily in bloom, an Angel, writing in a Book of Gold….” or John Burroughs’ Waiting, “Serene I fold my hands and wait, Nor care for wind nor tide nor sea, I rave no more ‘gainst time or fate, For what is mine shall come to me…”
We had our share of silliness: The Owl and the Pussycat, The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat. We had our share of sadness too with Little Boy Blue, which Dad usually sang. We stood at the window with Bess, the Landlord’s daughter, and waited for The Highwayman…to come riding, riding, up to the old inn-door. And once in a while we trekked in imagination Out to Old Aunt Mary’s….