Location: marengo, il, United States

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A Dan and His Dog

You know how a person can get a song stuck inside their head, and then the tune decides to stay and rattle around over and over until it drives them past the edge? Those ditties visit me as often as hiccups. First they come, and then they finally go away, but all are mercifully soon forgotten by me, and life is just fine again.

Pesky little maddening melodies; we all get them.

And then there are those mystery songs, the secretive ones you dimly recall from way back when, the kinds which taunt and tug at your memory until you wish you could give up and forget -- how exactly did that blasted thing go?

No, you either cannot get the notes to come out right, or the words themselves move about and shift like unfocused shadows. Just try and look away. Act as if you do not care one tiny bit. Hopefully, we think, something will happen in some peripheral manner which could conceivable lead to a surprising capture of this thing. Hot damn! Just wait!

I tell you this: if you can adopt that last part as a true statement, then you are indeed an eternal optimist in my aged eyes.

I have lived along side of a certain nonsensical string of words for a mighty long time. I presently growl out of habit when it arrives, and I bare my fangs every time it approaches me, but it does my situation no good. The thing is as blind to my feelings as a goat. It comes in, cavorts and parades up and down my mind shamelessly, and then, without warning, prances off into the wings and vanishes. Only after the clattering hushes can I relax.

We, through the years, have become accustomed to each other, you might say, but not in any Biblical sense. I know that it knows of me, and I also suspect it thinks I like it coming round here. It is worse than a puppy, in that bothersome way.

Lately, I decided I must have made the whole thing up. Long ago I might have fell and hit my head (that is a possibility). It could have come from an experimental session of self-hypnosis (hmm). Or maybe I was adopted by gypsies and fed something weird for months upon years (I feel like calling a close relative now). But my decision was necessary, I felt, for my sanity wanted a divorce from all of this. No such song could ever possibly exist.

The few words I could recall proved that to me: who in their right mind would wash their face with a frying pan?

Well sir.

I am humbled to report to you that a recent discovery has proven the infernal thing to be not only real like fresh peaches are, but is so much more than I could ever have expected. Days ago I found myself sifting through new information like a loose spy in the Pentagon. My palms got moist and my jaw hung slack. Both eyes bulged in their seats as I read and read and read these exposed documents.

What I found most amazing (after the initial shock subsided) was this: Old Dan Tucker, published in 1843, not only came with many more verses than the one which had dogged me for decades, but it grew over time to become a proper legend of sorts -- it has multiple and different versions which had sprung up all around this great land of ours.

And I am also happy to report I repeated my one particular line incorrectly all these years, and I feel healed for admitting that small error. I will now lay out the entire devilish verse for you to see.

Old Dan Tucker was a mighty man He washed his face in a frying pan Combed his hair with a wagon wheel And died with a toothache in his heel

Now that my little mystery has been solved to my total satisfaction, let me add that there is a supposedly true story behind this song. If one wants to learn more, go here:

Or, kindly ignore that part and continue to read on. I took some time to rewrite history, which you might perhaps enjoy, and I would surely appreciate being recognized for my work. Besides, I think this is the way journalists become famous nowadays.

A Dan and His Dog

A small troupe of itinerant entertainers arrived at the edge of town an hour before sundown. The elder driver, a self-proclaimed thespian and trained theological orator, Zechariahs Whitney, called out to the others as soon as he spotted rooftops rising above the crest of a low hill not too far away. Each of his weary band quickly turned to look ahead, and all felt a burst of excitement from within as a settlement slowly came into view. Even the team of worn horses pulling the laden wagon seemed to act eager to continue.

As they approached the rural community, several local children and a pair of dogs ran out to greet the newcomers. Barks and gleeful shouts plus flashing smiles mixed into the warm, evening air, while a tail of light dust, which had followed the band from the last village, drifted off quietly to lay among the trees.

Amid all the immediate enthusiasm, Zechariahs spotted a clearing ahead. Minutes later, as he unhitched the team, he asked where a stable might be located. One tall and barefoot boy raised an arm and pointed. He and one of the barking dogs then followed along side, and the man led his team to water and feed.

“What’s your name, boy?”

“Daniel, sir. Daniel D. Emmett.”

“Daniel sounds like a good name.”

“Yes, sir, it does. My momma picked it out of her Bible, and he was a famous man. We all go to church on Sundays right over yonder.”

The young man pointed toward an empty building.

“Daniel, my people plan on setting up back there in that cleared spot to put on a show. You and the whole town will be invited to come out and see us after sundown tomorrow.”

Daniel’s face lit up.

“I can play a fiddle, sir.”

Zechariahs looked at the beaming youngster.

“You don’t say. How old are you, son?”

“I turned fifteen last May, but I wrote a fiddle song last year that folks here like.”

Muscles rippled across the flanks of one horse as flies circled to land and bite. Zechariahs kept a strong hand on the reigns as the group approached one of the unpainted structures. A thin man wearing a short leather apron stood just inside a large opening of one that faced the dirt street, watching and waiting.

Two grown men then talked briefly while Daniel threw a stick for his dog to fetch.

Soon, the old entertainer stepped back outside, and while he wiped a kerchief at the nape of his neck, he spoke again to the boy as the mutt returned to lay down at his feet.

“That looks like a smart dog. He got a name too?”

“Yes sir, he does. I call him Tucker.”

“Why don’t you and Tucker show up tomorrow afternoon, young Daniel, and bring that fiddle of yours along. We will see what that song of yours sounds like.”

The boy’s smile widened, and he answered Zechariahs quickly, just before he and his dog Tucker ran home with the good news.

“Yes, sir!”


Blogger Gone Away said...

Your story brings the whole thing to life. It really is excellent. And, as I was reading about the songs that refuse to go away, I remembered that I had one of those too. It was called the Cowboy Carol and I heard it when I was about the same age as young Daniel D. Emmet. I liked it and hoped to hear it again at carol concerts but none obliged. As I grew older and nobody admitted to ever hearing of such a thing, I began to think I had imagined it. Time passed and only on rare occasions would the errant carol visit me in memory.

But your piece reminded me that I meant to have a look on this here hinternetty thing - surely there might be a reference to it somewhere. So I went and looked and, lo and behold, it exists! I even found a snippet that can be played so that we can hear it.

Have a listen at St Brides: Angel Voices. Thanks, Harry.

6:32 PM  
Blogger Harry said...

Thanks, Gone. It was fun doing that. I am happy to read also that you (and possibly others) are so-affected by these nutty things. And I tell you something else -- it is a sheer pleasure to be able (thanks to this hinternetine-device) to torment my youthful children with these found songs. Like they somehow cornered the market on crazy lyrics, I get to snicker.

10:29 AM  
Anonymous Sweetpea said... you remember some of BigMama's songs to our boys ? How ain't gonna ain't gonna snow....the sun's gonna shine and the winds gonna blow. Or mabe six tall slim slick sycamore slickums....or mabe in the the pines....where the sun never shines and you shiver when the cold wind blows...just to name a

8:53 PM  

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