When I was a little girl, my Pop used to sing to us. He didn't have much of a voice, but I loved sitting in his lap and listening to him croon.
I really didn't comprehend the content of the lullabies he sang to me until I was a teenager, and it dawned on my that his repertoire included some of the most sad, depressing songs ever written. Then, when I took Folk Ballads 101 in college, I realized that most of these self-same songs were old folk and country and blues songs.
For example, Pop was very fond of The Saint James Infirmary. I remember him singing:
Sixteen coal-black horses
Hooked to a rubber-tired hack
Takin' seven women to the graveyard
But only six of 'em comin' back.
I didn't know what a "rubber-tired hack" was, but I knew I didn't want to be a passenger in one.
And then there was this one:
Kiss me mother, kiss your darlin'
See the pain upon my brow
While I'll soon be with the angels
Fate has doomed my future now.
That one -- called I Am Weary, Let Me Rest -- was recorded by The Cox Family for the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? When it came on in the movie, I was instantly transported back to my childhood. For me, even though it was about death and dying, I found that song oddly comforting.
His favorite, though, and one my sisters and brother and I can immediately sing without a moment's hesitation, is called (oddly enough) The Prisoner's Song:
Oh, if I had the wings of an angel
Over these prison walls I would fly
Straight in to the arms of my darlin'
And there, I would peacefully die.
Even though Pop's lullabies were heavy on prison and death, he did have a few rather racy tunes up his sleeve. I always thought this one was titled I Was Born in Sweet Killarney, but it's evidently actually titled I Wish They'd Do It Now. I've found several different versions from several Scottish and Irish traditions, but I remember it thusly:
I was born in sweet Killarney
One day when I was young
And that's the very reason why
The blarney's on me tongue...
When summertime would come around
And swimmin' would begin
The girls would take their clotheses off
And splashin' we'd go in
They'd swim with me upon their backs
Splatter water on me brow
They'd wash me nice all over
Oh, I wish they'd do it now!
Somehow I always knew this song was a little bit naughty, especially the last verse:
Oh, they'd rock me in a cradle,
And when I'd kick up a row,
They'd take me in to bed with them,
Oh I wish they'd do it now!
That was my Pop. I miss him, and every one of those old prison songs.