Songs We Grew Up With
Sundays have always been times when I counted on seeing people I might not see during the week, so after several weeks of waving to masked people and hoping I had recognized them, I started reserving Sunday afternoon and evening for calling friends or writing letters. This week there were three people I reached who had upbeat voices, but the others had a strong undertone of depression. Some mentioned the depression as a combination of heat, trouble sleeping, worry over the pandemic circumstances, politicians shouting less than kind remarks in every direction and the uncertainty of “ever getting back to normal” which has been hard on us all.
As a result, the search for something from happier times for this week’s column led me to thinking about happy songs we used to sing. What follows began with my early childhood, and maybe your childhood, so even if you cannot sing them in a public setting you can sing in the shower or while babysitting children or grandchildren. Don’t be surprised if they know some of words and can sing along with you. It is also possible the songs they know could be shared as well.
One of the first movies my brother and I saw was Snow White, and I still remember the dwarfs marching off to work singing “Whistle While You Work”. Later I would work with people who whistled tunes of the day while concentrating on a wide range of occupations with their minds and hands.
Pre-school music and story time at our house included all the Mother Goose favorites sometimes read and sometimes sung from “Pony Boy,” while riding a chair arm to “Peter Piper,” “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” “Pop! Goes the Weasel,” or “Sing a Song of Sixpence.” We played and sang games of “Ring Around the Rosy,” “London Bridge,” “Rock-a-by-Baby,” and other tunes later adapted to novel titles by James Patterson and Mary Higgins Clark. The radio taught us “Three little fishies and a momma fishie, too,” plus that old standby “Yankee Doodle.” A Saturday program hosted by Art Tweet always began with “Let’s all sing like the birdies sing: tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet” and often included his possible favorite “Two Little Girls in Blue.”
The only song I remember learning in first grade during school was “Alouetta” in French, but we may also have sung an international favorite sometimes known as “Kenne Panche,” “Frere Jacque,” or in English “Are you sleeping, brother John?” Pop singers taught us “You are my Sunshine,” “Mairzy Doats and Does eat Doats,” “Pistol Packin’ Mama,” and we lustily sang the “Too Fat Polka,” even though obesity was not usually a big problem in post-depression or wartime families.
World War II brought us the Andrews Sisters with “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree, with anyone else but me,” or the popular “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B.” We proudly sang “To Arms America, To Arms,” joined Kate Smith in singing “God Bless America,” or the military branches in their theme songs: “From the Halls of Montezma,” to “Anchors Away,” “You’re in the Army Mr. Jones....” and the painfully true “Comin’ in on a Wing and a Prayer.”
Glenn Miller’s Band even had children singing “Little Brown Jug” or what was once termed the most popular phone number in the world “Pennsylvania 6-5000” while dancers loved “String of Pearls,” “Moonlight Seranade,” and other classics.
Movies taught us “The Bells of St. Mary’s,” “When You Wish Upon a Star,” “Would You Rather be a Fish?” ”On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe,” “The Trolley Song,” and “Over the Rainbow.”
Living in North Dakota, we sang “Home on the Range” (President Roosevelt’s favorite) and “Red River Valley.” Picking potatoes we learned other lyrics: “We sing of our valley potatoes so round and so firm and so red” sung to that same tune.
At Bible School we enjoyed “Jesus Loves Me,” “If You’re Happy and you know it Clap Your Hands,” “Deep and Wide,” “Climb, Climb Up Sunshine Mountain,” and “I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy down in my heart to stay....”
Visits to the nickelodeon at the Green Mill taught us all the lyrics to “Good Night Irene,” “Chickery Chick, Cha-la, Cha-la,” “Beautiful Brown Eyes,” “On Top of Old Smokey,” “A Lovely Bunch of Coconuts,” “How Much is that Doggy in the Window?” “Running Bear and Little White Dove,” and an all-time favorite “That Lucky Old Sun.”
The radio gave us the “Chiquita Banana” commercial and favorites such as “Buttons and Bows,” “Don’t Fence Me In,” and almost anything sung by Rosemary Clooney or Nat King Cole. It seemed they could write a song about anything. Remember “Shoofly Pie and Apple Pandowdy,” a love song about a “Bushel and a Peck,” “The Little White Cloud That Cried,” “Oh, my Papa, to me you were so wonderful,” “Open the door, Richard” “The Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” and “Mac the Knife.”
Irish songs brought us “How are things in Glocamorra,” “Galway Bay,” “Too-ra-loo-ra loo-ra,” and “Shanty in Old Shantytown.” You would be surprised how many nursing home residents still know all the words to these and other songs of the past.
My list was compiled in a few minutes, and readers might, just for fun, think of many more songs we have known and loved. If this journey down a long ago musical path brings you smiles or lightens current cloudy days, it was worth writing and sharing with you.