March 8, 2016

From “The Reading Mother” by Strickland Gillilan

You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be–
I had a Mother who read to me.

This poem is in the public domain.

“Strickland Gillilan (1869-1954) was an American humorist, lecturer, and poet. Born in Ohio, Strickland started out as a journalist and worked for several different newspapers, including the Washington Post. While on staff at the Richmond Daily Palladium, he wrote a humorous poem about an Irish railroader that ended up in Life Magazine and led to swift national acclaim. Credited with writing the world’s shortest poem–“Lines on the Antiquity of Microbes”(subtitled “Fleas”): “Adam/Had ‘em.”–as well as one of the world’s most anthologized poems (this one), Strickland produced a huge body of work during his lifetime. He traveled the country for years, entertaining enthralled audiences with his witty novels, satirical essays, rollicking songs, and heartwarming poetry.”

I have heard this stanza from many pulpits, lecterns, and read it in many parenting books and poetry anthologies.  It always mad me feel a little bit sad, because I don’t EVER remember my mother reading aloud to me or anyone else for any reason. She communicated, as I have written before, through music.

I was thinking today that I could, however, change a few words and write:

You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be–
I had a Father who sang to me.

My dad loved to put our names in songs, make up words to songs, and entertain us in the car with songs. He was a coal-mining Welshman’s son with music in his soul. He sang while he worked (when he wasn’t reciting poetry or practicing a speech).

I can hear him walking through the house singing the bass part of Beethoven’s “Hallelujah,” or just a simple hymn. He sang the old hymns from Kentucky, “The Little Brown Church in the Wildwood,” and “In the Garden,” or “The Old Rugged Cross.” He sang show tunes, but made up words when he forgot.  He sang children’s songs about little purple pansies and the “birdily-ird who satily-at on a windily-ind-ow sillily-ill.” He sang songs in German, especially Brahms’ “Lullaby” and “Stille Nacht.”

His voice was untrained, but true and naturally beautiful.

My father loved language and through song and poetry encouraged our love of language.  I remember he once challenged me to learn big words such as “pusilanimous.”  Having the right word at the right time was important to him. He was often known to ask, “What’s the good word, my friend?” rather than asking “How are you?” I miss that.

The words I loved most to hear, “I love you Marelee (his diminutive Marilyn), dear.”

I am rich. My father sang to me.

 

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2 comments on “March 8, 2016

  1. Michelle Li says:

    I love this line: “His voice was untrained, but true and naturally beautiful.” What a wonderful slice to celebrate your father’s love for you.

  2. As I read the part of him singing Brahms Lullaby in German, I vividly could see you getting my class to sing that song in German. Now I know who taught you so you could teach us!!! Stories you write about.your dad are.my.favorite!!

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