Column: Some avoid these historic songs, but they are educational

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 8, 2002

There was a time when those who lived in the Appalachian Mountains referred to the old songs, the original folk songs, as Devil’s Ditties. Perhaps they still do. At any rate the &uot;born again&uot; did not sing them nor permit their families to.

Half of my family came from that part of the country and while we are not a particularly musical clan, the old songs were a part of my heritage.

In company with thousands of other children, I knew all about the wedding of Froggie and Miss Mouse before I was able to walk.

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The songs were not peculiar to the southern states. Many of them came over on the Mayflower, including Barbry Ellen (Allen). It’s a song that has thousands of versions and time was when I knew at least four of them.

Many of these songs were old when Shakespeare was born. They came to us from England, Scotland, Ireland and countless other nations.

The tragic song of the Four Marys was actually based on a story from Russia. You remember it.

&uot;Stand up, stand up, Mary Hamilton/ Stand up and tell to me/What you have done with your sweet son/ For I heard him grieve sore by thee.&uot;

It’s a lovely song, but basically political, meant to discredit the Stewarts.

Around 1832 Alexander Campbell, son of a Presbyterian minister, and one of the founders of the Disciples of Christ or Church of Christ, now usually known as the Christian Church, organized a church in Kentucky.

My mother’s maternal grandfather, Robert Deakin, was young then. He and his teen-age wife both came from well-to-do, slave-owning families. Their parents or grandparents had come from Virginia to Kentucky with Daniel Boone.

He and his friends thought the Campbellites, as they were sometimes called, were ever so funny and they rode their horses off to an outdoor meeting the members of that persuasion were holding solely to make fun and trouble. Almost at that time great-grandfather, although a young man, suffered a paralytic stroke.

Deciding that like Saul he had been touched by a divine call because he had been persecuting the people of God, he vowed that if he were able to walk again he would become a minister in that faith.

His recovery was immediate. He lived well into his 90s and served as a minister in the Christian Church. Served as a minister indeed until the church members decided to buy a church organ. Great-grandfather agreed with that portion of the church that held an organ to be an instrument of the devil. He continued to be a faithful and generous member of his church, but resigned as minister since his congregation no longer followed his advice.

Meantime one of his teen-age sons was climbing out of his bedroom window at night, fiddle under his arm, to play at dancing parties. Strict in his religion, my great-grandfather was an indulgent parent. He looked the other way. He also permitted his four daughters to attend &uot;round dances,&uot; providing they were escorted to such only by young men to whom they were engaged.

That presented certain difficulties. The daughters, including my grandmother, were none of them in any hurry to get married.

They did like to dance, however, and despite their many shortcomings, in view of their era, were well provided with partners. They each solved the difficulty by putting it up to a favorite suitor that while they each had no intention of marrying him, they were willing to be engaged at least during the dancing season.

All of them sang Devil’s Ditties, too, for which I’m truly grateful. I learned as much about my country from the songs as ever I did from a history book.

Love Cruikshank is an Albert Lea resident. Her column appears Thursdays.