Even though I was born in the late forties, I consider myself a girl of the sixties. I am a lover of Rock ‘n Roll, the music with a beat that defined my generation and generations after.
Just recently, however, I was down with an illness that left me wanting to do nothing but lay around. I was sitting in my recliner, a good tool for lying around, when PBS was running one of their pledge drives, Country Pop Legends. Normally I would pass on this program but I didn’t have the energy to reach for the remote and change the channel.
As I lay there listening to the music, it took me back to my early childhood. From my first memories there was country and swing music of the thirties and forties in our home. One of my earliest memories was of my mom cleaning for Christmas. There was always a cleaning frenzy in our house before Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. She had furniture pulled out of the bedroom of our little four-room home. She was cleaning the floor. We were listening to Frosty the Snowman by Gene Autry on the radio when my brother Bill fell off the couch onto the floor and cut his head. there was a lot of crying and a lot of blood. He was two and I was four. That song is etched in my memory forever.
My mom was a stay-at-home mom. She ironed for other people to bring in extra money for the family. Sometimes working ten to twelve hours a day we heard the strains of Patsy Cline, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Hank Williams, and Ernest Tubb on the radio as she ironed away.
Around the time of ten I began to form my own opinions of music. Rock ‘n Roll was coming of age. By that time we had a record player. I would save my allowance and buy forty-five rpm records. I drove my mother crazy playing Alvin and the Chipmunks and The Battle of New Orleans by Jonny Horton. Later it was Motown music and the Beattles.
But it was lying there listening to the lyrics of Little Johnny Brown, by the Browns, that caught my attention. This little song, released by the Browns in 1959, was the song of my ancestors. Most of my ancestors, until the twentieth century, were farmers. They lived a simple life. They were born, got married, and died. Here are the lyrics of the song based upon the original French song The Three Bells that paints a vivid picture of the lives of these simple people.*
There's a village hidden deep in the valley Among the pine trees half forlorn And there on a sunny morning Little Jimmy Brown was born All the chapel bells were ringing In the little valley town And the songs that they were singing Was for baby Jimmy Brown And the little congregation Prayed for guidance from above Lead us not into temptation Bless this hour of meditation Guide him with eternal love There's a village hidden deep in the valley Beneath the mountains high above And there twenty years thereafter Jimmy was to meet his love All the chapel bells were ringing Twas a great day in his life 'Cause the songs that they were singing Was for Jimmy and his wife And the little congregation Prayed for guidance from above Lead us not into temptation Bless oh Lord this celebration May their lives be filled with love From the village hidden deep in the valley One rainy morning dark and gray A soul went its way to heaven Jimmy Brown had passed away Just the lonely bell was ringing In the little valley town Twas there well it was singing To our good old Jimmy Brown And the little congregation Prayed for guidance from above Lead us not into temptation May his soul find this salvation Of Thy great eternal love
And here in the twenty-first century, surrounded by modern conveniences, technology, and the trappings of success, our lives are mirrored in this simple song – we are born, we fall in love, and we die. Our ancestors wouldn’t recognize our world today, and yet, some things never change. By writing the stories of my ancestors, and those of my husband, I want to bring life to their stories that have been lost in old documents hidden away. I want to fill the blanks between their births, their marriages, and their deaths. And with a little bit of serendipity and luck I’ll uncover those hidden stories.