“Beside the garden wall, when stars are bright, you are in my arms.
The nightingale sings his fairytale … of paradise, where roses grew … ”
You may or may not recognize the above words as written by Mitchell Parish in 1929, to be sung to music written by composer Hoagy Carmichael in 1927. But if you haven’t, do give yourself a treat. Run over to you-know-what-tube, do a search and enjoy a complex melody, wistful words and gorgeous accompaniment, usually by a piano.
According to www.lyrics.com, this song is one of the most recorded songs in American history. It’s called “Stardust.”
The title is almost as entrancing to me as the words. Long before I knew the title, though, I knew those few lines and the melody by heart. My mother used to sing them around the house. This was among a number of snatches of songs, or full verses (but almost never the entire song) that showed up over and over in her repertoire, which still seem like soothing lullabies to me, even though I don’t recall her ever singing them at anyone’s bedtime.
My mother did very few things in a conventional way. Although in many ways, she seemed and lived the picture of a World War II-generation wife, who’d seen her husband go off to a cataclysmic war and held the home front steady for years. Go figure.
We are most of us contradictions, I guess … except when we aren’t.
The above-quoted handful of lines were one of the fragments of songs that she sang often. I had no idea until much later that there were another two full verses of Stardust, and that the music was what’s called an idiosyncratic melody. But that last adjective, “idiosyncratic,” describes the song’s music, lyrics and form very well. Quirky, unique and eccentric.
It’s funny. My sister doesn’t remember my mother singing around the house, at least not the way I do. Perhaps that’s because my sister was already in high school by the time I reached third grade, and she was usually hanging around with her friends. Maybe she was trying to get away from the confines of a small house and a bedroom she had to share with a pesky little sister.
Earlier than that, when my sister was younger, I don’t know. Maybe my mother didn’t sing as often.
Maybe it was only by the time I was in third grade, when my little brother and I were quite a handful for my mother to deal with, that she needed the escape of singing dreamy songs to cope with it all.
Because quite a number of the song bits she sang were a little bit dreamy, here or there. Or a lot. “Beautiful Dreamer,” a Stephen Foster song from the 19th century recorded in the 20th – the ‘20s, ‘30s and ‘40s. “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” sung by Bing Crosby and others in the ‘40s. “Frosty the Snowman,” a child’s fantasy.
The last two were interesting choices, since we lived in central Oklahoma. Snow happened seldom and melted quickly when it did. A white Christmas really was a dream. Not a World War II soldier dreaming about coming home, but something beautiful and treasured, but usually out of reach.
And I mustn’t forget that another of my mother’s oft-sung songs was “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” They hardly come much more dreamy or wistful than that, especially as sung by Judy Garland as a teenager.
Which brings me to another subject. When I was in elementary school in the 1950s, I could not find any of the Oz books in our local Carnegie library — including the one that everyone knows about, “The Wizard of Oz,” by L. Frank Baum. Why?
It seems strange, from the perspective of a generation that treasures Harry Potter books and a whole host of other fantasies. But in that era, it was thought that fairy tales or other fantastic stories might cause children to grow up not understanding the difference between make-believe and reality.
Not to worry. In a host of professional circles, it’s now believed that the opposite is true. Hearing and reading magical stories, in fact, helps children understand the difference, enjoy the fantabulous, and also to accept reality. They understand it on an instinctive level. Which many parents, aunts and uncles and grandparents have always known.
So it’s interesting. Even in the literally-minded, grounded ‘40s and ‘50s, a song like “Stardust” would still be listened to and universally enjoyed. By a generation of adults who fully comprehended the peril and nature of all-out nuclear war.
Complete with the line about a nightingale who sings his fairy tale.