Monday, February 26, 2007

Powder Their Behinds

When I was little, I remember that my mom used to sing me bedtime songs like "Itsy Bitsy Spider" or "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and stuff like that. There's nothing wrong with these songs... they are very traditional songs that lots of little kids hear from parents. However, my dad sang completely different songs to me and my brothers when he was putting us to bed. I feel truly blessed (and simultaneously cursed) by the songs that my dad sang to us. Dad was way into country music, which might account for my cowboy phase. I vividly remember "Where Are You Tonight" from Hee Haw in which my dad would allow me to make the "PPBBBLLLLTTTT!!!" sound toward the end of the song. That was way cool. There was also the childen's classic "The Wreck of the Old 97" which I particualary liked because it was a true story in which a train crashed and the conductor died in Danville, VA where my grandparents lived.

This weekend, I took a trip to Miami, FL with my parents, my brothers and my sister-in-slaw for my cousin's wedding. On Friday, we took a little road trip out to Shark Valley, one of the National Park sites in the Everglades. Despite the name, there were no sharks, but you could find an alligator every few feet as well as herons and egrets. It was really amazing, but also a little frightening. The alligators were not in cages or separated from visitors in any way, but they were simply lying on the side of the path and they were EVERYWHERE. They were very laid back and seemed to love to sunbathe and have their picture taken, but still, these were not domesticated alligators. They were so close that you could reach out and pet them, although that was definitely discouraged and I certainly did not attempt it.

While there, my brother, Drew walked up to my dad and said, "You know, all these alligators remind me of 'The Battle of New Orleans.'"I think it took my dad a second or two to figure out the connection between the alligators and that song, but it was one in my dad's bedtime song repertoire. Once Drew mentioned it, the memories of my dad singing that song to me in my polyester footed pajamas came rushing back.

"In eighteen-fourteen we took a little trip
Along with Colonel Jackson down the might Mississipp'

We took a little bacon and we took a little beans
And we caught the bloody British in the town of New Orleans

We fired our guns and the British kept a comin'

There wasn't nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they began to runnin'

On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

We looked down the river and we seed the British come
And there must've been a hundred of 'em beatin' on the drum
They stepped so high and they made their bugles ring
We stood beside our cotton bales, didn't say a thing

We fired . . .

Old Hickory said we could take 'em by surprise
If we didn't fire muskets till we looked 'em in the eye
We held our fire till we seed their faces well
Then we opened up our squirrel guns and really gave 'em well

We fired . . .

Yeah they ran through the briars and they ran through the brambles
And they ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn't go
They ran so fast that the hounds couldn't catch 'em
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

We fired our cannon till the barrel melted down
So we grabbed an alligator and we fought another round
We filled his head with cannonballs and powdered his behind
And when we touched the powder off the 'gator lost his mind

We fired . . ."

I remember thinking that this was THE BEST SONG EVER WRITTEN when I was a child. I think my dad thought so too, because I can remember him belting this song so loudly that I thought the whole house was shaking. I had no idea what the song was about, but I thought the part about powdering the alligator's behind and the gator lost his mind, was just pure brilliance in subject matter and in rhyme.

"The Battle of New Orleans" was originally written by a school teacher named Jimmy Driftwood. He tried desperately to keep his pupils' attention by setting lyrics to songs pertaining to the subject matter he was teaching. He took the old fiddle tune called "The Eighth of January" and gave it lyrics about the final battle of the of the War of 1812, hence the name "Battle of New Orleans." One night, Johnny Horton was driving home after a late concert in Nashville and heard Jimmy Driftwood's song on the radio. He liked it so much that he decided to record it and his version became one of the most popular songs in 1959.

I'm very glad that my dad chose these sorts of songs to sing to me and my brothers when we were little. I think it kinda contributed to our weirdness, but it in a very wonderful way. I hope to continue the tradition and sing these songs to my future kids one day.

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