Friday, July 01, 2011

Red Wing

A friend, Bob Reed, sent me his as-yet unpublished novel yesterday, hoping I'll blurb it--which I will after I've read it. But the title, "The Red-Winged Blackbird" sent my thoughts tumbling back to my dad.
 He was Canadian and had a bit of that British reserve about him--as well as what I considered a kind of droll accent when I got older. He was an osteopathic physician, president of an osteopathic college, and a hosital administrator, a man totally wrapped up in his work. His avocation was gardening, and we had the best backyard--and sideyard--for blocks. That's where Dad spent his weekends, looking like a homeless bum in dirty clothes. But he always dressed for dinner in a fresh white shirt--poor Mom. He was not one of those fathers who aimed to be my best buddy. He hugged and kissed, of course, and bragged about me to others. I have heard stories, even from him, about him taking me sledding when I was little--we lived on a park with a small hill, just right for toddler sledding. But I can't remember that he ever played with me. He was concerned about table manners and behavior and all those things. I know he loved me a lot and was proud of me, especially as I grew older, but he wasn't a pal as my boys are to their children. I should add that I went to work in his office when I was fourteen, and if I've had success as a press director, its because of the organizatonal habits he taught me then. I was given no leeway because I was the boss' daughter--I had to be better than everyone else, work harder, but I loved it.
The thing Dad and I did together was sing at the piano--never mind that neither of us could carry a tune. We were enthusiastic and hearty. Dad played out of several books--the Methodist hymnal, the American Heritage book of Favorite Songs, and a book that had everything from "Carry me back to my old Kentucky Home" to "Scotland's Burning, Scotland's Burning." We sang "Nearer my God to thee" and "Clementine" and--I particularly remember this, "Loch Lomond": Oh, ye take the high road, and I'll take the low,/ and I'll be in Scotland afore ye/But me and my true love/will never ever meet again/ on the bonny banks of Loch Lomond." My love of all things Scottish, of course, comes from my dad, who was fiercely proud of his MacBain Scottish heritage all his life.
Dad didn't play by ear, but there was one song he played from memory, "Red Wing." I never saw music or words for it. But Bob's title made me think of that song, so I looked it up on the Web today: it was copyrighted in 1907, is about Red Wing's love for Hiawatha, and has been sung by a variety of performers. The lyrics I remember are

Oh, the moon shines tonight on pretty Red Wing
the breeze is sighing,
the night bird's crying.
For afar 'neath his star
Her brave is sleeping
While Red Wing's weeping her heart away.

I'm not sure where a Canuck learned that song about American Indian lore, but he played it with gusto. Every once in a while, it comes to my mind and then the tune is stuck in my head for a while. But I like that. It brings back one of the best memories of Dad, who has been gone since 1979.
Bob Reed's title comes from a totally different song, "The Red-Winged Blackbird," written by Billy Edd Wheeler and sung by Joan Collins in the '60s. I'm a big Joan Collins' fan so I'm sure I'd like it. I looked it up on the web too and found lots of offers to make it the ring-tone on your cell phone. What is the world coming to?
Personally I'd like to have the Red Wing melody on my cell phone--it would be a nice reminder of good times.

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