Tuesday, March 14, 2006

A parent's song

You can escape it in no corner of the world when the March lion roars. Usually The Song comes on the silken voice of a tenor. But it could as likely be a sweet soprano or mournful guitar that grabs both ears and heart.

Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling…

From glen to glen, radio station to radio station, country bar to Irish pub, the unofficial anthem of those who wear green plays again and again. The reaction is inevitable – puzzled young people turn back to their conversation or drinks while the gray let tears flow down their aging cheeks.

I was one of the former for longer my hair color should have allowed. The Song was something of a joke for the most of my life.

I first remember paying attention to it as I watched my mother cry with great sobs as the instantly recognizable melody played on television.

The summer's gone, and all the flowers are dying
'Tis you, 'tis you must go and I must bide.

The occasion was a memorial to a great man, but the tears were for someone dearer. I thought at the time Mom’s reaction to the song was plain silly and it teased her back to an embarassed smile. It took many years and two children of my own to put that moment together with another, more poignant memory.

I come from an Anglo-Irish family. In those genes came a mix of anger and guilt tempered only by our familial admiration for a pint of stout and the indomitable spirit of both island nations.

Years before I watch my mother cry to The Song, I watched her weep as her father gave her what he believed was his last hug. We had traveled to England to see the relatives. As we left for the airport “Pop” was solemn. Mom gave him a hug and he looked up from his chair.

“I’ll never see you again. Goodbye, Diana Mary.”

Not “farewell.” Not “until we meet again.”


And if you come, when all the flowers are dying
And I am dead, as dead I well may be
You'll come and find the place where I am lying
And kneel and say an "Ave" there for me.

I still didn’t understand. No young man should understand The Song. To do so would keep us from straying far enough from home and hearth to move our society forward. But bye and bye we gain the painful wisdom of age.

About two years ago, my life and appreciation of The Song changed. My daughter, her husband and my cherished grandson moved to Dublin to be part of the economic boom the press calls the Celtic Tiger.

I realized that it was ironically fair that I give Ireland my daughter while I waited behind. Generations of Irish fathers had lost Dannys and Mollys to the Americas. And though The Song was written by an Englishman who never set foot on the Emerald Isle, it perfectly captured the emotion of parent letting go of child.

Not long after Gillian left for Ireland, I was alone in my car when The Song came on the radio. It was the very first time I understood it. With gray in my hair, I knew well my own mortality and the possibility that my child and I might never be reunited.

And I shall hear, tho' soft you tread above me
And all my dreams will warm and sweeter be

I cried so hard I had to pull over to the side of the road. Like my mother before me, I sobbed from the pit of my soul.

If you'll not fail to tell me that you love me
I'll simply sleep in peace until you come to me.

I sobbed ... but then smiled at the warm consolation The Song gives to parents who give their children to the world. It is right.

I'll simply sleep in peace until you come to me.

Irish or not, my eyes are smiling this St. Patrick’s Day. I sleep in peace these nights knowing that my child will indeed come to me – if only briefly before going to another new life in Oregon. I will again bounce my grandson on my knee, discuss the news with my son-in-law and let my now pregnant daughter kiss me on an aging cheek.

A cheek that will forever more be blessed with tears when a tenor sings The Song.