I’d taken them to friends’ for the afternoon and the Peter, Paul & Mary CD I’d bought in New York was playing in the car. While they have little patience for some tunes, I’ve found that the ones which tell a complete story are the ones they enjoy and want to hear over and again.
Having exhausted “Puff, The Magic Dragon,” I skipped forward a few tracks to “Where Have all the Flowers Gone?” I smiled, remembering the way it sounded in Carnegie Hall with the entire audience singing along.
I was singing, keeping the volume down just enough so they could hear my voice, over-enunciating the words so they wouldn’t misunderstand the way they originally did on “Huff, the Magic Dragon.”
They were resistant at first, but the simple, cyclical song drew them in. Within minutes they were both quiet, heads turned, listening.
“Play it again,” called Jack, who was zoned out in his carseat.
“What is that song? Why do they sing about soldiers?” Miles was concerned.
“Peter, Paul & Mary used to sing this song during the Vietnam War when Momma was very small.” I don’t give more information than is warranted; otherwise my answer turns into a lecture. It’s much more effective to spark an interest and build on it.
“Did a lot of soldiers die?”
“Yes, many soldiers and many other people, too.”
“Soldiers are Great Americans,” announced Miles.
“Wow, who told you that?”
“Mrs. Houston. She says soldiers protect our freedom.”
“Well, that is how it is supposed to work.”
“I don’t want to be a soldier; they get killed in wars.”
“Yes, they sometimes do, and that’s why this song makes me sad. War is a bad thing.”
They sat, staring out the windows, speaking only to request the track again.
We had a great afternoon, playing outside in the unseasonably warm weather. When we got into the car, they wanted “Flowers” again. This time they sang along. I cried a little bit.
The next morning, Miles came to me, head cocked, and said, “Momma, I know what the song means! First the young girls pick the flowers to give to their husbands. Then the husbands become soldiers and they go to wars and get killed and get dead. Then they go to graveyards under the dirt and flowers grow on them. Then young girls come again and pick the flowers and nobody ever learns.”
That is exactly it, honey. It seems so simple to us, right? There should be peace and people keep fighting wars. And we look at the leaders of the armies and shake our heads, saying, “Oh, when will they ever learn?”
“Momma, do you have a husband?”
“Are you a young girl?”
“No, she’s an old girl,” deadpans Jack, never looking away from Attack of the Clones.
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