Dear Old Golden Rule Days
by Janet Farquhar
Chapter 3 - Music
Eric's father talking about warming his son's behind reminded me of Hilda's insistence that thrashing was the only way to deal with my bad boy, Sam. She never mentioned this after the trial, in fact was pleased with the way it solved the discipline problem. I wondered how many parents thought corporal punishment was the way to go. I recalled the words of the song, "School days, school days, dear old golden rule days. Reading and writing and 'rithmetic, taught to the tune of a hickory stick." I thought taught to the tune, period, was the way to go and thought I should practice the folk songs I had figured out the chords to from my Burl Ives records. I was not sure of my musical ability.
One day when I arrived home from school, Hilda came from milking in the barn and set the bucket on the snow-covered ground. She wore a heavy sweater over her dress and apron and smiled at me with affection. Her breath was coming out of her mouth in a mist. "Things are going smoothly now. Why don't you have music for the children?"
"I'm not really qualified. I can't read music and don't play the piano."
She chuckled. "You play the guitar, don't you?"
I had played a short piece for her daughter, Gretchin, a few days previously and admitted this was so. "But I'm not very good. My sense of timing isn't the best, my voice is thin and I don't know if the children could hear me. Besides, I don't have time to practice."
Hilda waved my objections aside. "Music will relax them and help them with their studies. It doesn't have to be professional. They will love to sing."
"Do you really think so?"
Hilda knew so and insisted on the children having music. So I let some of the grading go and began to practice. The Sow Song had simple only two simple chords and few chord changes. When it felt ready, I took my guitar to school it its case. The children stopped their game of dodge ball, gathered round me, walking backwards in front of me, or frontwards beside me or behind me. "What's that?" "Are we going to sing?" "It's a guitar, I bet."
Patty, my Soux second grader, was pulling my skirt, giggling and begging me to tell them what it was. Her stepbrother, a frail fourth grader in Levi jacket and jeans and a straw cowboy hat, pointed at the case and asked, "What's that for?" He was as pale as Patty was dark - my paleface and my Indian.
"It has invisible strings that attach to your hands and feet," I told him. "With it I can make you do anything I want. It's for making puppets of all of you."
"Aw, no it ain't. There's no suck of a thing."
"Don't be too sure, Tommy," I replied.
Cocking his head he eyed me with a sideways glance as though unsure. "Aw, there ain't either."
"Isn't either," I corrected.
I was having so much fun keeping them guessing that I laid the case on the stage and did not open it. "Please, Miss Farquhar," begged pigtailed Peggy, "tell us what it is."
"You'll find out when the time comes," I told her.
"Come on," said George, tossing his ball in the air and catching it. "She's not going to tell us now."
They all scampered outside after him to finish their game of dodge ball.
After I rang the bell and the children were all seated, I sat on the front of my desk with my guitar in my lap. They broke into applause and exclamations of "I told you so," "I knew it was a guitar," or simply, "Hooray!"
"I'm going to play a song for you," I said. "It's about a sow. You all know what a sow is." They knew. I told them this sow was different from the sows they were familiar with. I played The Sow Song through as they listened and giggled or laughed out loud at the silly verses. The refrain was, "The sow took the measles and died in the spring." The song listed the different things made by the farmer from his sow, silk from its hair, a thimble from its nose, and a saddle from its hide. The words rousing the loudest laughter were, "What do you think that I made of her feet? The very best pickles that you ever did eat!" The song ended with the statement that from the pig's tail, the farmer made a whip.
Patty burst into a bad case of the giggles. "I love that song!"
I had them repeat each line, then we sang it all the way through. It was apparently all right for cowboys to sing, if not to paint, because Tommy sang lustily along with everyone else. As the last chord died, they all jabbered at once, asking me to play another. I told them it was time for math. Reluctantly, they bobbed their heads down and removed their math books, but once started, they showed more enthusiasm for arithmetic than they ever had before. Teaching to the tune, not only of music, but painting and drama as well, was the way to go, I was surer than ever.
Chapter 1 - First Test
Chapter 2 - Creative Activities
To learn more about Janet's book, Taught to the Tune, click on: http://home.earthlink.net/~zenfive.