Hymns. Old-timey hymns.
My maternal grandfather, my Paw Paw, used to sing them. A cappella in his truck, hauling young’uns, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and otherwise to visit his good old friends, he would sing. One of his favorites was Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. For no good reason other than he felt like it he would begin
Well I looked over Jordan and what did I see, coming for to carry me home?
A band of angels coming after me. Coming for to carry me home.
and pretty soon we all knew the words and would sing along, joyfully belting out
Swing low sweet chariot coming for to carry me home.
I’ve forgotten the sound of his voice, but not the feeling of it.
* * *
My maternal grandmother, my Maw Maw, used to sing them. A cappella on her tractor planting fields, or in her truck making her circuit through the woods feeding her beloved herds of deer who would come out from their hiding places among the thick trees at the sound of her voice shrill-calling “Come Here Babies” and feed on the feast she provided. Amazing Grace was her favorite, but I’ll Fly Away was heard more often on her lips.
Some glad morning when this day is over, I’ll fly away
to that home on God’s celestial shore, I’ll fly away.
* * *
My paternal grandmother, my Nanny, used to sing them. Then when her mind was ravaged by Alzheimer’s and she had forgotten herself, her loved ones, her words, she would still hum strains of hymns that she had sung through a lifetime. I wish I had paid more attention to the tunes that managed to escape her mind and move her tongue and connect her to the life she once lived, but alas I can’t remember a single solitary one. But I remember the smile on her thin lips as she hummed, the gleam in her unrecognizing eyes.
* * *
My mother used to sing them. Again, mostly in the car, traveling to Jackson, Mobile, or Foley in her blue Oldsmobile, singing along to an Anne Murray cassette. In her sweet falsetto she would join in on In the Garden
And he walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own.
And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.
* * *
I am thankful for these hymns that connect me back to my grandparents and to happy times spent with them and with my mother. I am grateful for their words of hope and healing and happiness, and how when the light of everything else dies away that their message can cut through the darkness of a dying mind and bring joy. I am blessed by these songs and the voices, mostly now silenced, that sung them once upon a time in South Alabama.