My parents had record albums. I used to listen to only one side of them. I think that when first learned to use the record player, I put the side I wanted to hear face down on the turntable. I thought that it should be in direct contact with the apparatus that pulled sound from the black disk. The side that was face-up just stared at the spinning ceiling. So I ended up listening to side two of almost any record I played.
I loved the twanging banjo of the Kingston Trio. The song “MTA” has a bridge where the banjo cheerfully strums. To me, everything is positive with a banjo backup. I sang along to the song “Billy Goat Hill” singing “I lit my log with a broken heart, I lit my log in the little green house that sits on top of Billy Goat Hill.” When my mother corrected me that they were singing I left my love, the song didn’t seem as fun. I enjoyed the idea of the singer, crouched on the floor of a little green house striking match after match trying to set fire to a huge log. It made more sense that leaving someone that they loved. Why would he do that?
But the song that I thought was the funniest was Where have all the Flowers Gone? I even remarked to someone how funny the song was. The lyrics start out asking where the flowers have gone and the answer comes: “Young girls picked them, everyone.” The next verse asks: “Where have all the young girls gone?” and is answered “Gone to young men.” Next verse, young men have gone to soldiers. Where have all the soldiers gone? Gone to graveyards everyone. When they finally ask “Where have all the graveyards gone?” the answer comes a capella: “Gone to flowers, everyone.”
To my young mind, that was hilarious. Those flowers will never be found. The singers will run from the young girls to the young men looking for those flowers and eventually end up in graveyards, whatever those are, only to find out that those young girls have picked them. When will they ever learn?
I miss having a little mind that didn’t understand too much. I don’t remember the day I learned what a graveyard was, or when I finally realized that the song wasn’t funny at all, but sad and ironic. But there came a time that I listened to the song and wasn’t amused at it. Understanding doesn’t always bring joy.
Loss of innocence was part of my life, just as I think it’s part of everyone’s. Whether they came suddenly or not, there is a heartbreak in learning some things.
These losses of innocence create character and can define who I am. Understanding of folk songs is little compared to a fallen role model or disappointment in something believed in. Those things happened to me too. Some of those things still ache once in a while. I will be including them in my spiritual inventory.
Even though I miss having the naïveté that I used to have, I appreciate what I have now. It’s not a full understanding of how everything is, but a gradual realization that I am still a little clueless about some things and have more to learn. I hope that is a grain of wisdom growing in me. And in answer to the question of the song: When will they ever learn? I hope for me it’s each day.