Thursday, January 30, 2014

“Goodnight Irene” An auditory pilgrimage in tribute to my Mom, Irene.

Christmas 1979
“Goodnight Irene”
An auditory pilgrimage in tribute to my Mom, Irene.

At the conclusion of every family holiday party, always a riotous affair in our gregarious clan, my big voiced uncles would bellow out a few verses of “Goodnight Irene.” 

As Irene Josephine Gozdziewski-Seltman, my quintessential Polish-American mom, gathered us kids for the sleepy journey home, she’d blush a bit, and maybe swing a punch at the arm of one of her brothers. 

Enormously loud and bothersome bullies, they teased her affectionately at every opportunity. This was how we expressed our love.  Like it or not, this song “Goodnight Irene” got sung to my mother at every festivity.

My mom was a child of the depression, World War, and hard luck. She preferred the happy songs of Sinatra’s “High Hopes” and Doris Day’s “Que Sera Sera, Whatever will be - will be.“ She was the Democrat to Dad’s Republicanism. She thought the nights were already too dark and that our days should be filled with bright light and children. The soaps were enough drama, there was no need to focus on the negative.

Dead near 30 years, Mom still lingers, as all mom’s seem to do, deep within me, a swirling throbbing force of mixed emotions. How much I wish she could have seen my kids grow. 

She loved kids more than anything. Grandkids would have been her bliss. But she was in pain too much, from a failing of internal organs, to have wanted to live forever. 

Her heart radiated affection, while the curse of disease pulled her under, a contrasting memory of warm radiating tenderness, counterbalanced by nights alone in the dark, consumed in pain, throbbing, in a torrent of tears.

She tried so hard to hide her unhappiness from we little ones, her angels, her purpose, her beloved preoccupation.

If you type in “Goodnight Irene” into a BitTorrent search engine, you can download an enormous folder of variations of this classic. Ames brothers, Chet Atkins, Dennis Day, Eric Clapton, Frank Sinatra, Gene Autry, The Weavers, Hank Williams, Jerry Lee Louis, Johnny Cash, Kingston Trio, Leadbelly, Little Richard, Michelle Shocked, Mitch Miller, Nat King Cole, Ry Cooder, Tom Waits, Van Morrison, Willy Nelson, and scores more have cut this tune in soulful heart-melting variations.

Each one tears at me and makes me cry, reminding me of another buried moment from inside this chest of recollections. How do we, the dying, love today in honour to those already dead? How do I transform this sad old ballad into tribute to someone so sacred, so long gone, so much pain, joy, and tears…perfection, here with me tonight? 

Good night Mom, and sweet dreams. I’ll see you in the morn.

Irene good night, Irene good night,
Good night Irene, good night Irene,
I'll see you in my dreams.

Last Saturday night I got married,
Me and my wife settled down,
Now me and my wife we are parted,
I think I'll go out on the town.

Sometimes I live in the country,
Sometimes I live in town,
Sometimes I take a great notion
To jump in the river and drown.

I love Irene, God knows I do,
I'll love her 'til the seas run dry,
But if Irene should turn me down,
I'd take morphine and die.

Stop rambling, stop your gambling,
Stop staying out late at night,
Go home to your wife and your family,
Stay there by your fireside bright

Lyrics by Huddie Ledbetter, aka Leadbelly 
first recorded in 1933