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Fiery and Snuffy Are Raring to Go

July 16, 2010

PS, I Love You

One early evening I found myself stomping up and down Brooklyn’s Foster Avenue, pushing the baby carriage, singing very loudly without necessarily realizing it:

John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave

John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave

John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave

His soul goes marching on . . rap a tap tap

Tap tap tap tap:

Glory, glory hallelujah .  .  .  .

I realized about midway through the song.

You see, as soon as the baby came out of gestational hiding, we decreed that we would to listen to Pete Seeger all of the time. Actually, Matthew decreed and I was too busy staring in glassy-eyed pain at an alarm clock, waiting for eight minutes to be up soes I could stop feeding on the left side, to issue any vetoes.

Relearning the words to these American classics gave Matthew something to do while he boiled everything in sight. (My vision of him in those early days is standing over a huge steaming cauldron, witchlike, staring at the plastic pump and bottle parts bobbing: taking care of his new family. It makes me want to cry with gratitude and it makes me yearn for those exhausting but extremely special times, even the alarm clock ones. However, I do not think that he would feel a yearning for this, and this is part of the reason why I am the mom.)

As it turns out, Pete Seeger is amazing and fun and highly digestible, be you a tiny person or the mom or the dad one. Soon enough, we all loved him. PS, we love you.

The first time I left the baby for an entire day, pump in hand, brow in a furrow, I returned home to see Henry dancing in his high chair to Yankee Doodle, eating spicy spinach takeout from the Afghan restaurant down the street. He actually could not have looked any happier at all. That was months ago.

Now Henry’d throw that spinach swiftly to the floor (“UH-OH”). Still, he’s really into that cd, particularly Jimmy Crack Corn, which is a song that Abraham Lincoln also loved to dance to while in his car seat, coincidentally, and later, play upon his banjo. I know this because of Wikipedia.

Old Paint

My current favorite is “I Ride an Old Paint.” It talks about dogies, which are something that my own dad always sang about (though he did the Roy Rogers version.)

This song is really moving and plaintive. Listen to it, really listen to the words. The great thing about these American ballads is that they are so familiar, but there are stories behind all of them, political stories, stories told through vernacular language, double meaning. Reading through interpretations teaches so much about history and culture and attitudes. Getting to know these songs is like eating except you can do it on long trips in the car without worrying about grinding crumbs into the upholstery.

Below, I’ll put my questions about I Ride an Old Paint, as well as some of the answers I’ve found. (I’ve been singing the song to myself a whole lot.)

I can’t find Seeger singing it in a way that I can embed so here are some Wainrights:

a. What’s an Old Paint? It’s a Pinto, ie, a horse that looks like it’s been splashed by paint. For some reason we (you know, me and the cowboys: we) normally call them by the Spanish name.

b. Is Dan a good name for a horse? I mean, if my friends had horses, 2/3 of them would be named Dan. But back then? Dan was and is the perfect name for a horse; don’t overthink everything!

c. What’s a hooleyann? The houlighan is specific rope throw to catch corralled horses.

d. Who are Fiery and Snuffy? It’s “the” fiery and snuffy, ie, nominal adjectives, not given names. The fiery and snuffy are either colors of horses (pintos and buff ones), or more likely, personalities. The fiery and the snuffy dogies would be likely to cause a stampede, so you ride around them slow. That said, if I ever have twins, Fiery and Snuffy it is.

e. What are dogies, again? Dogies are calves without mamas, perhaps called that because they had to have grass too soon instead of milk, and their bellies swelled way up. They are tiny cows with no parents and matted tails and raw backs and bad gas and no one to give them gripe water. “Dough guts.”Oh, dear.

f. And what is this song really about? It’s apparently a song sung to cattle to calm them at night.


8 Comments leave one →
  1. July 16, 2010 9:40 am

    “Keep a movin’ Dan, don’t you listen to him Dan, he’s a devil not a man….”

    I don’t think it’s Pete Seeger, but it’s what I sing to my horse when I’m out with the dogies, watching the blue shadows on the trails, and begging not to be fenced in.

  2. Michelle permalink
    July 16, 2010 1:14 pm

    I heard this song at a theatre in DC at a cabaret evening years ago. The actress introduced it by saying that she’d sung it to calm her dying father – he’d always liked western songs. It made such an impression that when I got home that night I looked it up, found a version that matched her’s, learned it, and started singing it to the kids the next day. Isn’t it beautiful? As always, thanks for your lovely writing, Meredith.

    May I suggest So Long, It’s Been Good to Know You?

    • July 16, 2010 1:58 pm

      Wow — that is pretty amazing story. It made me weepy! We also have “So Long” on the compilation we have! It’s a good one.

  3. tam permalink
    July 20, 2010 5:30 pm

    I went through a similar 0ld Songbook phase via Dan Zanes. I don’t think he ever did this one, though. The song I used to like to sing to the boy in utero and all through his infancy was Wild Mountain Thyme.

    I second the suggestion for So Long It’s Been Good to Know You (which I learned via DZ). It’s a good ‘un.

  4. July 20, 2010 7:49 pm

    Please oh please e-mail me your mailing address because I have a CD that I have to send you right away!!!!

  5. C beckner permalink
    April 4, 2012 5:17 pm

    Dan is a mule…

    • Paul Richford permalink
      May 18, 2012 2:13 pm

      Dan is a male donkey; a female donkey is a jenny.

      • Paul Richford permalink
        May 18, 2012 2:22 pm

        A male donkey is also a “jack.” Hence, jackass.

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