by Judith Rosenberg
With my new hearing aids I hear in more detail. I can identify multiple sounds in one, such as in a car door slam, the dog’s sneeze and OMG the human voice including mine or especially mine. It’s inside my head and out. How interesting.
This has inspired me to sing more, for instance as I drive on Interstate 35. Dozens of songs occur to me, drifting in, long distance from the past, recently an Appalachian version of Go Tell Aunt Rhody that my stepfather, a connoisseur of music of all kinds, used to play on the phonograph.
Maybe Go Tell Aunt Rhody was always an Appalachian song, started and ended there. But this recording, sung a capella, in a plain voice without frills, gave a memorable pronunciation to Aunt which I imagine you wouldn’t hear outside those mountains. It came out “Ain’t,” as in “Ain’t that right?” By the way, I was brought up to pronounce Aunt as Ant and I always resisted the pronunciation that rhymes Aunt with gaunt that I met in the world outside. Aint trumps all. It bypasses correctness. Aint got me hearing all the ways the singing apparatuses in the human body squeeze and mold word sounds, especially vowels, to conform to a higher purpose. Aint also piqued my interest in the song.
The story of Go Tell Aint Rhody announces the death of the Old Grey Goose. It says “the Goose is dead,” a blunt yet solemn way of speaking. It does not say she passed on. Only later does it say she died. The song urges an unidentified listener, or all the world, to bear the message to Aint Rhody. It is imperative that she know.
The tune is definitely a dirge which contrasts mischievously with the humor of the images and the sweet humanizing of the Goose family. For example, the Goose died in the millpond in an undignified posture, “a standing on her head.” How could a Goose stand on her head? Ducks will bob on the water and then suddenly go bottoms-up to catch prey. Bottoms-up requires head-down. Maybe the Goose got stuck in that position or death with its inscrutable ways arrived just as she ducked.
The song further tells us that the dignified Gander is mourning and the Goslings crying. Each has its characteristic and appropriate response to the Goose’s passing.
I like the driving motif in the song that Aint Rhody must be told. I feel that when she is, all will be well and put back in order and harmony and if there’s anything to be done, she’ll know what to do and it will cease to be a catastrophe but just a part of life, though painful.
Then later in the song we learn that this particular Goose is the one Aint Rhody’s been saving to make a feather bed. The song hints that Aint R may be prevented from achieving her goal. Because of the saturating melancholy it seems that Aint R. will be foiled. Perhaps the strange manner of the Goose’s death has changed everything. So Aint R, too, is affected by this hovering element of catastrophe.
And let’s consider who this Aint is. She’s one of those women who take care both of the house and the barnyard. If the whole economy crashed, as well as the financial system, and the grid failed, life would continue without skipping a beat at Aint R’s house. There would be enough to eat. Neighbors would still gather in the evening to study socialism and trade sustainable food lore.
In a less dire scenario, Aint R, who probably never had her own children, would greet kids coming home from school everyday as they passed her door in bare feet. They might cry in unison “Hi’ya Aint Rhody.” If they weren’t expected home right away they might detour through her kitchen and see if she’d been making sweet stewed desserts from her orchard fruit. If they did wrong and they knew it, they might chant, even if alone when no one could hear them, “I’m sorry Aint Rhody, I’m sorry Aint Rhody,” to comfort themselves and assuage their consciences.
Aint R is a central figure in her community. On a practical and moral level she holds things together. When the song confronts at the end Aint R’s dashed hope of a feather bed, one great comfort in a hard life that certainly she deserves, we feel something amiss in the universe. A bi-ped, the song has each foot in a different landscape, yet it persists buoyantly.