Thursday, July 16, 2009

Les Vieux

Great - Grandfather Beavers, in 2nd row, with hat on knee
Clinton, Arkansas ~ Cornet Band ~ late 19th Century

Occasionally when thinking of some small quaint detail from the long ago days with my grandparents -- such as the way they always put the Halloween candy in miniature brown paper bags or the jars of canned fruit in the attic, stored in an old pink kitchen cabinet -- I will suddenly feel so sad. Maybe because everything seems so different now from those homey times. The heart - breaking thought will cross my mind: "That was their life."

Then, I remind myself: if I can remember it, then it's my life too! After all, I ate the candy out of those little bags (miniature marshmallows and chocolate bits!) and played for hours in that very attic. And if those homely images are still in my head, then that life is not gone -- just very far away. It's the same sense of nostalgia that I feel looking at old black & white photographs or walking through an old house, or listening to John Denver sing this beautiful bittersweet song:

Old Folks / Les Vieux

The old folks don't talk much
And they talk so slowly when they do
They are rich, they are poor, their illusions are gone
They share one heart for two

Their homes all smell of thyme [time?], of old photographs
And an old-fashioned song
Though you may live in town you live so far away
When you've lived too long

And have they laughed too much, do their dry voices crack
Talking of times gone by
And have they cried too much, a tear or two
Still always seems to cloud the eye

They tremble as they watch the old silver clock
When day is through
It tick-tocks oh so slow, it says, "Yes," it says, "No"
It says, "I'll wait for you."

The old folks dream no more
The books have gone to sleep, the piano's out of tune
The little cat is dead and no more do they sing
On a Sunday afternoon

The old folks move no more, their world's become too small
Their bodies feel like lead
They might look out the window or else sit in a chair
Or else they stay in bed

And if they still go out, arm in arm, arm in arm
In the morning's chill
It's to have a good cry, to say their last good-bye
To one who's older still

And then they go home to the old silver clock
When day is through
It tick-tocks oh so slow, it says, "Yes," it says, "No"
It says, "I'll wait for you."

The old folks never die
They just put down their heads and go to sleep one day
They hold each other's hand like children in the dark
But one will get lost anyway

And the other will remain just sitting in that room
Which makes no sound
It doesn't matter now, the song has died away
And echoes all around

You'll see them when they walk through the sun-filled park
Where children run and play
It hurts too much to smile, it hurts too much but life goes on
For still another day

As they try to escape the old silver clock
When day is through
It tick-tocks oh so slow, it says, "Yes," it says, "No"
It says, "I'll wait for you."

The old, old silver clock that's hanging on the wall
That waits for us

Songwriters: Jacques Brel, Mort Shuman, Gerard Jouannest, Jean Corti

From the musical Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris (trans. Eric Blau)
Also sung by Elly Stone

And by Michael Johnson [that's JOHNSON, not Jackson] on his album / CD, There Is A Breeze

P.S. A Sparrow!
Talk about Literary Connection & Coincidence! Yesterday, just shortly after I posted the Jacques Brel lyrics ("Les Vieux" / "Old Folks"), my brother Aaron sent me the following video: "What Is That? A Sparrow!" which conveys exactly the tone that I was trying to capture. The song has been in my life for thirty years, the video appeared only yesterday, but they are perfect for each other!


  1. My sister said:

    Ah the adventures we had in that giant box of quilts in Grandma's attic -- we could go anywhere and be anything in that box. And the the quilts -- it is seeing the little scrapes of dresses remembered that makes them so special.

  2. And this from my cousin Alicia:

    You bring me to my past so much, and I love to remember those days! I think we are alike that way! Of course, I love the here and now, but my little girl days with G'ma and G'pa were the things good little dreams are made of! Well I am off to bed here soon -- thanks!