Momma Sang A SongBy: Wynona Ward
ne of the greatest pleasures I had during the years my husband, Harold, and I drove truck was listening to public broadcasting radio stations. The news and information programs keep us in touch with what is going on around the world, and the reading series help the miles pass quickly. The show I enjoyed the most was Garrison Kiellerís Prairie Home Companion. No matter where we were in the country, every Saturday evening at 5:00 p.m. central time, we tuned into the nearest public broadcasting station, and for two hours Kieller and his cast entertained us.
Today, we still listen each week. Kieller structures his show like those radio broadcasts of the 1950s. He has a variety of musical entertainers including choirs, opera singers, old time country western, bluegrass, jazz, gospel, and contemporary, to name a few. The cast puts on various skits such as advertisement spoofs, and Kiellerís Lake Woebegone series is always amusing. His performance is usually broadcast live and from various theaters, since he travels to different cities throughout the country to perform.
Each time I listen to Kiellerís show it takes me back to when I was a young child living at home with my parents. It was always wonderful on Saturday nights, when my father got out his harmonica and juice harp to play. I would sit with my mother, brother, and two sisters in the living room as he played some of the old time country western and gospel songs. Sometimes we would sing or hum along. Other times we would just listen as he played Little Brown Jug, Red River Valley, Tennessee Waltz, Whispering Hope, My Old Brown Coat, Beyond the Sunset, and Momma Sang a Song.
When nightfall came we would all head upstairs to bed, since my father was one who always believed that anyone who stayed up after dark was up to no good. We lived in a small four-room house, with a living room and kitchen downstairs, and two big bedrooms upstairs. I shared a bedroom and a full size bed with my sister, Polly, who was eight years older than myself. My brother, Rich, who was three years older, also had a bed in the same room. Sometimes my sister, Gloria, who was three years younger, slept with Polly and I, but usually she slept with my mother.
My mother and father each had a double bed in their room. My mother said that was because our father was a big man, so he needed a big bed all to himself. She had a full-size bed, too, since usually who ever was the baby in the family slept with her. Between my parentís beds, there was a nightstand with an old fashion tabletop radio on it. My father ran a wire from the radio out the window, and hooked it to a clothes hanger, which served as an antenna.
After we listened to him play on Saturday nights and we had all gone to bed, my parents would tune the radio in to WWVA, an AM radio station, in Wheeling, West Virginia. We would all lay and listen, through the static, to the music of Gene Autry, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Roy Rogers, and Doc and Chickie Williams. There was many a Saturday night that I would fall asleep to the sound of The Grand Olde Opry fading in and out.
One such night, when I was six years old, I had fallen asleep, only to be awoken, as I heard Polly crying beside me. In the dark, I heard her say, ďDonít Dad, leave me alone. I want to go to sleep.Ē Then she started sobbing, and through the tears, cried out loudly, ďDonít Dad, Donít, Help Momma, Help me, Momma.Ē
I turned over and realized that my father was standing on Pollyís side of the bed. By the light coming in from the hallway, I could see that he was naked and bent over, with his hands under the blankets. As I sat up in bed, suddenly my mother came hurrying into the bedroom and snapped on the light. I blinked as my eyes became accustomed to the bright light that flooded the room.
ďPaul,Ē she said in pleading voice, ďWhy donít you leave her alone and come to bed?Ē
My father quickly pulled his hands from under the covers. He had a shocked look on his face; itís as if he had gotten caught stealing something. It took just a few seconds for him to regain his composure, and then he turned on my mother like a cornered dog turns on his enemy.
ďYou old battle-axe, why donít you go to bed and mind your own business,Ē he shouted in her face. Youíre no good in bed, you fat slut, do you want her to be the same, Iím just teaching her a thing or two,Ē he barked, as he gestured toward Polly.
ďYou good-for-nothing whore,Ē he continues swearing at her, as he begins pushing and shoving her out our bedroom door.
Polly continues crying and pulls the covers over her head. I am just about to lie back down when I realize they left the light on and wonder if I dare to get out of bed to turn it off.
I can hear my father yelling at my mother, and I can hear her scream as the slaps and blows hit her. Then I hear a pitiful crying sound along with the shouting and wailing noises my parents are making. I am startled. I realize itís my little sister--itís my Glory. She is in there with them. ďI must get her,Ē I say to myself, but I am scared.
I look over at Polly, but she is still hiding under the covers. I look over at Rich, maybe he can help, but he has a pillow over his head. It continues. I hear Gloriaís baby-like sobs again. I can tell that she is terrified. I am frightened, too. But, Iím a big girl, she's just a little-bitty girl, and sheís only three. Itís up to me to get her, if she stays in there, they might hurt her.
I run across the top of the stairway into my parentís bedroom. My father has thrown my mother on his bed; her nightdress is way up around her neck. He is straddling her stomach and has pinned her arms with one hand, and is slapping her across the face with the other one. He tells her he will really fix her this time. My mother gasps, itís almost like she canít breathe. I want to tell him to stop, but I donít dare. They are both too scary.
I look at my motherís bed. Gloria is sitting in the middle of it, rubbing her eyes as she watches our mother and father, and continues to wail. They donít seem to hear her. I sneak over to the bed and motion for her to come with me. She crawls over to the side of the bed with her bottle, and I help her slide down to the floor. She falls and cries out even louder. Iím alarmed by her piercing shriek--surely they will hear it.
Will we both be beat up, too?
I bend over and decide I will carry her, even though she is almost as big as I am. I stand her up with her back toward me, slide my arms under her arms and begin walking with her as her feet bang against my legs. She is heavy, I worry I will drop her and she will fall down the stairs, but we make it across the hallway into the other bedroom.
Push and I half-toss her on the bed, and she helps by pulling herself up. I cover both of us, and then realize the light is still on. I stand up, walk down to the bottom of the bed, and reach up and pull the string that turns the light out. Instantly, I am in the dark. I canít see, so I drop to my knees and crawl back up by the pillow, get under the covers, and pull Gloria over close to me.
ďThere, there,Ē I croon to her. ďYouíre okay now, youíre okay now.Ē
My fatherís ranting and raving has stopped, but once again I hear my motherís gasps and coughs, along with the static filled radio music that has been playing all this time.
Gloria lets out one last sob.
ďItís okay, Glory,Ē I whisper to her. ďEverything is going to be all right,Ē I say in a soothing voice.
She heaves a big sigh as I continue to comfort her. I hope she will go to sleep soon, so that I can go to sleep too, I am really tired now.
Just before I fall off to sleep, from my parentís room, I hear my mother weeping quietly, and on the radio the WWVA announcer plays:
Momma Sang A Song.