“River in the rain,
Sometimes at night you look like a long white train,
Winding your way away from me.
River, I’ve never seen the sea.”
Oh, sure, you got your Wicked, your Miss Saigon, your Les Mis, your Phantom, your Blood Brothers, your Godspell…even your Xanadu. The list goes on.
Seen ’em…love ’em.
But Big River, the 1985 musical adaptation of Mr. Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, just hits me right in the bluegrass’n’country seat of my lit-lovin’-son-of-Maplesville soul.
How could it not? The “King of the Road” himself, Roger Miller, composed the music and lyrics.
Huck and Jim sing “River in the Rain” as they’re rafting the Mississippi with the intentions of getting Jim to freedom. It and “Leavin’s Not the Only Way to Go” are my two favorite songs from the show.
Well, last month Alison Krauss released a video of her performance of the song that is on her February album Windy City. Her voice and “River in the Rain” are a beautiful pairing.
Y’all, I have hummed and sung along with “River in the Rain” for thirty-two years…but yesterday…yesterday, listening to Alison Krauss, I finally heard with my heart the last line of the song:
“River, I’ve never seen the sea.”
Growing up in the little house on Highway 22 in Maplesville, my family never went on vacations.
Couple reasons…Daddy’s work schedule being one and the garden being the other. There was just too much to do.
We depended on the garden to see us through the year with its harvest. We were a single-income family until Momma started working for Mr. Harry Higginbotham in the early 70s.
Even then…too much to do to go on vacation.
Until I was sixteen, the biggest waterways I’d seen were the creek under the railroad trestle, Mr. Sherman Motley’s pond across the road from the little house on Highway 22, the slough off 82 where sometimes we’d do a little fishing, and the Alabama River when we’d cross it on the way to visit the kin down in Montgomery.
I saw the Atlantic in 1979 when the chartered bus stopped briefly at Daytona on our way back from our junior class trip to Disney World.
I saw the Potomac on a 1980 trip to DC for the national FBLA competition.
But it’s the Gulf of Mexico I fell in love with when I finally got there in 1982. A drama troupe I was in went to Robertsdale for a Sunday-morning gig at our assistant director’s church. The afternoon before, we went to Gulf Shores.
The crowd was sparse, the day was overcast, and the temperature was chilly…I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect introduction.
I’ve been there in the blazing hell-hot heat of June, and I’ve been there in the nippy just-right chill of December. But my favorite time to go…October.
When I’d return to visit Momma and Daddy at the little house on Highway 22, I’d tell them about the magical spell of the sand, the spray, and the sacred solitude I felt gazing out over the horizon of water.
But it’s the alluring siren’s song of the breaking waves that kept taking me back…and still calls to me.
As I’d attempt to express to my folks the appeal, Momma’d say things like:
“Son, you be careful when you go down there. You know you cain’t swim.”
“I’m fine right here in Maplesville.”
Daddy…as was often the case…had few words to say…
…until 2007 when I returned from a trip to the Gulf between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
I went to see him on New Year’s Day. Since Momma had died in 2003, it was usually just the two us having our black-eyed peas, ham hock, greens, and cornbread.
After we cleaned up the kitchen, the two of us went to sit in the living room.
“How was y’trip down yonder, son?”
“Great as always, Daddy.”
“I might like to go down there and see all that water one of these days. I ain’t never seen the sea.”
Y’all, I don’t know if I believe folks who say they have no regrets in their lives.
Lord knows I have a million and three.
Chief among them….
…I let seven years’ worth of opportunity to help Daddy fulfill that “might like to”…
…I let seven years between that New Year’s Day and the day he hoed his row to the end…
…I let seven years…
…slip through the hourglass and get swept out with the tide.
Daddy, I’m sorry you never saw the sea.
Steve Latham – June 8, 2017