It was just another early morning. Unless a deer or a moose crossed the road or stood on the verge of it, the long commute under leaden, midwinter skies promised nothing out of the ordinary. The workday, too, looked likely to offer plenty of pressure but no uplifting surprises. In short, there was no reason to anticipate the arrival of an almost thrilling lift of the spirits.
But then I slipped a disc of folk music into my car’s CD player. I had picked it up on impulse at a recent Bill Staines concert. Among a number of CDs that bore pictures of the folk singer in moody, bluesy poses, I had selected the only sunny one in the mix. This one was illustrated with a photo of Staines set into a child’s crayon drawing of trees and sky.
The tune that turned the mundane morning into a magically marvelous one was the first one on the disc. It was also the title song: “The Happy Wanderer.”
As Staines sang the opening lines in a clear voice that made the sixtysomething singer sound positively boyish, I found myself feeling young at heart, too, in the space of a few lines of lyrics: “I love to go a-wandering along the mountain track/ And as I go, I love to sing, my knapsack on my back.” As the singer launched into the familiar refrain, I was with him heart and soul, singing out at the top of my lungs, “Valderi, valderah, valderi, valderah hahaha haha/Valderei, valderah, my knapsack on my back.”
I suppose any deer or moose in its right mind was sure to avoid the red Nissan with the “valderi”-belting woman at the wheel. This left the roadway distraction-free, so I could indulge in a certain amount of awe at not only how the quirky lyrics of that memorable song could change a dull drive into a musical occasion, but also how those words could work such powerful magic on my spirit and my memory.
In the manner that some smells plunge us into keenly remembering key moments in our lives, the sound of those “valderis” transported me to the classroom in my elementary school where our music teacher, Mrs. Schulman, held sway.
As a bashful child myself, I always marveled at what I saw as her easy bravery at singing and playing the piano or the triangle or the drums while gesticulating to us to join in with her. I remembered, too, how Mrs. Schulman sometimes played the tambourine by tapping the noisy thing on her thigh or shaking it over her head, actions that I saw as particularly unforgettable.
Wrapped up in Mrs. Schulman’s classroom performance were the lyrics of “The Happy Wanderer,” in which the singer hopes, “Oh, may I go a-wandering until the day I die/And may I always laugh and sing beneath the clear blue sky.”
Hearing those words sung on the initially anything-but-promising morning stirred me to remember how, as a pensive child, I had known a moment like this one would arrive sometime many years later, when the sound of that tune would turn an ordinary dawn into a day breaking with memories; when the promise of wandering under happy skies until the end of my days would surely come true.