Saturday, November 13, 2010

Story behind "This Old Place"

Two entries ago I posted the Gospel song "This Old Place" together with a lengthy quotation from The Last Battle. I was reminded of that part of The Last Battle when I heard the song.

Thanks to Eldest Daughter, I have the story behind the song. Now, listen up, any of you readers who dislike emotional Gospel music but are traditionalists. You know who you are. You'll like this story. From an interview between Gospel music blogger Daniel J. Mount and songwriter Diane Wilkinson.

My daddy came back from World War II a different person. My mother says that a man came back who looked like my daddy, but it wasn’t my daddy. And he was drinking. My daddy was never able to overcome that. And that was back in the ’40s, before there was any Al-Anon or any help for alcoholics like that.

So my daddy was a full-blown alcoholic, when he was still a young man. He was a medic; he was at the Battle of the Bulge, and he carted his friends away, what was left of ‘em. And we know now what happens with many who come back from war, but back then, I don’t think they knew how to help people like that.

Bottom line, I’m a child of divorce, and no one my age had divorced parents when we grew up. So my mother and her two little ones moved into my grandmother’s house. My granddaddy had built that house, in Blytheville, Arkansas, in the ’40s. It was on a corner of a little, sweet neighborhood there, right around the corner from the Calvary Baptist Church. So we moved into that house, and I lived all of my life in that house, till I married.

After my grandparents passed on, my mother never re-married. She lived in that house until 2001, when she began to be so weak in her legs that we had to move her to Dyersburg. So “family home” doesn’t begin to say … I grew up being raised by my godly grandmother. She taught me about Jesus, she sent me for my first piano lesson.

I love every blade of grass growing there. There’s just something about that place—of course, everyone feels that way.

Well, my brother and I were put into the position of our mother had already moved in with him. His wife doesn’t work outside the home, and I do, so she lives with him. No one is supposed to have to do the final cleanup at your family home while your parent’s still alive. We had to pack all those things—our mother wasn’t able. We would go up on Saturdays, and pack up all those things.

We didn’t know how we would get it sold. It was run-down, and old. And as it turns out, my mother’s sweet neighbors bought the house for a son of theirs. And so I was on my way up there to help my brother do the final cleanup and turn the key over.

And, Daniel, my heart was all the way down in my knees. I just didn’t think I could do it.

I was focusin’ on the boards, and the nails, and the roof. And the Lord began to speak to me with that song. He got me to focus on the people in that house who were waiting for me.

I got the whole thing before I got there. It got me through that afternoon; I don’t think I could have done it any other way.

Well, this was in the Centergy days. And it was so personal that I almost didn’t send it to Niles Borop, my publisher, ’cause I thought, “This is so my song; this happened to me.” And I made a Gospel song out of it, but it was really about my homeplace.

But I told him about it, and he said, “No, just send it, just send it..."

When any of those Cathedrals boys were lookin’, back before we could mp3 stuff, unlike we’re taught to pitch songs, they wanted to hear virtually everything I had, so they could pick and choose from a disc. So I sent Ernie probably ten or twelve songs. He picked “Pray For Me”—their version is bluesy—and he picked that one. He said, “That song touches me, because I’ve lived that song.”

So he recorded it—sings it like an angel. And what happened—I still get emails from people about that song. And I thought, “I was so wrong!” Because everyone will live “This Old Place.” You’ve either already lived it, or you’re gonna.


Jeff Culbreath said...

You're right, Lydia. Love the story. :-)

Lydia McGrew said...

I knew you would. What's interesting is the way that she says that everyone will live that song. And in a way it's true, and in a way it's not. On the one hand, we can say that lots of people never have a family home like that. Lots of people move several times in their lives and never get attached to one house like that so that they grieve for it. But on the other hand, it's true that everybody lives it, because everybody is looking for home, and I think at some point, even if just as children, everybody gets attached to someplace and doesn't want to move. Sometimes outsiders can't for the life of them understand why--it doesn't seem like there's anything particularly lovable about the place that a child doesn't want to leave. But we're natural conservatives, and we want to put down roots. So it's true in that sense that everybody lives the song. Everybody has to be comforted at some point by being told not to grieve for this old place and that this world is not our home. In the end, the place we're attached to and don't want to leave is just the earth itself.

Jeff Culbreath said...

Well said. said...

Very touching story. I live a few miles from the home I was raised in, but as much as I miss that house, I miss my grandmother's home more. I spent weekends there with my grandmother and was very attached to her, the house, and the Italian neighborhood. Even up to a few years ago I fantasized about buying that home and the house next door which was also owned by my great-grandparents and housed the saloon my dad would frequent when he dropped my off to spend the night with Grandma. Trouble is, those two lots are in the infamous Englewood neighborhood of Chicago - the area with the highest crime rate. It breaks my heart. I was released from that reoccurring desire to go back to the "old neighborhood" when I tried to visit the house one day. Taking my life in my hands I drove into Englewood, only to be thwarted by the presence of gangs on the street and now a one way system of getting through the neighborhood that made me too nervous. So I abandoned my mission and got out of there as soon as I could. My brother-in-law works for ComEd and soon after my excursion he was working the lines in the neighborhood. It turns out that whole side of Hermitage Ave. had been torn down in order to build a new school. The Brucellaria houses were gone. I was sad, but relieved to be released from the self imposed obligation I felt to my grandmother and great-grandparents to claim the homestead and keep it for posterity.