Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Strings and Sealing Wax, and other Fancy Stuff

Behind my grandparents home in the country, there used to be a rusty old swing set that was many years older than I. My grandparents had acquired it when my mom and her younger sister were little girls. It had two metal swings side by side and bars on each end forming perfect A's. By the time it was my turn to play on it, the swing set had been painted many times over, each coat chipping off and rust nearly always showing through. In the spring, birds always made nests on either side of the top. My grandfather always knew what they were -- sparrows, bobwhites, or some other little winged variety.

Regardless of the weather I always wanted to play on that swing set. In 100 degree heat, in the cool fall air, and in the winter when it was too cold to sit on the metal seat of the swing. It was on that swing set my grandfather taught me how to "skin the cat" a maneuver that he would happily show my brother and I making us giggle uncontrollably. I have many fond memories of just being pushed by my grandfather, my mom, or one of my aunts even when I old enough to know how to pump my legs back and forth to fly through the air myself.

My youngest aunt was always happy to oblige me in being pushed on the swing. She would hold the swing steady while I situated myself, then holding the rusted chains would gently start the swing slowly back and forth. Then she would let go and lightly push me from behind, sending me higher and higher while I gripped the chains closing my eyes just feeling the calming motion and the wind against my body. While she pushed me, my aunt always sang or lightly hummed "Puff the Magic Dragon" by the 60's folk group Peter, Paul, and Mary. In time, I insisted that whomever pushed me also had to sing that song, over and over and over.

Puff the Magic Dragon, is a song about a dragon who lives in a land by the sea and frolic's in the autumn mist. He has a beloved little friend with whom Puff has many great adventures before the boy grows up and loses interest.

I don't know what it is about the song, but I've always loved it. The magical simplicity of the melody, the story that unfolds through the course of the song, or the idea that somewhere in the autumn mist there was a magic dragon who existed even if only in my imagination. Sometimes, for no reason at all, that song will just jump into my head playing round and round. Occasionally I am stressed or tensed, I'll find myself humming the melody like my aunt used to do. Its one of those tunes that almost immediately brings me comfort, taking me back to my childhood. I always envision huge, friendly dragon with a little boy on his back settled between his wings skimming the surface of the water near some cliff side, in an early morning autumn mist and that imagery makes me smile. Just humming a few bars or the chorus allows me to remember simpler times of my youth making me wish I was still small enough to be pushed on the swing set and sang to. I suppose it reminds me of the imaginary creatures and friends I used to have and, like the little boy in the song, eventually outgrew.

**This was a post that I had in my drafts, but never finished. Upon hearing the news of Mary Travers' (from Peter, Paul, and Mary) passing I felt compelled to post it. The world has lost some very talented people this year. People I grew up watching on television or in movies, or listening to their music. I can't help but feel with each passing, a little part of my childhood goes too. **

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called honah lee,
Little jackie paper loved that rascal puff,
And brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff. oh

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called honah lee,
Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called honah lee.

Together they would travel on a boat with billowed sail
Jackie kept a lookout perched on puffs gigantic tail,
Noble kings and princes would bow when near they came,
Pirate ships would lower their flag when puff roared out his name. oh!

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called honah lee,
Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called honah lee.

A dragon lives forever but not so little boys
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys.
One grey night it happened, jackie paper came no more
And puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.

His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain,
Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane.
Without his life-long friend, puff could not be brave,
So puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave. oh!

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called honah lee,
Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called honah lee.


raeleighjo/bigskygirlmt said...

sigh. oh mandy. that damn song makes me sob. to this day. i don't know why all those fools think it's about smokin' dope.

i have one of their greatest hits tapes that my dad and i used to sing along to. "stewball" is another of my faves. :)

anyway, when i saw that she passed, i wanted to write a post about how much that tape and those sing-a-longs with my old man meant to me -- but then i saw this post. is it ok with you if i still write it?

Frank said...

We used to have a swingset in my backyard that I loved. It rusted and nobody used it after middle school, so a few years ago we tore it down and dragged it to the curb to be hauled away. The back yard looks so empty without it.

Leah said...

What an amazing memory tp have! That swing set does sound magical.
I have only one meory of that song, one of my sister's used to play it on the piano and i remember the sheet music sitting around our piano room with the big green dragon on it. I was fascinated by it.
Someday, you will be abele to push your children on that swing and sing Puff the Magic Dragon to them and relive that experience from a different point of view.

Unknown said...

This was my favorite song too. When I was four, I had a Peter Paul and Mary record (yes, I'm old enough for records) and I would insist on playing this one song over and over and over on my fisher price record player.

And then Ben Stiller had to totally ruin it for me in "Meet the Parents." Thanks Ben Stiller. Thanks alot.

alexa @clevelandsaplum said...

i know this song means so much to you and is very important, but i can't help but think about pot when i hear it.


horrible, i know.

Kyla Roma said...

Aw that's wild that you already had this started when you heard about Mary! I didn't know the song very well, but I love how we have these little triggers built in to help us remember things that can help us through when we need a moment of quiet.

Anonymous said...

Lovely tribute, Mandy.

It's definitely been a rough year for celebrities and it's getting harder and harder for me to keep it together each time I hear about one of them passing. It's so odd to think that we are in a time in our lives where our favorite actors/actresses/singers and songwriters are experiencing mortality. I haven't quite figured out how I feel about it yet.

Little Fish said...

I'm sorry but I can't comment right now because I’m being swallowed by a boa constrictor
and I don’t like it very much!

Bayjb said...

Oh man, my parents had that record and I swear when my dad needed to unwind when he came home he would play it. So crazy! Lovely post

Nilsa @ SoMi Speaks said...

What a lovely post. A lovely tribute. I grew up listening to Puff and have always held a soft place in my heart for PP&M. A sad loss this week indeed.

Auburn Kat said...

As soon as I read "puff the Magic Dragon" I started singing the song in my head!

We had a swing set in our backyard, gosh I loved that thing! I also have a scar right below my lower lip from slidding down the slide with my teeth hanging out...well I forgot to bend my legs at the bottom and how I have two teeth impressions under my lip!