The Protest Music of the 1960’s in the Soundtrack of Our Lives in Fields of Gold: A Love Story

Reflecting in the past week on the death of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 and how momentous it was in our personal lives within Fields of Gold: A Love Story, as Daddy and Mama reminded us time and again how personal President Kennedy’s assassination was for them.

Mama had just left Dallas with us babies when the news came over the radio, first that President Kennedy had been shot, and then that he had been assassinated. Mama told us over and over as we grew up how she pulled the car off the road upon hearing of his death and cried.

When Daddy got home from work that Friday afternoon in 1963, we went out as a family and bought the television that would be a mainstay in our lives for the next twenty years.

Mama and Daddy were as apolitical as two people could be. They cared about their country – the United States of America – but they cared nothing (and talked nothing) about its politics. For that I’m thankful because they passed that legacy of apoliticalness on to me.

They voted in only one election – 1956 – as newlyweds. They registered as independents, but voted for Dwight D. Eisenhower for President of the U.S. They never voted again for anything, as far as I know, in their lives.

But they must have identified with the kindred message that epitomized President John F. Kennedy’s election in 1960. Daddy and Mama, several years younger than President Kennedy, were not typical of their Silent Generation in some interesting ways (this was one of them), perhaps because they were only children with no siblings to influence them, and because they were orphans, with no parental guidance or influence in their lives.

In many ways, that was a negative that I believe became a positive for both of them. Daddy and Mama were always service-oriented, others-centered, and typified one of President Kennedy’s most famous quotes: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Daddy and Mama lived that philosophy with everything and everyone in their lives.

I always believed – and often told her, laughingly – that if Mama had been born twenty years later, she would have been right in the middle of the revolutionary activism for racial equality and social justice in the late 1960’s (she had too strong of a staunch moral conviction to have been involved in the moral lapses of the same period, so, in the end, perhaps she was born when she was supposed to have been born). 

I suppose, then, it’s not surprising that some of the protest music of the 1960’s made its way into our very early lives, and probably had a greater influence on me than I realize, leading me ten to fifteen years later, with the help of my intriguing discovery of Rolling Stone magazine on Sunday afternoons spent at the local libraries in the towns we lived in along the way, into unlocking the treasure chest of all the music of the 1960’s and adding that to the soundtrack of my own life.

Here are a few of the songs and artists Daddy and Mama liked and included in this section of the soundtrack of our lives:

“Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” – The Kingston Trio

“Blowin’ In The Wind” – Peter, Paul, and Mary

“A Change Gonna Come” – Sam Cooke

“The Sound of Silence” – Simon and Garfunkel

“Masters of War” – Odetta

These are a few of the many songs I have tucked away in the memories of my mind from the days and nights of my earliest years on this planet, and, as always, I am thankful for the incredible soundtrack of our lives that Daddy and Mama began and we, their children, continue to add to now that they’re both gone, but never forgotten.

Maybe on this Sunday morning you can pull out the soundtrack of your lives and share it with your family, and don’t forget to keep adding those tracks. This will be part of the legacy you leave to them when you’re gone, and it’s priceless.


Mama and Daddy Songs: Love, Commitment, and Death – Fields of Gold: A Love Story and The Soundtrack of Our Lives

When Daddy died on October 15, 1998, a chapter in Fields of Gold: A Love Story ended, in a physical sense, for Mama and for us kids. One of the first things I did after Daddy died was to compile music that encapsulated his and Mama’s life together. Their love. Their commitment. Daddy’s death.

Here’s a small sampling from this part of the soundtrack of our lives.

One of the songs I included is part of the title of their memoir. “Fields of Gold” was a track on Sting’s 1993 album Ten Summoner’s Tales. I first heard Sting when he was the front man (and primary songwriter) for The Police. The moment I first heard the opening riffs of “Roxanne,” I knew there was new genre of rock music emerging (I had these same realizations the first time I heard Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and later Coldplay’s “Clocks“), and it was a refreshing alternative to the mostly banal tenor of music that characterized the decade before (1970’s). 

A former high school English teacher, Sting also caught my attention because of his intelligent and insightful lyrics and his frequent allusions to English literature in songs like “Wrapped Around My Finger” and “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.”

As a solo artist, Sting departed from the more stark and bare bones musical sound of The Police, and embraced a more full orchestration musically. His lyrics also matured as they revealed a man who was building a family and a life. Sting’s first solo album, The Dream of the Blue Turtles, which I consider his seminal album, featured the haunting “Russians” and the introspective “Fortress Around Your Heart.”

By 1993, Sting’s transition to a happy and contented family man was complete, and Ten Summoner’s Tales is evidence of that, with “Fields of Gold” as the most compelling testimony. I heard many shades of my own parents’ love story that included us kids in that song:

Another song that I included on my compilation was an old Jimmy Buffet song, “He Went to Paris.” One of the last lines of the song seemed to encapsulate Daddy’s optimistic outlook on life:

Daddy and Mama, because of their educational pursuits and careers, had times in their lives together before and after marriage when they were apart from each other for longer-than-they-wanted-to-be periods of time. Another song that I included, Firefall’s “Just Remember I Love You,” reflected the endurance of their commitment and love despite the physical distance that separated them at times:

And, as I witnessed, in the fall of 1998, Mama’s heart-breaking grief process as she began to adjust to life without her best friend and soulmate, I could not help but be reminded of Justin Hayward’s “Forever Autumn:”

The soundtrack of our lives is sometimes bittersweet. But as the narrator of “He Went to Paris,” summarizes, in the end “Some of it’s magic, some of it’s tragic, but I had a good life all the way.” 

Have a great Sunday morning! Don’t forget to not only remember the soundtrack of your lives, but to continue to add new tracks to it!

Fields of Gold: A Love Story – Mama’s Northeast Tennessee Roots in the Soundtrack of Our Lives

Mama loved bluegrass and classic country music as long I can remember. She loved it in its purest form. It comforted her during the days of early childhood and teenaged years that she lived in a unloving, cold, lonely home in Greenville, SC, when the radio was the only media, and and music from The Grand Old Opry connected her back to the only people she had only known love from – her family, on her mother’s side, in Erwin and Flag Pond, Tennessee, and on her father’s side, in Telford and Limestone, Tennessee. 

Mama’s aunt velva playing banjoAunt Velva, from Flag Pond, TN, played banjo. Banjo, along with the fiddle, is a core instrument in country music.

Interestingly enough, banjo, along with guitar, is also an instrument in Mississippi Delta blues, which time has revealed shares many common roots with early country music and bluegrass music in its structures, themes of hardship, and maybe hope for better days somewhere down the line, either in this life or the next.

One of Mama’s favorite bluegrass artists was Bill Monroe. I grew up listening to a lot of old-school bluegrass and Bill Monroe figured prominently among them.

Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky” was one of Mama’s favorites:

Fiddle-playing was also an integral part of the bluegrass music that Mama grew up listening to and loved all her life. Although a fiddle and a violin are the same instrument played differently (I will forever love Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” for the violin work within them, especially in “Autumn,” which Mama loved as much I did), I also have a strong affinity for really good fiddle-playing like my Mama.

I consider Mark O’Connor one of the best fiddle players ever. He played with Charlie Daniels (a master fiddle player in his own right) on Johnny Cash’s answer to Daniel’s “The Devil Went to Down to Georgia” with the “The Devil Comes Back to Georgia” in the mid-1990’s:

My biggest issue with traditional bluegrass music was the high-pitched, “whiney” singing. I used to tell Mama if Bill Monroe just played and didn’t sing, I’d really enjoy the music a lot more. But there was just something about that combination that she loved.

When bluegrass music had a revival in the mid-1990’s as “newgrass,” led by Alison Krauss (whose voice was still too high-pitched to be totally comfortable to my ears, but bearable) and the Union Station, I eagerly introduced Mama, who loved it, to the next generation of artists who were making the music she loved.

One of the songs that Mama and I both really liked (Mama asked me to print the lyrics so she could sing along with me) was 2002’s “The Lowlands” by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (which features the mandolin, also a prominent instrument in most bluegrass and newgrass music):

But where we both finally found total agreement on the sounds of bluegrass was in a trio out of Texas that shook up the music world from the moment they left the gate in 1998: the Dixie Chicks.

I have always preferred music that is so complex instrumentally and lyrically that it defies the boundaries of genres and stands in a class all by itself, which is probably the legacy that Daddy and Mama left me by their wide-ranging and eclectic musical tastes. The Dixie Chicks accomplished that with most of their music. This was one of Mama’s favorites – “Travelin’ Soldier” from the 2002 album Home:

These days when I hear any of these or any other music with these roots, I smile in spite of the gentle flow of tears that runs down my face because I can see Mama’s beautiful smile, her blue eyes twinkling, and her hands and feet keeping rhythm with the beat as she sings or hums. I’m thankful for this part of her that she left with me.

Have a wonderful Sunday morning! Create your own soundtrack of your lives with your families. Enjoy the memories of times past and make new memories going forward. 


Fields of Gold: A Love Story – Rosa Mae Sartin Ross (Daddy’s Mama)

In late 2009, I received a phone call from a gentleman named Bill Stokes. Anyone who knows me well knows I hate talking on the phone and generally will not answer a call from a number I don’t recognize. Bill happened to catch me because I was waiting on another phone call that I needed to answer and I didn’t bother looking at the caller ID.

Bill introduced himself (he was living and working in Cary, NC at the time) and explained to me that he was writing a book, consisting primarily of courtship letters, about his grandfather and grandmother, Rufus and Palmetta Matlock.

In the course of transcribing the handwritten letters from Rufus to Palmetta, Bill kept coming across the name of a young lady named Rosa in Burlington, NC whom Rufus had dated before meeting Palmetta and whom everyone assumed he would marry.

As the letters progressed, Bill found out Rosa’s last name, which was Sartin. The relationship between Rufus and Rosa had been serious. Everyone in Burlington, NC was convinced that Rufus and Rosa would marry, and apparently in the early 1900’s the Burlington Times-News had a “gossip” page in which Rufus and Rosa appeared frequently as an item.

fields-of-gold-a-love-storyWhen Rufus ended their romantic relationship while maintaining that he wanted to be friends with Rosa, Rosa was devastated and said she would never love anyone but Rufus and she would never marry. 

Bill Stokes was intrigued by Rosa Sartin and wanted to find out more about her because Rufus’ letters are full of her and his guilt, concern, and care about her well-being. (The letters are included in Bill Stoke’s book, which is available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback versions, Dearest Palmetta. I know very little about Daddy’s parents, so reading this gave me a lot more insight into his mother and why she and Daddy’s father, Jasper Ross, married so late in life after years of persistent attention and pursuit by Jasper.)

From Dearest Palmetta:

“With all the attention that my grandfather has given to Rosa Sartin, I was very interested in discovering the ultimate fate of Rosa.   I kept asking people in Alamance County near the area of the Matlock home place if anyone knew of Rosa, but no one did.   One day my newly found Alamance County third cousin, Peggy Boswell, introduced me to Mr. Tim Ross, who had relatives living in the Stoney Creek Church area.   Tim said that the name sounded familiar.   He said that she possibly could be found in his 1978 book documenting his Ross Family genealogy.   Tim loaned me his book, and I discovered that Rosa had married Jasper Ross.   The Ross family lived in Rosa’s Alamance County neighborhood.   Later I discovered that Rosa and her husband Jasper were buried in the same Stoney Creek Church cemetery where my grandfather’s parents and grandparents are buried.

The Ross genealogy book indicated that Rosa had a son, Ned Moses Ross, born in 1928.   Ned was a veterinarian who lived in Wallace, N.C. when the genealogy book was written in 1978.   This genealogy book also indicated that Rosa died in 1936 at the age of 53, one year after the death of her husband Jasper.   This meant that her son Ned was an orphan at the age of eight.   This was a sad situation, but at least I was happy to learn that Rosa had married and had a son.     After learning about Rosa, I wanted to find more about Rosa’s son, Ned Ross.   Where else could I go but to Google for this information.   In the search I found a 1998 Wake Forest University alumni magazine.   Ned Ross was found in the section under Alumni Deaths.   The article mentioned that his widow, Muriel, lived in Johnson City, Tennessee.   I couldn’t stop there, so I looked up Muriel’s telephone number, and luckily found it listed.   I called Muriel, told her why I was interested in her husband, and she told me about Ned and their three daughters.   Muriel gave me the telephone number of one of her daughters.   A few days later I called the daughter.   She was thrilled to learn about her grandmother of whom she knew very little.   Ned’s daughter told me that Ned was raised by an aunt after his mother, Rosa, died.   I emailed Ned and Muriel’s daughter the school picture that showed both Rosa and my grandfather.”

Bill and I have stayed in touch since then and I let him know when Mama died and also when Fields of Gold: A Love Story was published. He sent me an email after reading it that said, in part:

“The letter from Rosa to your dad at the beginning of the book brought tears to my eyes.  My grandfather thought a lot of Rosa, and I can understand why he did.

By the way, my wife Barbara and my 92 year-old mother have read your book and enjoyed it as much as I.”

We hope, at some point, to meet in Burlington where Bill wants to introduce me to some of Daddy’s relatives on his father’s side. We didn’t know them growing up, but Bill keeps telling me that I should get to know them and assures me that we’ll find a lot of common family ground. I’m willing to give it a shot.