It’s interesting how a favorite song can expose aspects of a person or a family. When my folks were dating, Mom decided that they should have a song that was just theirs – a song that would symbolize their deep, abiding love for each other! In Mom’s mind, whenever this song was played, they would look at each other and know that there was a special meaning in this song just for them. She asked Dad what his favorite song was. It didn’t turn out the way Mom intended. It seems that Dad had always liked the song, “Don’t Fence Me In”.
The lyrics of this song were written by Robert Fletcher in the 1930s when he was living in Montana. It really describes life on the high plains! In 1934, Cole Porter adapted the lyrics for a song he was writing for a musical that never quite made it off the drawing board. The song eventually became one of the top 100 western songs.
“Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above…
Let me ride through the wide-open country that I love…
Let me be by myself in the evenin’ breeze
Listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever but I ask you please
Don’t fence me in….
I want to ride to the ridge where the west commences
Gaze at the moon till I lose my senses
Can’t look at hobbles and I can’t stand fences
Don’t fence me in…”
The funny thing is that Dad was from southeast Kansas where they have water and trees and fences. Mom was from Dodge City where they also have water and trees and fences. They ended up in Great Bend, Kansas which doesn’t have much water or trees but still has fences! Dad once said that you have to be born in western Kansas to appreciate it and I think he had a good point. I was born in Pratt, Kansas and have always had an affinity for this area of the country – wide open spaces!
In a way, “Don’t Fence Me In” did come to symbolize my family. While it was a great story as to how we developed a love of this song, it also explained that odd little “hitch in our git-along”. We were a fairly traditional family – Mom, Dad, my brother, and myself – but we all marched to our own drum beat and were decidedly difficult to “fence in”!
In my case, that quirk made it hard to fit in with a crowd. About the time that I was figuring out the “twist”, everyone else was doing the “shag”!! I won’t tell you about my adventures learning the “dirty dog”! In case anyone is perplexed at this point, I should probably tell you that these were dances that were in vogue when I was in high school.
In an effort to help “corral” me long enough to fit in with my high school crowd, Mom signed me up for dance lessons. Once a week, the budding debutantes of Great Bend, Kansas, met in Herb and Hazel Smith’s basement along with any of the guys who could be roped into coming and we learned such dances as the “fox trot”, “waltz”, and the “Charleston”.
Once a year we would gather for a regular dance – complete with punch and eats. The girls would all line up on one side of the room and the guys would line up on the other side. Herb, Hazel, and the other chaperones would police the sidelines, making sure that all the girls were dancing. No one was allowed to sit out a dance.
I’m not sure who was braver – the guy who had to cross the 1,000-mile no-man’s-land to get to the girls or the girl who sat there, desperately hoping that someone would ask her to dance. Who was it that decided that there must be a male and female partnered to be able to dance? I’ve done my best dancing in the kitchen, boiling eggs or making pudding, standing in front of the stove waiting for the food to be cooked while a fabulous song roared out of the radio or the stereo!!
One of the best things that came out of the 60’s was the ability to dance by ourselves. The music would come on and we could move our feet and our arms (sometimes to the beat of the music and sometimes in a coordinated manner)! If no one asked us to dance, we could bounce out to the middle of the floor, shake our booty, and pretend that we were with someone else.
I eventually figured out how to make friends and fit in (somewhat), but I’ve always managed to aggressively be my own self. This was strengthened at one point by some advice on parenting from my dad. I have used his advice for every part of my life. He said, “Just remember, Bec. It doesn’t matter what you do, (pause for dramatic effect) you’ll always be wrong!”
I stopped trying to do the “right” thing in order to fit in and I started living up to the family motto – “Don’t Fence Me In”. The only law I try to follow now is one that Mom’s mom laid down. Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary? I can do the “kind” and the “necessary” but sometimes I fudge on the “true”!