When I was a kid in Kindergarten we used to sing this song “The Farmer In The Dell.” (Actually I thought for years it was called “The Farmer and the Dell.”) Anyway the tune begins benignly with the farmer taking a wife – “Hi Ho the Derry-O (sounds nice enough) the farmer takes a wife.” After the farmer takes a wife – the wife takes a child – the child takes a nurse – the nurse takes a dog – the dog takes a cat – the cat takes a rat – the rat takes the cheese – the cheese takes — actually the cheese takes nothing – “the cheese stands alone.” The farmer takes a wife but the cheese stands alone. Those of us who as children have been unfortunate enough to end up being the cheese on more than one occasion really were made to feel like shit because of it. Everybody winds up with something or somebody but the cheese stands alone! Not alone in a positive sense like unique and heads above the crowd, but rather alone like abandoned, cast aside, forlorn, rejected with no hope of being anything more than the goddamn cheese! The rest of the children would point and laugh and taunt, especially the tall farmer and his pretty wife. Since I was the shortest boy in the class I played the cheese on a regular basis. For some as yet unexplained reason, girls were not put through the humiliation of being the cheese. It seems only boys were the cheese and it was usually me. So often that it became like having an anti cheese vaccine. I was cheese resistant! I took bows when I stood alone. I wallowed in being the cheese. It was like the “briar patch” to me. I didn’t always come out without getting my ass kicked but I was never afraid to go back for more…still not. As a result, thus far in my seventy-seven plus years when the world at large or people in specific attempted to isolate me and make me feel like I was that piece of cheese I never really felt alone. This was true even on the many occasions when “they looked at me like I was fucking crazy.”
Now aside from the “Farmer In (and) The Dell” there is another unpretentious and pithy little ditty that I view as a golden nugget that was casually handed to us in our formative years. ROW ROW ROW YOUR BOAT. Almost everyone can sing it but few realize that this seemingly innocuous childhood rhyme contains within the quintessential basic lesson plan for living.
ROW ROW ROW YOUR BOAT
GENTLY DOWN THE STREAM
MERRILY MERRILY MERRILY MERRILY
LIFE IS BUT A DREAM
The first most obvious observation about ROW ROW ROW YOUR BOAT is that it has THREE ROWS and FOUR MERRILYS and the highest note in the song is on a MERRILY not a ROW. I believe it suggests that we try to live our lives on the crest of the FOURTH MERRILY. More play than work. Unfortunately, most people seem to live their lives one MERRILY short and with far too many ROWS.
The tune advises us to go GENTLY DOWN THE STREAM. Among the words used in the definition of gently or gentle are: kind, amiable, soft, delicate and moderate. Not harsh, stern or violent. War, murder and rape are not gentle. Love and kindness is. When we go travel DOWN THE STREAM we are “going with the flow” on the path of least resistance. Unless you’re a salmon or a lemming. Maybe too many of us are to busy trying to go up the down staircase.
The last line “LIFE IS BUT A DREAM” reminds us that we exist from moment to moment but all of our existence off the bow or stern of our “boat” is or will be but a dream. All that which we hope to attain must begin as a dream and when we achieve our desires and reflect, much of it feels like a dream. Wispy and intangible. But hopefully sweet. Further, the tune is fine when sung by one person but with more than one we can have harmony.