Sunday 22 July 2012

Memories of St. John's

 Lyrics by Marion Parsons © 2006, music traditional

True story of a boy in a Catholic orphanage in Philadelphia in the 1960s; see below for further notes.

Oh Weaver is a common name, there’s lots of Jerrys too
I might have known the brimstone wall would show me quite a few
But if my Jerry’s one of them, for sure I cannot say
Who wrote the simple letter that I’ve kept unto this day.

“Was good to get your note,” he said, across the molding page
“For I was in a place like that when I was ‘bout your age
So pray for me, I’ll pray for you, each night until the time
That you may find a loving home, and I return to mine.”

When Sister Frances made us write to soldiers far away
I had my own war to be lost, and my own price to pay
How little did my father know when he gave me to their care
How long that he would be away, the burdens I would bear.

Were times a neighbour’s jug of milk went lost so we could eat
My brothers, sisters scattered, and our things out by the street
With father always gone to work, and mother just plain gone
They hushed my timid questions, and they dropped me at St. John’s.

The older boys soon taught me when to speak and where to stand
The ones that swung a belt or broom, and who just used her hand
We swapped in saints and Phillies cards, played stickball in the field
And lined up when the bells would ring for school or church or meal.

I learned about the devil and I said a million prayers
Enough to get me through the gates, a sin or two to spare
But not enough to stop the day the nuns took me aside
Cause God had took my father home, and all my hopes had died.

My grownup sister came around at last to take me in
I can’t forget the loneliness that felt as though I’d sinned
Been forty years since I got out, I guess I’ve done okay
And hope the same for Jerry, though I wonder to this day.

This song is based on the memoirs of James Wilby, which he sent to me after hearing another orphan-themed song Frederick Shortt’s Lament.  James is trying to get in contact with Jerry Weaver, the man he exchanged letters with; if you have any suggestions of how to locate a Vietnam veteran, I will forward them to him.

The tune is the Irish ballad Spancil Hill; I sing it unaccompanied.

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