Go Tell Aunt Rhody

Exhibit(A) One lucky duck

Jaap van Zweden conducted the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven's Sixth and Fifth Symphonies one Thursday evening last fall, and I WAS THERE. I was a lucky duck. Sure beats being the old gray goose.

In second grade Mrs. Wolcott taught us to open our American Singer songbooks (Second Edition, Book Two) to the page with "Go Tell Aunt Rhodey".

Welcome to Mortality 101. We live. We die. Doesn't matter if you are a goose or a person. That's just the Dragnet facts. It was harsh, but by second grade most of us had experienced the death and flushing of a goldfish that had been so foolish as to leap out of the bowl. We were tough. We could take it. We were big. We were in second grade!

Exhibit(B) The American Singer, Second Edition, Book Four, c1954.

Go tell Aunt Rhody, go tell Aunt Rhody
Go tell Aunt Rhody, the old gray goose is dead
The one she's been saving
The one she's been saving
The one she's been saving
To make a feather bed

I don't own Book Two with all the verses we learned as kids. Just have the brief entry from Book Four. My recollection is of verses for the days of the week. Something along the lines of "died last Friday", "mourned on Saturday", "plucked on Sunday", "buried on Monday".

The students are learning in music class that folk songs are passed down aurally, and that folk songs have different versions. It's possible to spend an incredible amount of time googling about Aunt Rhody and the unfortunate deceased goose. You can even find verses where Aunt Rhody makes goose sausages. And that ain't pate de foie gras, baby.

You still won't be able to pin down the goose-slayer, the murder weapon, or even the scene of the crime. It was not Colonel Mustard in the parlor with the candlestick! Sources who prefer to remain anonymous will contribute tips about a millpond, a toothache, a perverse tendency to stand on one's head, a distraught gander, and emotionally-neglected goslings scooped up by Child Protective Services.

Folk songs change. They seem to grow, to travel, to woo, to wed, and then beget. They invite improvisation and parody to all their tailgate parties. Names change often, like your first husband's cousin Debi who married Dave when she was just out of high school, then divorced him to marry Bob who worked at the Chevy dealership. She ran off with Chuck, and then changed her name to Debbi, always dotting the i with a little heart. Eventually she divorced Bob, even before she finished her massage-therapy mail correspondence course, to remarry Dave. Nevermind about the twins she had with Chuck. But then she met Buck at the senior center bingo night/potluck and took up with him. He called her "Little Debby", and she didn't ever inform him otherwise. She just waved goodbye to Dave from the back of Buck's Harley. Last we heard, she was setting up amps for Grateful Dead tribute groups and wearing lots of tie-dye.

Or maybe that was Aunt Roadie. Aunt Rhody is just as likely to be using an alias--Aunt Tabby, Aunt Susie, even Aunt Nancy.

The mysterious part of the song is the identity and role of Aunt Rhodey, aka Rhody or Rhodie. Who is she? Why must we go tell her? Who is Aunt Rhody to the old gray goose, or the old gray goose to her? Are we supposed to weep? Should we rejoice that Aunt Rhody can now pluck the duck for the feather bed? Is this some sort of Madhatter Hamlet? And do geese have teeth? Maybe they just have serrated steak knives they got at Jerry's Sinclair station back during the Gas Wars of the Sixties. Goat tell ant Rhody how I loved the aroma of leaded gas in those day. That was before the goose had that aching in her head.

"What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her?"
- William Shakespeare, Hamlet, 2.2

Having spent two 1966 dollars in Estes Park, Colorado for a touristy giftshop rock set, I know that rhodonite is a pinkish mineral that often has black spots. Aunt Rhody might be a baby name from the time when folks named their girls "Pearl", "Opal", "Ruby", and "Diamond". Or pyrite, fools' gold.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

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