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Down by the Old Mill Stream: Anecdotes and Tales from the Old Neighborhood, Lawrence - My Hometown
by:Richard Edward Noble
“Down by the Old Mill Stream” was one of my dad’s favorite songs. My dad would have a few beers and then turn up the radio. He and I would then begin to harmonize to the smiling yet cynical faces of the rest of the family. I suppose we weren't all that good. It sounded great to me, though. This memory goes back to my early childhood and the late 1940’s....
“Down by the Old Mill Stream” was one of my dad’s favorite songs. My dad would have a few beers and then turn up the radio. He and I would then begin to harmonize to the smiling yet cynical faces of the rest of the family. I suppose we weren't all that good. It sounded great to me, though. This memory goes back to my early childhood and the late 1940’s. We didn't have a TV in those days. Before all we Americans became addicted to the TV, people had pianos in their living rooms and music emanating from a tube filled contraption that sat in the parlor somewhere in the vicinity of that old piano. One way my dad’s generation entertained themselves in the evenings in the tiny parlors of their tenement apartments was by harmonizing around that old floor model radio. I’m old enough to have experienced the tail end of that type entertainment. It obviously impressed me. I've never forgotten us doing it together Whenever I hear songs like “Down by the Old Mill Stream,” “Sweet Adeline,” “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” and “A Little Bit of Heaven,” pictures begin flashing on that big screen in the back of my head. My father knew all the words to those songs. I loved to listen to him recite the introduction to “A Little Bit of Heaven.” “Have you ever heard the story Of how Ireland got its name? I'll tell you so you'll understand From whence old Ireland came.” Every time he did it, I thought he was making it up on the spot and telling the story to me. I thought “Down By the Old Mill Stream,” was the personal story of my mother and father’s romance when they were courting in Lawrence, MA, their hometown. The old mill and the stream were down on Canal Street. The picture that always came to my mind whenever I heard those lyrics is on the cover of this book. I since learned that the old mill in the song was not a textile mill but an old fashioned grist mill and the stream was not one of our Lawrence canals like the one flowing behind Lawton’s Hot Dog Stand on the corner of Canal and Broadway. My dad liked the slow, romantic version of the song. He would sing it all the way through like a romantic ballad before I’d burst in like one of the Ink Spots or the Mills Brothers. He sang it with such seriousness and sincerity how could I not believe it was my mom and dad’s personal story? I remember the verse for the most part. “Down by the old Mill stream, where I first met you, With your eyes of blue, dressed in gingham too, It was there I knew that you loved me true, You were sixteen, my village queen, by the old mill stream.” I thought gingham represented a white wedding dress not a checked tablecloth type of fabric. But in review, the checkered tablecloth design fits Lawrence better than the wedding dress anyway.
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