I was working at my computer one afternoon and glanced out my west window. There were huge fluffy clouds moving briskly east below a bright blue sky. Immediately one morphed into an angel shape — a big angel — which then spread into a huge bird shape. Instantly, the words of a song I heard my daddy sing hundreds of time flashed through my mind.
“If I had the wings of an angel
Over gray prison walls I would fly
I would fly to the arms of my darlin’
And there I’d be willing to die”
Daddy sang a lot. He came from a family of 8 boys and 4 girls and they loved to gather around a piano and sing hymns. Not that he was particularly religious. But those old hymns lent themselves to enthusiastic group part-singing where sopranos, altos, baritones and basses rang out.
Singing was a big part of who he was. When he was happy, he sang happy songs — “She’ll be coming around the mountain,” How’ll you ever get ‘em back on the farm after they’ve seen Paree.” “The old gray mare.”
When he was a little blue or worried, or things weren’t going too well, he softly sang sad songs like “If I had the Wings of an Angel,” which was written in 1924 and recorded by many country singers. What he was singing was the fifth and last verse. He probably didn’t know the other verses.
I identified with one on-line posting: “I love this song so much. My dad used to sing this to me as a little girl and it would make me cry a river just like I’m crying now.”
When the cloud I was watching out the window changed from an angel into a big bird, it made me remember another sad song daddy sang, “The Great Speckled Bird.” I googled the words and the only ones that sounded familiar are “On the wings of that great speckled bird.” I think he just sang the last verse of that one also or, more likely, made up some lines of his own. Here’s the last verse:
“When he cometh descending from heaven
On the cloud that He writes in His Word
I’ll be joyfully carried to meet Him
On the wings of that great speckled bird”
The song, a southern hymn with eight verses, was first recorded by Roy Acuff in 1936. I think it was just the mournful words and beat that fit daddy’s blue moods. When he wasn’t singing sad or happy songs while he went about his day, sitting at the switchboard, out fixing lines or working on one of those big wooden wall telephones from some farmer’s house, he’d whistle softly between his teeth some nameless tune.
By the time I’d made notes about the cloud that was an angel quickly turned into a great bird, albeit not speckled, and the childhood memories it evoked, it and the others had been blown away and the sky was mostly blue again.
I was a little sad, like the prisoner who wished for the wings of an angel — and a little happy comin’ around the mountain with my daddy.
Mary McClure lives in Lawton and writes a weekly column for The Lawton Constitution.