A Song Through the Ages…

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One of my dearest memories of my paternal grandparents was when their son — my father, a writer, teacher, radio host and speaker — bought a high-end microphone for his recording work. He first tested it on his family, gathering us around in his den to speak and share. We three young sisters just loved hearing our own voice and being zany, knowing we were going on tape. My parents, as always, were the anchors, the bookends, narrating and undergirding this and so many other memories.

And my grandparents decided to do what they always liked doing: sing a song.

They sang one of the great old ballads, popular in World War I and again after World War II: “If you were the only girl (in the world)…and I were the only boy….”

I hope the disintegrating audiotape is still in my father’s den for us to digitize and forever enjoy.

My grandparents sang it with smiles, with love, with laughter. What a moment it must have been for them, to hold court over their children and grandchildren — as it was for us, to behold the generations together, captured for all time. I’ll never forget it. None of us will.

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So, years later, when I watched, and recently re-watched, Season Two, Episode Four of Downton Abbey, I heard the same song, sung by Mary to the injured World War I troops, as her future love Matthew returns from the front to the surprise of Mary and her family. As I heard the song, the spirit of my grandparents echoed from their childhood to mine, and I lost it.

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But in the best way. In the way that only art can do – grabbing us by the heart and throat and mind, dangling us over the waters of past, present and future, leaving us both painfully aware of and exhilarated by our imperfect lives.

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In this moving scene, (a nice tip of the hat to Downton’s spiritual predecessor, Upstairs Downstairs, which also featured the song), all the unforgettable love relationships in Downton Abbey are not quite fulfilled yet. At least five “couples” are forthcoming, with all the glances back and forth, as fans know: Matthew and Mary, Tom and Sybil, Daisy and William, Bates and Anna, Carson and Hughes.

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So much life, challenge and heartbreak follow in the coming years for the three Crawley sisters and their relatives. And yet this scene, with everyone looking on, has so much hope and relief in it – the picture of a generation that would suffer through a World War, and a Depression, and still emerge triumphant to give birth to the greatest generation of all.

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The reverie of all this makes me miss my grandparents, even more now that I’m a mother, but it also brings them as close to me as they ever were. I have my dad to thank for it – and a song, and the power of art itself:

The power of an old audio recording of family stories and music, and the generations of love behind it; the power of a heartfelt scene, written, directed and performed decades later so beautifully; and the far-apart eras coming together with a song, uniting old and young, past and present, art and life, heaven and earth.

“I would say such wonderful things to you,

There would be such wonderful things to do,

If you were the only girl in the world

And I were the only boy…”



If You Were The Only Girl (In The World) – FULL LYRICS:

Sometimes when I feel bad
and things look blue
I wish a pal I had… say one like you.
Someone within my heart to build a throne
Someone who’d never part, to call my own

If you were the only girl in the world
and I were the only boy
Nothing else would matter in the world today
We could go on loving in the same old way

A garden of Eden just made for two
With nothing to mar our joy
I would say such wonderful things to you
There would be such wonderful things to do
If you were the only girl in the world
and I were the only boy.

–Nat D. Ayer with lyrics by Clifford Grey, 1916.


4 thoughts on “A Song Through the Ages…

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