Old Times There Are Not Forgotten by Brian Hampton
The lights were dim, and the air was chilly, a welcome respite from the glaring, hot sun on that day in July. With each breath I took in the deep, rich odors of Italian food. The wine glass in front of me had been emptied and filled twice, and the complimentary bread basket had been replenished at least as many times. Eight hours of carting my daughter around the amusement park had taken its toll on me, and I was ready to relax. Then I heard the sounds, not the sounds I expected. Sung to the soft sweet rhythms of a slow, measured heartbeat, the words came out:
"I wish I was in the land of cotton. Old times there are not forgotten . . ."
Our trip to Six Flags Over Texas had been something my daughter had been looking forward to for a month. I wasn't so sure. I remembered being a child and walking around the park with my mother and how much I had enjoyed myself, but I also recalled the last visit I'd made with a group of friends; we were still trying to be teenagers.
I remembered the Confederate National Flag that flew proudly above its section of the park. I remembered listening to the stories of three elderly gentlemen, employees of the park, dressed in Confederate gray, entertaining both young and old with stories of the South as they knew it: big porches, family gatherings, going to church on Sunday and having a picnic that afternoon, running around in the woods, getting your first kiss behind the barn. That was what I remember, what I wanted always to remember.
But, the park had changed. General Lee was replaced with Daffy Duck. There was no Confederate Gray, only Bugs Bunny. Those older gentlemen had, I'm sure, passed on to their reward, and no one had been brought in to replace them. The park had no friendly atmosphere. It was a cartoon, and I felt like a cartoon walking around in it.
That's not to say it was a bad place. My daughter enjoyed herself. I even had fun, mostly by watching her have fun. However, I longed for the days when the theme of the theme park was more than Tweetie Bird and Sylvester the Cat. As far as I know, the Warner Brother's flag has never flown as a symbol of the Texas people.
On our way home, my wife and I decided we needed something eat besides greasy corn dogs. Driving down the highway out of Arlington, we spotted restaurant called The Macaroni Grill, a chain of Italian restaurants about which I'd heard many good things. I also needed a moment to unwind, to rest, to fill my mind with something other than the ache of longing.
As we ordered our food and poured our first glass of wine, my wife and I noticed two young ladies and a young man walking around from table to table. One stopped, talked to those seated there, and then began to sing. Her voice was beautiful, a soothing soprano obviously trained to please tired ears and minds. I didn't recognize the song, something from an opera I assumed, but the melody was wonderful nonetheless.
Later, I noticed this same young lady walking to my table, and as she bent over to ask us if there was something special we'd like to hear, I said, "I'd like to hear Dixie." She looked around a moment without saying anything, looking for someone that might be offended I assumed. She apparently feared my motivation since the restaurant was filled with a mixture of races, and I looked very much like a typical redneck after a day in that heat. I added, "If you don't know that, then anything is fine. I really love your voice, and I just think that song is beautiful when sung by a woman with a voice like yours." My wife voiced her agreement.
As she rose and drew in her breath, I didn't expect to hear my request. The politically correct world, even in the South, has made hearing Dixie a rarity. But, as she released the air past her vocal chords, the most wonderful tune began to resonate throughout the room.
". . . Look away; look away; look away, Dixie's Land . . ."
A chill made its way from the base of my spine up through the tips of my hair. My back straightened, and I almost felt as though I were standing at attention. As she continued, I watched her. She obviously knew the song well, and she seemed to enjoy the careful manner in which she presented it. Looking around the room I noticed others watching her, much as I had watched her before, but some had stopped eating or were turned around in their chairs, people of all races and I assumed religions. For a moment I had escaped the PC world.
". . . I wish I was in Dixie . . ."
In a moment it was done. A short pause came then, after which a couple behind me I had not noticed began to applaud. Others applauded. I applauded. My daughter, for whom the song was not nearly as special as it was to me, clapped her little hands together. Before long everyone in the room was applauding - everyone.
No one had applauded the opera songs.
". . . In Dixie's Land I'll take my stand . . ."
As I took my leave of the restaurant some time later, my belly full, my brain relaxed by the wine, and my car keys firmly in my wife's hands, I walked by two tables of people that stopped me on my way and thanked me for requesting that song. I searched for the singer and gave her a generoustip. She told me, "I was a little afraid to sing that song."
". . . to live and die in Dixie . . ."
"Why?" I asked, knowing the answer. Before she could offer her own reasoning, I simply added, "Miss, Dixie is in your heart, and every one of these people here who applauded you felt the same thing as I did. They remembered something brought out by that song."
"What's that?" she asked.
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