Walking through a snow storm in a Swiss Village. Singing about the girl from Ponchatrain; dark hair falling in jet black ringlets across her lovely shoulders. Raise a flowing glass to her memory! Then I’m humming Auld Lang Syne, wondering what it means. Or what we want it to mean. Old acquaintances. Olde Thymes. Olde love. Days of long ago. Another year. A goodwill drink. Songs imbedded in seasonal cheer. Buried in soul and bone. The spark of memory. Childhood recollections. Melodies ringing through the family house. Tradition. Or a French horn in a rescue mission, played by a soldier in the Salvation Army Band. Auld Lang Syne! Times past, yet remembered. Bad times. Better times. Should ole times be forgotten?
Now, blocking the snowy road - an apparition in a black hat. A sheepherder. Italian? He walked with a herder’s staff. Basque? Dignified. Biblical. Behind him a flock of sheep, turning the corner of a farm pasture. At least one thousand sheep. One pack burro. Four Border Collies, nipping and keeping the herd in line. On they went, until they disappeared down a side road, up into the low snowy hills. The last row of sheep drifted by, with a woman herder guarding the rear. Humming a song. An old herding song. Was it the melody to Auld Lang Syne? A chilling, warm coincidence on a winter’s road. Or maybe I’d just imagined the melodies were similar. This might be how Bobby Burns found the melody and the verse, two hundred years ago.
The Scottish bard Robert Burns is credited with Auld Lang Syne, though he admitted he’d collected the words from “an old man.” The melody is believed to come from an older traditional Scots song. Auld Lang Sine issues from “the folk.” The herders. Tinsmiths. Minstrels. Old men. Celebrants of the road. Folk. The eternal evolution of traditional song.
A drinking song. Ale or whiskey. Wine or tea. Water. What matter? A song of raising glasses in reverent toast to old friends and reminiscences –for old time’s sake. Lifting a cup of kindness. We have crossed the rivers of time, and the seas between us broad have roared…but yet…
We remember the jet black ringlets falling on naked shoulders. Death. Love. Loss. Recollections staining the bottom of the glass. Dregs melting into memory. Feelings of kindness, humility, and forgiveness. Forgiving ourselves. Years. The longer we endure the less we know. We are circling back, year to year, into the womb of the haunted earth. Earth which resonates with songs of the season. Songs passed down from old man to young man. From Robert Burns to Guy Lombardo. Back to this village road covered with snow. A melody and a memory, handed down from the folk, hummed to the beat of an old drummer on a Scottish road, on down to the jazz drummer in a New Year’s bar in New York... or measured out to the snowy muffled feet of two sheepherders and their biblical herd.