Sad new travels fast, but I missed it yesterday. Baseball, homework and pepperoni pizza took precedence for me, the mother of a growing boy. Today, as I scrolled my Facebook news feed, something I do after drop-off at school, an item caught my eye. It was a black-and-white YouTube of the folk-song trio Peter, Paul and Mary singing "Puff the Magic Dragon" in 1962.
I clicked on the play arrow and promptly wept, as I am prone to do when I hear this song, which to me evokes not the smoking of marijuana, but the fleeting passage of childhood. As the lyrics go, my ten-year-old son R.J. has traded "painted wings and giant rings" for "other toys."
Shortly after R.J. was born, our family lived by the sea in a small town on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. "Puff the Magic Dragon" became his first favorite song. Without failure, he stopped whatever he was doing when the song began and crawled over to the tape recorder. (I had the Greatest Hits on cassette.) My boy was a one-year-old: kneeling, eyelashes reaching his cheeks, wispy curls framing his face, gently swaying to the beautiful harmony, a captive audience.
Forever multitasking, I look back further on my Facebook news feed while I listen to the old song, and then I see an earlier post relaying that Mary Allin Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary passed away at the age of 72 from leukemia at a hospital in Danbury, Connecticut.
Mary was the female singer-songwriter in the iconic American folk-song trio Peter, Paul and Mary, along with her male counterparts Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey. Their careers were jointly launched in 1961 at The Bitter End, a popular folk music venue in New York City's Greenwich Village. The group was the brainchild of manager Albert Grossman, who also managed Bob Dylan. With Peter, Paul and Mary, he sought to create a folk-song super-group.
He succeeded. The trio became one of the most successful folk music groups throughout the sixties, singing classics like "Leaving on a Jet Plane," "500 Miles" and "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" They also performed the potent "If I Had a Hammer" at the 1963 March on Washington, DC, best remembered for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s I Have a Dream speech. Peter, Paul and Mary also won five Grammys and had 13 Top 40 hits. The songs crossed generations.
Meanwhile, their lyrical music traveled the world over. When my parents were students in England, where I was born, they bought a 45-rpm of Peter, Paul and Mary's hit single "Lemon Tree," which then came with us all the way to Iran. This summer in Spain, as my father flipped through his cracked vinyl record case, he told me that "Lemon Tree" was my favorite song when I was little. He then sang it to me:
"One day she left without a word. She took away the sun.
And in the dark she left behind, I knew what she had done.
She'd left me for another, it's a common tale but true.
A sadder man but wiser now I sing these words to you...."
Goodbye, Mary -- and God bless.