Cathblog - Stay in your own backyard

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BY GARRY EVERETT

Sometimes the import of a message is best communicated through the emotions, rather than the reasons. When we try to explain what ‘the new life of Easter’ is really like, we stumble in our attempts to use logic and rationality.  I offer below, the words of a song to illustrate the power of the emotion to do so much better than our intellect can.

This song has a history for me. It was sung to me when I was quite a small child, by a lady who helped my mother when Mum was ill. ‘Mrs Henry’, as I knew this lady, came from some island north of Australia; she was dark-skinned, had steel-grey, wiry hair and a voice like honey. That I have never forgotten her song in all these years is a wonderful tribute to how she sang it. The song is about new life --- but with a twist!  Let’s read the words, remembering that reading is a pale version of the sung feelings.

Lilac trees are blooming in the corner by the gate, Mammy’s at the little cabin door.

Curly-headed piccaninny coming home so late, crying ‘cause his little heart is sore.

All the children playing round with skins so white and fair, none of them with him would ever play,

So Mammy on her lap, takes the weeping little chap, and sings in her kind old way:

Now honey you stay in your own backyard, and don’t care what the white childs do.

What show do you suppose they goin’ to give, a black little coon like you?

Go stay on this side of your high –board fence, and honey don’t you cry so hard;

Go out and play as much as you wish, but stay in your own backyard.

Every day the children as they passed old Mammy’s place, romping home from school at night and noon;

Peeping through the fence they’d see, an eager little face, such a wistful lonesome little coon;

Then one day the little face was gone forever more, God had called the dusky little elf.

But Mammy sat and rocked as she rocked him off before, and crooned to her old black self:

Now honey you stay in your own backyard, and don’t care what the white childs do;

What show do you suppose they goin’ to give, a black little coon like you?

Go stay on this side of your high-board fence, and honey don’t you cry so hard;

Go out and play as much as you wish, but stay in your own back yard.

The words of this song describe an experience at the heart of the lives of so many of our indigenous brothers and sisters. Versions of it inspired Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, founders of religious orders, ordinary men and women who saw the need for justice in our world. But there is a twist in this song, which on first reading or hearing can escape us. Whilst the words of the chorus, which conclude the song, do not change, their import does!

The poignancy is to be found in the realization that Mammy sings the same words, even though ‘God had called the dusky little elf.’ She reminds her piccaninny that even in Heaven, he can expect to find a high-board fence, and that further, he should expect to play in his own backyard. Such is the power of discrimination and non-acceptance, that it can colour even our view of ‘the new life of Easter.’  How could anyone believe that even Heaven will still continue the realities of all those fences that divide?

I hope that some of you who read this article will learn ‘by heart’ ( that vehicle of emotion and passion) the words of this song. If you do, perhaps your experiences will be similar to mine: at the most un-expected of times, the emotional call will tug at your heart strings, and lead you where you may not have chosen to go. Sometimes the heart will rule the head, and that is how it should be. For as another song reminds us:

‘I will break their hearts of stone; make them hearts for love alone... Whom shall I send?’

The answer to that song’s question is not to be found by reason and analysis. The answer is more heart-felt.


Garry Everett is deputy chair of Mercy Partners in Queensland and a former Deputy Director of the Queensland Catholic Education Commission and previous chair of the Brisbane Archdiocesan Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace.

Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources.

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