59: My Son

59: My Son

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Country Music

My Son

Story by Jan Howard

Song written by Jan Howard

Recorded by Jan Howard

“My Son” was written as a letter to my son Jimmy, who was in Vietnam. My middle son Carter, who I’ve always called Corky, was home on leave from Vietnam and he was going back. I had two sons in Vietnam at the same time. This was in 1968. I didn’t have a melody or anything. Corky said, “You need to put that to music. Jimmy would be proud.”

So I just put a little melody to it and recited the rest. I sang it to Bill Anderson, who said, “You need to record that.” There was just one problem. I couldn’t sing it without crying. When I got in the studio, I told Owen Bradley I couldn’t get through it. He said, “If you can get one take, we’ll do it. Just one good take.” So I sang it one time and I couldn’t do it anymore.

Then Owen said, “Now Jan, it’s just another song.” And I said, “No, it isn’t. That’s Jimmy’s life.” So that was it. That was the way it was done.

I immediately sent Jimmy a little seven-and-a-half-inch reel-to-reel tape with the song on it. He wrote back and said that he had gotten the tape, but he hadn’t had a chance to listen to it yet. I didn’t tell him what it was. I just said, “I have a surprise for you.” He said in his letter that he was looking for someone who had a reel-to-reel recorder so he could play it. And that was the last I heard from him.

A few weeks later, two people came to my house. They knocked on the door and I opened it. There were two officers standing there. It’s still hard for me to talk about. They said, “Ms. Howard, we regret to inform you...” and I just knew what had happened. But I had two sons there. So I said, “For God’s sake, tell me which one it was?” They said it was Jimmy.

A few months later, I got a letter from someone in Jimmy’s troop who said that Jimmy had borrowed his tape recorder to play the song, and Jimmy was so moved that he cried. I understand that they played it every day in Vietnam, like the national anthem, for quite some time after that. That brought me some comfort, knowing that he had heard the song before he died. He was a wonderful, wonderful boy.

I didn’t sing that song for a long, long time after that. The only time I did was when I had a special request from a parent who had lost someone.

My youngest son, David, had a nervous breakdown after Jimmy was killed. He could never deal with it and he took his own life. My middle son brought Jimmy home and served out the rest of his military term in the States.

It’s a wound that never heals. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been. I never watched anything about Vietnam. I never watched any of the movies. I don’t read the books. I don’t need to. I know all I need to know about Vietnam.

My Son

(Singing) My son, my son. I pray that you’ll come home to me

My son, my son

(recitation) It seems only yesterday

the most important thing on your mind

was whether you’d make the baseball team

or get the new school jacket like all the other kids had

And I remember how your eyes lighted up when you got your first

rod and reel for that big fishing trip

Just you and your dad

And I remember wiping the tears away

when you hurt yourself on your sled

In those days it seems the house was always filled

with laughter and joy, filled with your friends

They were all such good boys

And then came the day that you

walked down the aisle, to receive that all-important diploma.

I was so proud but I couldn’t

believe that tall young man was my son

My wonderful son.

And then I remember the little girl

that was always around kind of tagging after you

She’s not so little anymore but she’s still around

Who knows, maybe someday?

Then you received the call

that I guess we knew would come someday

But it came so quick and now you’re so very far away

In a land that, until a short time ago, I didn’t even

know was there.

I know the time will pass

You’ll be home again. But until that time, my darling, take

care. Take special care

(singing) My son my son I pray that

you’ll come home to me. My son, my son.

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