From Chicken Soup for the Country Soul

Mama Sang a Song

I was inspired to write “Mama Sang a Song” while sitting around my house not long after I’d moved to Nashville, thinking about my upbringing and my roots.

One thing many of us Southerners have in common is a memory of old-time camp revival meetings. The meeting that came to mind was one I attended in my teens, and it has stayed with me for years because of an unusual occurrence.

The Reverend Homer Rodeheaver, a well-known evangelist, had been at our church all week conducting services. A big part of what he did every night was to break out his big, loud trombone and lead the congregation in singing the old-time Gospel hymns.

The sanctuary of our church was shaped like a capital letter T, with the pulpit in the middle of the top bar, and the congregation off three sides. On this particular night, I was sitting with some of my teenaged friends in one of the smaller side sections, so we couldn’t see much of the main congregation, nor the small balcony over the back.

But the Reverend could. He loved to try to get the congregation in each section to try to “outsing” the others. And he was in rare form that particular night.

The hymn Reverend Rodeheaver picked out for us to work on was the old favorite, “Brighten the Corner Where You Are.”

“Let’s just see which corner of this church we can brighten the most!” he boomed. “Let’s see which group can sing the loudest!” And with that, he began blowing his trombone, the organist joined in, and the rafters really started ringing.

“Okay, let’s start with the left side!” he said, and everybody over there opened up with “Brighten the corner where you are,” at the top of their voices.

“Now the right side!”

And my buddies and I let it fly.

“Now the main floor!”

It practically sounded like an earthquake.

“Now the balcony!”

And suddenly there was silence. Silence, I should say, with the exception of one loud female voice, belting about four keys flat, “Bry-tun thu caw-nau whays you ahhhhh!”

in the heaviest of Southern drawls.

I was told that the whole main body of the congregation suffered whiplash turning to the balcony to see where that awful voice was coming from. My buddies around me fell to the floor laughing. I’m sure I would have joined them, except for one stark realization—that voice was my mother’s.

She and my sister had come in late and were the only ones seated upstairs.

Being a teenage boy, my reaction at the time was simple and predictable. I turned scarlet. I wanted to crawl under the pew and never come out.

But thinking back on it that day in Nashville as an adult, that mortifying incident came to mean something completely different than it ever had before.

I realized that my mother had simply done what she’d always done. She had brought her faith and her love to the church the only way she knew how. There were dozens of people there that night who sang that song right on pitch, but perhaps they didn’t have any idea of what they were singing or why. My mother did, and the corner where she sang was truly brightened.

It’s that simple courage and that commitment that make life worth living. That’s why I ended my song by saying, “This old world is a better place . . . because one time . . . my mama sang a song.”

There’s no doubt about it. It truly is.

Whisperin’ Bill Anderson

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