At times, when I observe varied present-day tensions (and even powerful tumults) in America, I take deep breaths and let my soul relax. And in doing so, I am warmed by reminiscences of magical times when, as a child, I spent periodic weekends at my grandparent’s house in the Highland Park area of Dallas.
I and “Grandma Mammoo” never missed a chance to spy on Idella, our vigorous housekeeper. Idella would rehearse her gospel solos for church while she cleaned house; baked bread; washed, dried, then ironed mountains of laundry; as well as mopping and polishing the several expanses of hardwood flooring.
One remarkable instance (which I remember to this day) was when we heard Idella sing all four verses of “My Country, tis of Thee” — the forerunner of the current “Star-Spangled Banner”.
So indelible was the deep symbolism of that original patriotic anthem on my young soul that I grew up singing it in all the years since then.
The first verse is the one that the most people in the USA would readily recognize now:
“My country, ’tis of thee, Sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrims’ pride,
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!”
The second verse I solo sang at a variety of spring and summer festivals in the uniquely majestic Rocky Mountain National Park — Amidst the backdrop of two vistas that cradled the mountainous “Twin Sisters” — Long’s Peak and Mount Meeker.
“My native country, thee — Land of the noble free, thy name I love.
I love thy rocks and rills, thy woods and templed hills.
My heart with rapture thrills, like that above.”
This third verse I sang (amidst all four verses), at my outdoor Graduation Concert that served as the finale of my 2-year conservatory study at Cleveland Institute of Music:
“Let music swell the breeze and ring from all the trees, sweet Freedom’s song;
Let mortal tongues awake; Let all that breathe partake;
Let rocks their silence break, the sound prolong.”
When I was 3 years old (in 1954), the “Pledge of Allegiance” was amended to declare the United States of America as being “One Nation Under God”. As I matured, so did my vivid envisioning of the One Planetary Nation of Mankind — Not only serving in outer expression “under God”, but Being ONE in GOD.
So, this song’s final devotional verse inspired in me a wakeful dream of hope:
“Our Fathers’ God, to Thee, Author of Liberty, to Thee We Sing;
Long may our Land be Bright with Freedom’s Holy Light.
Protect Us in Thy Might, Great God, our King!”