A Comment that Became Longer than a Comment

This is my response to a comment I received on this past Friday's "Nostalgia" post. First, let me be clear: I feel great gratitude mixed with sorrow for those who serve this country.

Second, I actually appreciate and value the tradition of the yellow ribbon--the same way I understand and appreciate the impulse to hang wind chimes near a loved one's grave in a cemetery. Feeling so powerless against certain powers, we must, sometimes, express our grief, fear, or hope through gestures and objects.

But I was indeed poking fun at our ignorance of the ORIGINS of our symbols. In my previous post on the subject, I didn't go back very far into the roots of the yellow ribbon, which go well retro-beyond the 70's classic, harkening back to an old folk song of dubious subject matter. This from Wikipedia:

In the United States military, the symbol of the yellow ribbon is used in a popular marching song. The first version copyrighted was the 1917 version by George A. Norton, which he titled 'Round Her Neck She Wears a Yeller Ribbon (For Her Lover Who Is Fur, Fur Away). While he tells in the song about the love between Susie Simpkins and her soldier lover Silas Hubbard, his chorus goes:

'Round her neck she wears a yeller ribbon,
She wears it in winter and the summer so they say,
If you ask her "Why the decoration?"
She'll say "It's fur my lover who is fur, fur away.'

The lyrics were altered and the song was titled She Wore a Yellow Ribbon by Russ Morgan for the 1949 movie of the same name. This was performed by several popular musicians of the 1940s, including Mitch Miller and The Andrews Sisters. The text of the Army version approximates the following, with local variations:

Around her hair she wore a yellow ribbon
She wore it in the springtime
In the merry month of May
And if you ask her why the heck she wore it
She wore it for her soldier who was far far away

Far away, far away
She wore it for her soldier
Who was far, far away

Around the block she pushed a baby carriage
She pushed it in the springtime
In the Merry month of May
And if you ask her why the heck she pushed it
She pushed it for her soldier who was far far away


Behind the door her daddy kept a shotgun
He kept it in the springtime
In the merry month of May
And if you ask him why the heck he kept it
He kept it for her soldier who was far far away


On the grave she laid the pretty flowers
She laid them in the springtime
In the merry month of May
And if you asked her why the heck she laid them
She laid them for her soldier who was far far away


The fact that we get so far away from the origins of our symbols is funny--and poignant-- to me, because it says so much about our NEED, and how we pick and choose what we appropriate--and what for: Besides "Support Our Troops," the yellow ribbon is also used to raise awareness for bladder cancer, endometriosis, hydrocephaly, teen suicide, "Boycott Aruba," and "Free Harry Wu," among others. A comprehensive list of ribbons and their meanings says much about how desperate we are for symbols, as well as our taste for kitsch. Not to mention our ability to capitalize on all of this.

I could trace certain aspects of Christmas and Easter, whose symbols have their roots in pagan rituals, but I'll save that for another post (over the holidays!). I'll say, however, that I believe it's what's in our hearts that really matters, as we glom onto our ritual and symbology, that what we BELIEVE we are celebrating is the important thing.

Furthermore, knowing (and facing) the truth about these traditions doesn't change anything--any more than the truth about how this war started has changed the fact of our fighting it.

May all our young men return home to us safely. Let the yellow ribbons make it so.


Adam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Adam said...

As I just said on the original post that inspired the comment that inspired this post, I am a ribbon-rankled older brother of a currently serving Army Ranger.

And I both agree and disagree with you here, Tania. Your closing sentence to this post is very close to what I really do grumble to myself every time I see a yellow ribbon on the same bumper as a McCain or W sticker...

But, vis a vis my baby brother Ali, while I absolutely feel the sorrow over his service which you mentioned in your first sentence, I would have felt more grateful had he simply...decided to just not enlist and volunteer at the foodbank with me instead.

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