Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

The Last Time Daddy Sang

David Stillwagon


Daddy never believed that he had much of a voice for singing. I’d sit next to him at church and occasionally see his mouth move but I couldn’t hear any words coming out.  And he wasn’t one to sing along to the radio either.  The only way you could tell if he enjoyed a song was to see him tapping the steering wheel of his truck.

But all that changed.

Every summer Daddy along with his two brothers and two cousins would make a swimming hole by damning up one narrow section of the creek that ran through the farm.

Daddy was a pretty good swimmer along with his two brothers and two cousins. They splashed and hurrahed almost every afternoon. They got in trouble on more than one occasion for not making it back to the house for supper.

Daddy was the oldest of the three brothers. Jacob was the middle brother and Jordan was the youngest. They always made fun of Jordan telling him that they were swimming in the river Jordan. You see Jordan believed in Jesus and everything that he heard on Sunday morning. It wasn’t that Daddy and Jacob didn’t believe. They did, but Jordan felt it more. And he would sing of the gospels and how his soul was washed pure by the Lord. Grandma didn’t know what to think about a boy like that except maybe he had the calling. He would surely be a preacher and he would save souls.

In the summer of Daddy’s fourteenth year, his brother Jordan was eleven. They all headed down to the swimming hole on a hot July afternoon with Jordan’s song floating down the field.

As I heard about what happened from my mother, because Daddy would never tell it, Jordan wanted to stay longer in the creek that day than Daddy or Jacob. Daddy told him not to stay too long because he didn’t want Ma to have to come hunting for him. He agreed. As Daddy and Jacob walked up the hill the last they heard was Jordan’s tender voice slowly dying as they made their way back to the farm house.

It seems that Jordan somehow got his leg caught under a layer of branches that pooled up under the water. He couldn’t break loose. He had twisted so much that he turned himself over face first into the water. Granddaddy and Daddy found him that evening and brought his body back to the house.

There wasn’t much singing in the house for quite awhile after that. Slowly things got back to where they were, almost but not quite. Daddy took it as hard as anyone. He would leave the room if anyone mentioned Jordan’s name. 

Last summer we visited Granddaddy on his farm. After a particularly filling Sunday lunch Daddy and I took a walk in the fields. After some persuading I finally got Daddy to agree to take me down to the place where he used to swim as a boy. He hemmed and hawed about not wanting to go, but I really did think he wanted to see the old place.

As we sauntered down the pasture toward the line of trees beside the creek Daddy stopped and took his hat off. He asked if I had heard anything. No, just the whistling sound of the wind going through the trees. No, this was different, said Daddy. He walked faster and as he did he started to hum a song. I wasn’t quite sure what it was but it was familiar. Daddy stopped again right before the trees and looked over at me. He didn’t say a word. I was scared that something was bothering Daddy. But he looked content. He motioned for us to keep walking. I followed him through the woods to the banks of the creek where Daddy leaned against a water oak and started to sing.

He was singing an old gospel tune about waiting by the river and someone reaching out his hand. I believe it was a song called Far Side Banks of Jordan. Daddy was singing loud, not to me, but he was singing loud.

Daddy wore himself out that afternoon by the creek. I don’t know what possessed him to carry on like that. The only thing I knew that it was the last song that Daddy ever sang.

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David Stillwagon has lived in the South for twenty-five years. His wife and son are both native Georgians. He has short stories in Mississippi Crow and Johnny America. He also has poetry in upcoming issues of ClockWise Cat and Word Catalyst.

© David Stillwagon

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2009