The first time I visited them there--during spring break of my first year of teaching in Aurora (spring 1967)--I flew for the first time in my life. I was 22 years old, and--with great improbability--on my flight from Cleveland to Chicago was Nan Dimity, the girls' phys ed instructor at Aurora Middle School. We sat together--and she calmed my first-time-flyer fears. (To me, every groan and rumble was the soundtrack of imminent disaster.)
My parents picked me up at the airport and drove me to their new place downtown--and as the building came into view, my dad sighed, "There's our little grey home in the west."
I thought that was a little odd--but Dad was full of odd sayings (after a meal: I feel like I swallowed something; it's raining: lingle-lingle-lingle outside; a cat: a trownitz--an onomatopoetic word; so on), so I didn't really think anything of it. Not that initial time, not the other 10,000 times he said it before, tiring of apartment life, they bought a home on the north side of town where they lived until they retired and moved out to Oregon. I never again heard him say "little grey home in the west"--even though their new place in Oregon was actually grey (weathered cedar shingles) and was about as far west as you can get in the continental United States--perched on a cliff near Ecola State Park above the Pacific Ocean in Cannon Beach!
Then--just last week--I was reading a book I'm reviewing, and the author mentioned that he'd bought a "little grey home in the west." What ... ?
That sent me immediately to Google, where I quickly (of course) found that "Little Grey Home in the West" was a popular and very sentimental song during World War I. Here are the lyrics:
LITTLE GREY HOME IN THE WEST
When the golden sun sinks in the hills
And the toil of a long day is o'er
Though the road may be long, in the lilt of a song
I forget I was weary before
Far ahead, where the blue shadows fall
I shall come to contentment and rest
And the toils of the day will be all charmed away
In my little grey home of the west
There are hands that will welcome me in
There are lips I am burning to kiss
There are two eyes that shine just because they are mine
And a thousand things other men miss
It's a corner of heaven itself
Though it's only a tumble-down nest
But with love brooding there, why no place can compare
With my little grey home in the west.
And here is a YouTube recording of a performance of the song: Link
And here's another link to a long-ago audio recording: Link
And here's a link to the sheet music: Link--copyright 1911, music by Hermann Löhr and lyrics by D. Eardley-Wilmot.
Is the Internet amazing? All this I discovered in a matter of moments while sitting with my laptop, sipping coffee (I was sipping, not the laptop).
I also discovered a set of printed cards with song lyrics--cards that showed a WW I soldier in positions of repose and reflection, presumably thinking of the words, hearing the music in his imagination and memory.
Next--I hopped on eBay, typed in the key words, and found and bought an old 78 rpm recording of the song performed by Irish tenor John McCormack, one of my father's favorite tenors. (Here's a Link to McCormack singing on YouTube.) As I write these words, the recording has not yet arrived from the seller, but I want it here--now. I want to hear that Irish voice I heard soaring from the hi-fi's in our house all those years of my boyhood. I want to hear my own father's voice--he was a fine tenor as well--singing along with McCormack's. I want to be in that car, coming from the Des Moines airport in the spring of 1967. I want to hear my father, as he sees the building, saying, "There's our little grey home in the west." I want to tell my father a hundred thousand things I neglected to tell him. And I want to do it all to music.