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When we were at the visiting, not quite courting stage my spouse discovered that I had guitar. I did not really play but I did have a beautiful guitar. He asked to see it and proceeded to tune it and then sing this song to me.

Fair young maid all in a garden
Stange young man, passerby
He said, “Fair maid, will you marry me?”
This answer was her reply:

Oh, no, kind sir, I cannot marry thee
For I’ve a love who sails all on the sea.
He’s been gone for seven years
Still no man shall marry me

What if he’s in some battle slain
Or if he’s drowned in the deep salt sea
What if he’s found another love
And he and his love both married be?

Well, if he’s in some battle slain
I will die when the moon doth wane
And if he’s drowned in the deep salt sea
I’ll be true to his memory

And if he’s found another love
And he and his love both married be
I’ll wish them health and happiness
Where they dwell across the sea

He picked her up all in his arms
Kisses gave her: One, two, three
Said, weep no more, my own true love
I am your long-lost John Riley!

Traditional English Folksong

We were sitting in our family room, my spouse between the family dining table and the ironing board on a frightfully horrid chair covered in gold polyester burlap upholstery my mother made. I remember this. I stood at the door and watched. My family was entranced that he could play and that he could sing. I was enchanted. It was more intimate than a kiss. He had sung the song to me and to me alone. He had declared his love for me. Surely there was no more gallant way to communicate your love than to sing the one you love a love song.

As we became closer we would sing the song alternating parts from man to woman. I don’t know if it was the song, the fact that we were so obviously in love or that we were wonderful singers but it was not unusual to see people dabbing their eyes when we sang together. The song is just as meaningful to me today as it was 40 years ago.

The song speaks of being there for each other, even when the wait grows long. It need not be someone gone over the sea. Sometimes you have to wait with the other side by side as oceans apart while one turns inside to learn and then returns with new insight for themselves, for you, for the world.

Our guitars burned. My spouse lost his 50 year old 12 string, his Yamaha classical guitar and a classical guitar made by his brother who is a luthier. My beautiful Roca guitar with marquetry and mother of pear inlay is no more.

Losoing the guitars is sad. We lost my piano and a perfect, original finish melodian c1840-1860. We lost antiuque instruments too: a zither, a squeeze box, and more. Losing the instrucments and the CDs that contain music are a grievous loss.

What we did not lose is music. If music be the food of love, play on. (Shakespeare, Twelfthnight)

Play on we have and we shall. We have carried with us the song of love for so many years that no external crisis or fire could make it go away. Music will be be the food of love that will fuel us to build this new life of ours. When we walk into our new home the first time we will have to stop in the family room and sing John Riley to each other and to our new home.

guitar and singer confiring both dressed in white and natural linen, woman with pearls

Singing together in 1993