Walking that lonesome valley, with flowers


Lately some very old songs have been making their way into my head, seemingly emerging from deep memories stirred by recurring thoughts of my late parents. One of them is “You’ve Got to Walk That Lonesome Valley,” an American gospel folk song of unknown origin. It’s one of those tunes I heard a lot in childhood, like “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” and “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” (which I always think of as “someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah,” conjuring an image of Dinah Shore). I associate these songs with campfires and Sunday School — apparently a powerful combination for a tender mind.
Countless people have sung “Lonesome Valley,” including Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and Elvis Presley at his 1956 Sun sessions. Here is a lovely, lilting version by Mississippi John Hurt, the legendary blues singer who I am sure had to walk the valley more than once:
“You got to walk that lonesome valley
Well you got to walk it for yourself
Ain’t nobody else can walk it for you
You got to walk that valley by yourself …”
His mother also had to walk that valley, Hurt sings, as well as his father and Jesus himself. Everyone’s got to walk it at some point.
I went out to walk through it this morning. Memories of Mom and Dad were hanging around my mind like house guests whom I wanted to stay awhile longer. I wasn’t humming the tune as I went out. I was just trying to walk off the ache of loss on a fine spring morning before getting down to the business of the day.
And what a morning: cool air, bright sun and trees bursting with flowers throughout my neighorhood. But deep as I was into the valley, I didn’t pay too much attention to my surroundings until up the alley walked my old friend Carolyn, tugged along by her formidable chow-mix dogs, Zeke and Zeb. It was good to see her familiar face and hear her warm consololations. Having lost her dear father some years ago, she knows the lonely walk too well.
Only after our brief chat did I take proper notice of the beauty around me, my senses awakened by human connection. In an instant I realized that drinking in this beauty was exactly what my folks would want me to do on this day. Walk glumly with a downcast mind on a day like this? Shape up, son! As the great minister Duncan Littlefair so often declared, this is the day the Lord has made, so for Pete’s sake rejoice and be glad in it!
And so I did, snapping a few photos for good measure, a scrapbook of a beautiful day for future reference. I was still walking the valley by myself, but it did not feel nearly as lonesome as it had just minutes before.

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4 Responses to Walking that lonesome valley, with flowers

  1. Sue Merrell says:

    Thanks, Charley. Think I’ll share this one.

  2. Jackie Bartley says:

    Charley–Just read this.So sad to learn of your dad’s death. My sincere sympathy for you and your family. I remember this song from GS campfires too and often sing it as I walk the dog each day. Lonesome valley, indeed.

    • soulmailing says:

      Hello Jackie ~ Thanks so much for your note. Knowing others like you are walking the valley also reminds me that I am not so alone, so it doesn’t feel quite as lonesome. I hope Dad and John are getting to know each other better, now that their suffering is over.

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