My song today is ‘Rose Garden’, also known and covered as ‘I Never Promised You A Rose Garden’. This song was written by Joe South and was best known as recorded by country music singer, Lynn Anderson. It was originally released by Billy Joe Royal in 1967. The first charting version was by Dobie Gray in the spring of 1969.
Lynn Anderson's October 1970 release topped the U.S. ‘Billboard Country Chart’ for five weeks, and reached Number 3 on the U.S. ‘Billboard Hot 100’ pop chart, and also reached Number 1 on ‘Cash Box’ and ‘Record World’ in their ‘Pop and Country Singles’ charts. The song was also a major pop hit internationally, topping the charts in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, Norway, South Africa, and throughout Europe. The single achieved the award of a ‘Gold Disc’.
Anderson's version of ‘Rose Garden’ remains among the most successful crossover recordings of all time. It proved to be the first crossover record of her career. The song became Anderson's signature tune and was one of the biggest hits of the 1970s, in any genre of music. Anderson won a ‘Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance’ in 1971, and Joe South earned two Grammy nominations: ‘Best Country Song’ and ‘Song of the Year’ in the pop field.
Anderson said, "I believe that 'Rose Garden' was released at just the right time. People were trying to recover from the Vietnam War years. The message in the song is that if you just take hold of life and go ahead, you can make something out of nothing, and people just took to that."
This song could have been ideally recorded and released for my dear mother and father. They each had a hard upbringing and existence (my father much more than my mum), and in many respects, I suspect that my father did not live up to the rosy image that my mum had of her married years ahead when she was courting dad in her late teens in Ireland and dad was a football star playing for his County of Kilkenny before being picked to play soccer for the Irish National Team.
Mum and dad, being Southern Irish people, were born in the heartland of the Irish rebel territory. The two of them, along with my maternal grandfather who was personally involved in rebel activities following the ‘Easter Uprising’ of 1916 against the occupying English soldier loved the country of their birth. While my grandparents would never leave Ireland under any circumstances, unless they were ‘dead in a box’ , my newly married parents were economically obliged to cross the Irish Sea with three children to seek a new and more prosperous life toward the end of the ‘Second World War’ in West Yorkshire. Dad became a miner and mum became a bigger mother and baby machine; giving birth to seven children, of whom I am her firstborn.
Dad was the hardest of workers and was by far too harsh in his more rigid code of life, whereas my mother never changed from the day she’d been born and threw her rattle out of her pram ‘for a laugh’. My mother is best described as always having been a ‘ball of fun’, despite bringing up seven children in a household where my father’s wage of £10 and 10 Shillings per week was expected to cover £20 of essential household expenditure.
When it came to displaying her own skills, however, my mother was as deft a family team player as dad ever proved to be on the soccer field. Dad would hand over his unopened weekly wage packet from the colliery, mum would take the money in her hands,(and after giving dad back ten shillings spending money), she would run with the little money she’d been handed; waving her magic wand over the tenner, performing her magic, and getting us all fed and through the next week until the next payday arrived.
Like dad on the soccer field, dribbling his way from one goal post to the next, so mum also learned to be as evasive throughout the week as she dodged one creditor after another, telling them untruths and leaving house doors locked (pretended to be out)when the tallyman called for his weekly payment.
My mother’s greatest financial magic trick, however, was so effective that all Chancellors of the Exchequer thereafter copied it. For all my growing life, all the household food that our large family ate this week was always paid for out of my father’s next week (and presently unearned) wage packet, by an arrangement with Hightown Grocer Harry Hodgeson. This arrangement (which all the poorer residents of Windybank Estate used) carried on for 15 years, and fortunately, our grocer, Harry Hodgeson did not die and close up shop until mum also had three working children to improve the weekly household income.
By such means, Mum merely did what all governments have done since the 17th century. Like all governments, mum ran up a National Debt for the ‘Forde Family Household’; and like all governments of the day, the National Debt would grow exponentially, year-upon-year, until the likelihood of it never being paid off emerged. Like the governments, mum had two kinds of debt to manage, short-term debt and long-term debt. She needed this method, so she could best decide which creditor to pay first and which debt to either dodge or defer the payment for a longer period. How was she, and millions of other citizens in the country able to achieve this, I hear you ask? Well, just like all governments in increasing debt do; by resorting to issuing government bonds.
All financial institutions accept these government bonds (in good faith that they will one day be paid) to keep the global economy working. So mum took a leaf out of the government’s financial book. As governments issuing bonds effectively ‘promise to pay the debtor at a future date’, so my mum promised our friendly family grocer that she would also clear off the debt in the future. And just like the debts of one government are passed on to the next government taking office, mum told our family grocer that if she couldn’t in her lifetime, then he could have her bond that her family of seven children would pay him or his descendants when she was dead and gone. Just like the governments around the world do!
Like all mothers of her day, mum became a magic juggler of household finances and money management, and for the whole of my childhood, she always managed to make life go on for all of us.
Mum would work from early daybreak to early morning the next day, washing, cleaning, scrubbing the floors, ironing, sewing, drying wet-the-bed sheets, and making meals for nine people. Yet, despite this endless and demanding work-shift that would kill off three-quarters of today’s adults, she was happy in her motherly chores from waking up to going to bed if she was able to get four or five hours of sleep maximum each time she got to bed.
Mum loved all music and especially singing, but she could not hold a tune any longer than you or I are able to hold a red-hot iron plucked from the fire and held at the hot end. There were few songs she knew every word by heart, but that small impediment never stopped her singing them. She would simply insert her own words and sing out loud. She would sing all day long as she happily worked away. She would often sing the right notes, but unfortunately, each note would always be in the wrong order!
Mum grew up loving to dance but said that dad was an old misery who had two left feet and never took her dancing. There was a constant mischievous glint in my mother’s eyes, and like a big sister in a household of smaller children, she was always playing pranks on us all. She looked like a woman who was always game for a laugh or prepared to accept a dare. Whatever my mum was or wasn’t, she was a dreamer all her life, she was a ball of fun, she was a born storyteller, and she was a lover of roses; especially red roses.
I always remember the first week I earned a working wage at the age of 15 years. The working-class tradition at the time (whatever the poverty level of the family was), allowed the new worker to keep their first wage packet for themselves. On my way home, I called into a nursery near Windybank Lane and bought my mum a bunch of red roses. She was over the moon. Dad said I would have been better spending my hard-earned money buying mum some grass seed to patch up the lawn at the back where she hung out the washing and had worn down his green grass! Dad’s prime activity was cutting the lawn, at home every day and at the gardens of Cleckheaton Church three afternoons weekly.
Dad was forever boringly practical and whereas he would mentally consider himself getting credit points off God for helping to maintain the church gardens for over twenty years, mum knew she could only expect God to give her demerits for her weekly tardiness at arriving at Sunday services ten minutes late weekly and leaving ten minutes early to grab an extra cigarette outside. Were both mum and dad cut open after they died, written all the way through dad would be the words, ‘religious observance’ whereas all through mum would be written the words ‘romantic dreamer’? Dad would live the whole of his adult life constantly pursuing his faith in the way he lived, while mum would always look for the fun in life and pleasure in the joy of living it.
Every birthday and every wage day until I left home to get married at the age of 26 years, I bought my mother, some red roses. When I had plenty of money it would be a bunch of red roses, but if I were short of money, it would be a single red rose. It did not need to be a special occasion to buy my mum red roses, as every occasion was made special to her if she could have a whiff of her favourite flower. Naturally, I placed a red rose on the top of her coffin as she was lowered into her final resting place.
There has never been one year since my mother died in 1986 or one anniversary of her heavenly birthday since when I have not planted a new red rose in her name. Over the past four years, since Sheila and I started to improve our Haworth allotment, where we spend many of our spring and summer leisure hours, we have literally spent over £1,500 buying and planting roses there. Like my paintings at home, however many roses we have, I always seem to be able to find another space to fit another one.
I love you mum and always will revere your name and admire your capacity to appreciate all that is beautiful in all our rose gardens of humanity. I love you too, dad, and although you would never have planted yourself a rose, I do occasionally plant a yellow, orange, white, or pink rose in memory of you.
As you were such different people in my life, I naturally love each of you for different reasons. Between your parenting, however, you both left me a combined legacy of ‘wholesomeness’. Love from your firstborn, Billy, mum and dad xx
Love and peace Bill xxx