Fillmores’ Jewels for Little Singers is tattered and torn and no wonder! It’s been on the earth since 1898. The ink signature in the middle of the cover belongs to my grandmother: “Mrs. S. S. Barnes, Nokomis, Virginia.” At the top is a handwritten claim of ownership, “The property of Coan Sunday School,” with a follow-up request at the bottom, “Please do not take it away.”
How it came to fall into my hands has long ago sifted out of my mind. But that is not true of one of the jewels buried inside. While carefully parting and turning the collection’s frayed pages, I unearthed Jewel 58. More than half a century ago, my mother used to sing it at the kitchen table to my brothers and me:
“I love you, mother,” said little John;
Then left his work, and his cap went on;
Then to the garden, high in the swing,
Left her the water and wood to bring.
“I love you, mother,” said rosy Nell,
“I love you more than my tongue can tell;”
Then she went pouting full half the day,
Mother was glad when she’d gone to play.
“I love you, mother,” said little Fan,
“To-day I’ll help you as best I can;
How glad am I that school doesn’t keep,”
She rocked the baby till it fell asleep.
Then stepping softly, bringing the broom,
Swept up the floor and then cleansed the room;
Busy and happy all day was she,
Helpful and happy as a child could be.
“I love you, mother,” that night they said;
Three little children were gone to bed;
How are you thinking that mother guessed
Which of her children really loved her best.
My mother’s song of bygone years now had a title: “Which Loved Best.” I also saw it was written by ageless Anonymous (creator of countless poems) and set to music by J. H. Fillmore (1849-1936). It’s not far-fetched to imagine my grandmother (1882-1972) voicing these verses to my mother (1919-1997), her little girl.
Long before I learned from the 1611 King James Bible that Jesus said “Ye shall know them by their fruits,” my mother had taught me that truism through a song.