A Sweet Old World

“Sweet Old World” came on the radio when I was driving today. I’ve heard Lucinda Williams’ song a hundred times before — it’s 20 years old —  and I still blinked back tears. I was thinking of someone in particular: my mother-in-law.

See what you lost when you left this world, this sweet old world

The breath from your own lips, the touch of fingertips

The heartbreak in Lucinda’s voice and that intertwined fiddle and guitar, it gets you coming and going. But the lyrics truly soar.

A sweet and tender kiss

The sound of a midnight train, wearing someone’s ring

It’s commonly understood that the whole point of “Sweet Old World” is to enumerate all that you leave behind when you go – that, specifically, it speaks to a person who has made the mistake of choosing to leave this earth. About a loved one’s suicide.

Someone calling your name

Sad, so sad. But the song has depths of meaning besides. Emmy Lou Harris covered “Sweet Old World.” She told Lucinda in a conversation that while people think she’s singing about the death of Gram Parsons, “sometimes that enters into it, but that song has so many different levels. It’s a song that talks about our own mortality, as well as others.”

My mother-in-law, Eloise, now in her 90s, is just waiting to step off this mortal coil, confined to a bed, drifting in a hospice-administered cloud of sweet morphine. Some stern higher being decided to take her brain before her body, so she was left in a devastating irony exactly as she hadn’t planned or wished: without her sharp mind, her wit, her total independence.

Somebody so warm cradled in your arms

What makes Lucinda’s song relevant here is that in verses’ litany of things undone, not experienced, undervalued, Eloise had them all in spades. The touch of fingertips,the ring, the sound of a train, someone calling her name. She had her church, the friends she played cards with, a handsome, charming husband, a bushel basket of kids and grandkids.

Millions of us in love, promises made good

Your own flesh and blood

Eloise could hike faster than anybody I’ve ever seen. I saw her plant a quarter acre of wildflower seed, then spend hours on her hands and knees pulling weeds until the garden was perfect.

Looking for some truth, dancing with no shoes

Gil and his sisters take turns by the bedside, holding their mother’s hand. Good night Eloise. It is a sweet old world.

el 1


Filed under Jean Zimmerman, Music

21 responses to “A Sweet Old World

  1. Pingback: The Algorithm of Curvy Passion | Jean Zimmerman

  2. Gil Reavill

    Eloise loved her some Jean. She told me it was the best thing I ever did, marrying her.

  3. Alex Huesler

    We honor all the woman nation at our lodge. Next lodge her name will be mentioned specifically. Godspeed on the ever lasting light path.

  4. Wow, thank you for telling me. Eloise was a life long teacher… for everybody, but especially kids.

  5. Alex Huesler

    There was my Mom, Miss Jane, then Miss Reavill. These were my first teachers. I have been blessed with many good teachers throughout my life, but withought the first three, I would not have known how to accept the others. Thank you, welcome, welcome, you helped make my life beautiful!

  6. Thank you. Emmy Lou is great but no one does the song like Lucinda. I linked to her version on YouTube in the post.


    LOVELY. So sad. My sympathy. This brings a tear to my eye… tears… my mother was like that, too, very much like Eloise. She scavenged ferns from the woods, a huge variety, jack-in-the-pulpit, too, and she taught me their names; we watched them come back in her fern garden under the big rhodendron, spring after spring. She played our piano, by ear, and by memory, the pieces she’d learned as a girl… I learned to play them, too, but never by ear. As Mother lay, dying, I hired the Hospice guitar-player, a lovely girl, to sit by Mother’s bed, singing the old, evangelical hymns from Mother’s years of church services. I looked up *A Sweet Old World* … and I love Emmy Lou Harris. Maybe my *Funeral Fairy House* memory, the other day, was a gift for Eloise, too; she and my mother could have been girl friends.

  8. Got to live each day as if it’s your last.

  9. She was a sweet but stern woman.

  10. I dislike it when people say someone is “in a better place” because we don’t know where they are. But it is better that she is not in this place, because she was done with it.

  11. You truly appreciated her. Thanks Jeannie.

  12. Godspeed Eloise. Thank you for sharing her, Jean. Sympathy to Gil and family.

  13. Jeannie Peterson

    Thank you for this, Jean. I will always love Eloise.

  14. Lori

    I worked for a few years as both a Certified Nurses Aide at a nursing home and as a mobile caregiver for elderly and disabled adults. I have seen all kinds of woes, but the most tragic and yet the most wonderful sort is the sight of that special someone who’s mind has left, yet the family stays because they still love that someone. I only hope I can become as awesome as your mother-in-law. People like that have lived the life we aspire to. She deserves the rest she is going to.

  15. Gil Reavill

    RIP Eloise Reavill 9:08 p.m., March 4, 2013, age 92

  16. You would like her, no question.

  17. regina

    Oh Eloise, I feel like I know you!

  18. Hack Attack

    The problem is, we think we have time

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s