Oh The Wind And The Rain

Two little girls in a boat one day

Oh the wind and the rain

Two little girls in a boat one day

Crying oh, the stormy wind and the rain

There are tens, if not hundreds, of versions of the song cycle “The Cruel Sister.”  This is the first verse of one version that I heard from Debby Saperstone, I think.  We were a duo back in “the day,” in and around 1976.  We sang and played in coffeehouses all over the Boston area.  She had an angelic voice, and knew all sorts of interesting variations on traditional British Isles songs.

The basic story of “The Cruel Sister” is that one of the sisters is being courted by a handsome suitor, and the other is jealous.  She lures her sister to the North Sea Shore and pushes her in.  In the above version, the unfortunate sister begs for help, promising the cruel one all of her possessions, and the cruel one pretends to extend an oar to help her, but instead pushes her farther in.

Then the poor drowning sister floats by a miller’s dam (how she got from the North Sea into the river is not explained) and the miller pulls her out, ravages her, take her gold ring, and throws her back in.  Poor girl!

The next scene is two musicians walking on the strand, who see the maiden float to land.  They make fiddle pegs of her little finger bones, oh the wind and the rain.  They make fiddle strings of her long yellow hair, crying oh, the stormy wind and the rain.  And the only song that it ever would play is Oh, the wind and the rain; the only song that it ever would play: crying oh, the stormy wind and the rain….

The power just came back on, after a few attempts that ended in darkness again.  That’s OK.  I have plenty of candles and a warm fuzzy dog cuddled up on my right side, where she always comes to rest.

Outside it is all stormy wind and rain.  Tree limbs are down everywhere, and the river is a-rahrin’ as they would say around here.  Hit’s a-wutherin’ ahtsahd.

Whar Ah’m a-livin’, ever-body yused’ta tawk lahk thees.  Sum on ’em steel dew.  Ah ruther lahk hit m’seln, but hit’s hard own hem Yankee fowks ta ken it, tahms.

It’s my mother’s birthday.  My dad and I took her to the Japanese-Chinese-Fakese restaurant on Upper Street.  There are two main streets in Spruce Pine:  Upper Street and Lower Street.  So we’re in this restaurant, and at the next table was a family with two adorable little girls, chattering away in a language that they knew to be English, but I wouldn’t have called it that.  Hit was about lahk whut I writ uh-buv.

The reason for this interesting regional accent is that until the 1940’s more or less, the region was completely isolated from the rest of the country.  It had been settled by Elizabethan English, along with a few Scots and Irish, and when the Civil War came along in the mid-1800s they wanted no part of it and fled deep into the hollers (hollows).  The language took its own course and developed into a distinctive dialect.  With the ingress of roads and transportation other than mules, and the invasion of television and now the Internet, the dialect is being fairly rapidly washed out.  But as I heard tonight, it’s still alive and pretty much unintelligible in some parts.

When I first started coming to these mountains in the ’70’s there were many singers and storytellers among the old folks.  Not one of them had any teeth.  There was one champion storyteller, whose name I can’t remember right now, who kept a pair of false teeth in his shirt pocket in case he wanted to play the harmonica.  I guess the harmonica is hard to play without teeth.  After he was done with the harmonica, why, he took his teeth back out and put them back in his shirt pocket.

My dear old friend, mentor, and teacher Tommy J. Jarrell, kept his teeth in his mouth except when he wanted to eat, and then he took them out.  I’ll tell you more about him in another post.  He deserves his own–with music.

Well, the wind and rain have settled down, and it’s time for me to settle down too.  I’ve got a nasty cough, probably got into some dust and riled up my asthma.  It’s time to have a visit with my next-to-last bottle of Arak–the universal Middle Eastern fire-water–will somebody pleeeeeeze send me some more–hit’s good medicine, hit is.

Leave a comment


  1. Thanks for this post and the stories. I had never heard “The Cruel Sister” before. And greetings from your old stomping grounds (Boston).

  2. Life is always better when you have a fuzzy dog to share it with.

  3. I’d heard a version where the musicians with their lyre end up performing at the village square with the dead girl’s family, suitor, etc. present, and the lyre begins it’s song about the stormy sea, and finishes with “a curse on my sister, who murdered me” in front of them all. I think it was by a folk band called Pentangle…

    • Oh I love that! Pentangle did do a version–I’ll have to look it up–and so did Fairport Convention, and Jerry Garcia (!) along with a cast of thousands of other wonderful musicians. I love the “Folk Process,” where a story or song morphs in endless ways as it travels through culture.


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